I was going to write this just prior to the 4th of July, but decided against it, this is not a rant against the principles upon which the U.S. was founded and which was penned by Thomas Jefferson: " We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness", not at all.
Some of the individuals who were part of the Continental Congress when they issued that declaration understood wholeheartedly the significance of the document, they understood the concepts which it was outlining and the importance it would have for humanity. One may even hope that some may have understood the hypocrisy of such a statement considering that slavery was a integral part of the new nation's economy and that those who were in the Americas prior to the colonization were being driven from their ancestral homelands, and that they knew the statement would hold true for the nation well into the future...as I said, one can only hope.
Some love to deride the founding fathers as being twofaced in that very sense, that the declaration meant "white men only" and that many of those who were members of the Continental Congress were simply rising up against the taxation policies of Great Britain towards citizens who were deemed to be second class "colonials" nothing more. Some may even speculate that had Great Britain given the colonies a voice in parliament and treated the Colonial "aristocracy" with respect, the U.S. revolution may have never even taken place.
That is really neither here nor there in the scheme of things, what began 235 years ago was the formation of a completely new nation whose ideals were clearly put into the First Amendment in the bill of rights which outlines five basic principals in Civil Rights: Freedom of Religion, Freedom of Speech, Freedom of The Press, The Right of Assembly and The Right to Petition For A Governmental Redress of Grievances.
A new nation was born from these basic rules of law, a nation which would commit as many evils as it did extraordinary things .
It took the U.S. 144 years after the Declaration Of Independence to pass the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution which allowed woman to vote, and another 34 years, 1954, before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Brown V. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas which ruled against the segregation of Afro-American Children from "white" children: "segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon the colored children. The impact is greater when it has the sanction of the law; for the policy of separating the races is usually interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the Negro group." Three years later the Civil Rights Act, a voting rights bill, was passed, but, for those whose ancestor lived here well before Europeans fleeing tyranny and Africans forcibly loaded onto ships in chains ever arrived, it wouldn't be until 1968 when the Indian Civil Rights Act (also referred to as the Indian Bill of Rights) was passed in Congress.
It has been a long road for the African-American to gain acceptance as being a key part of our national identity; more than a hundred years after the United States went to war over the rights of states against a federal government (remember the United States was founded much as the European Union exists today), many still view African-Americans as not being equals. Even today with a man of African descent holding this nation's highest office we see radical opposition to his presidency using "fascism" and "socialism" to hide a political opposition to his administration which is not based on a well-founded ideology, but blatant racism.
Only now are some children becoming aware that the American Revolution's first martyr, Crispus Attucks, who perished during the Boston Massacre of 1770 was a man born of Wampanoag (the people who are remembered in our Thanksgiving tradition) and African heritage.
But even with equal rights for all, regardless of sex, race and sexual orientation, marching slowly forward, and the perceptions of many Americans towards each other gradually changing, there seems to be a group who continues to struggle while existing in a socioeconomic and political world which was never theirs to begin with: The Native American.
With the policy of "Manifest Destiny" we saw how westward expansion created a blueprint of genocide which was later mirrored in the ideology of the Nazis; Lebensraum or "Living Space", an idea which existed prior to the Nazi party, was a fundamental concept in the political beliefs of these madmen. In Hitler's Mein Kampf, the outline for what was to come was laid down, an expansion towards the east in search of land and raw materials. Some could say the proof of this was Hitler's affinity for playing "Cowboys and Indians" as a youth or how Hitler referred to the Russian people as "Redskins" during the invasion of the Soviet Union.
The term "concentration camp" came from the Second Boer War (1899-1902), where the British Empire fought the two Boer republics; the South African Republic (otherwise known as the Transvaal Republic) and the Orange Free State. And though the concept of forcibly moving "undesirable" people of a society and concentrating them into a specific area has been a tactic repeated throughout history, it really reached a horrific level of efficiency when the United States Government policy towards the Native American people manifested itself with the Indian Removal Act of 1830 and later, using railcars to place them in areas which they were not accustomed to living; just two of many horrific examples of this is the Trail of Tears (1831-1837) when tribes, among them the Muscogee, Cherokee, Choctaw and Seminole nations, were forcibly marched to "Indian Territory" which is now part of eastern Oklahoma from the eastern part of the United States as well as the removal of the Chiricahua people who were relocated from their lands in the South West and moved to Florida forty nine years later in 1886.
And yes, total annihilation of people as a tactic of warfare goes back to the dawn of man and can be traced from the ancient empires, the Persian Empire, The Roman Empire, right on up to the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990's, but does that excuse the actions of a nation born on the principle of freedom and justice? Can you compare such a "principled" state to that of Cyrus the Great or Julius Caesar?
I can't outright compare a reservation to the concentration camps of World War II, which are more appropriately named "extermination camps", where all of the Third Reich's victims, whether Jewish, Homosexual, Gypsy, Slav, etc where greeted by dogs, gas chambers , forced labor, a plethora of physical/psychological abuse and outright execution the moment they stepped off the cattle cars; but I can say that the modern blueprint for ridding a nation of people was there. The reservation system did guarantee a life of abuse, ignorance, violence, degradation, disease, hunger, addiction and a loss of traditions which ultimately resulted in high mortality rates .
Using the anthropologist Henry Dobyns' study of the aboriginal population in North America in 1983; the total Native American population of the present day American territory was estimated to be around ten million individuals, at the end of the 19th century the population numbered at 250,000...that means only one in forty Native Americans survived disease, warfare and the policy of Manifest Destiny! Think about that for a moment, who in your family would survive if a new strain of flu suddenly appeared and struck down around 98% of the population?
If one is still in denial of how certain people within the U.S. government viewed the Native Americans, especially following the U.S. Civil war, one only has to take a look at William Tecumseh Sherman's, the father of "total warfare", letters to President Grant ; when referring to the construction of rail lines on the frontier and tribes who were fighting desperately to hold their ground he wrote: "we are not going to let a few thieving, ragged Indians check and stop the progress of (the railroads)." and after "The Battle of the Hundred Slain" also known as "The Fetterman Massacre", he wrote: "we must act with vindictive earnestness against the Sioux, even to their extermination, men, women and children." and he writes on in that same letter "during an assault, the soldiers cannot pause to distinguish between male and female, or even discriminate as to age." Some who defend this General would gladly point out his stance regarding Government agent and speculator's actions towards Native Americans within the confines of reservations.
What a tragic irony that his father named him after the chief of the Shawnee Nation, Tecumseh.
However he felt about the treatment of Native Americans on the reservations does little to reconcile his point of view towards people who were forced to fight back while being crushed into smaller and smaller areas, having their traditions obliterated by western ideals, seeing their land developed and watching the wholesale slaughter of game which was so vital to their very existence as they starved.
And yes, even the Native Americans warred with one another, in many cases brutally, especially in Mesoamerica, and yes, tribes even sought alliances with colonists to war with other tribes, but that doesn't change the fact that the Native Americans were systematically slaughtered and abused in the name of westward expansion. The United States weren't the only ones, the Spanish and Portuguese also did their damndest marginalizing and enslaving the people in their own colonies as well.
And even though there were those who did understand the dishonor our nation was committing, such as can be read in Henry Benjamin Whipple's (chairman of the Bureau of Indian Affairs) statement regarding the taking of the Black Hills in 1876: " I know of no other instance in history where a great nation has so shamefully violated its oath. Our country must forever bear the disgrace and suffer the retribution of its wrongdoing. Our children's children will tell the sad story in hushed tones, and wonder how their fathers dared so to trample on justice and trifle with God."; the majority of Americans viewed the issue of the Native American plight with indifference.
These are people who lived their life in a way which was completely foreign to those coming from Europe, and the ones who have survived to this day still find themselves struggling to exist in a socioeconomic and political environment which was never theirs. The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 does not give these tribes their culture back. Even though it may bring in much needed revenue to a tribe, we see widespread abuse of this act with people trying to claim heritage from a nation which has long since perished as well as corruption. Gaming is not the answer for the Native American. How anyone could believe that allowing a vice to generate income is beneficial to a tribe is beyond me.
We see reservations right here in the United States which have the same infant mortality, literacy, substance abuse, and poverty rates as that of a developing country! The Pine Ridge Reservation of the Oglala Sioux in South Dakota is one.
Why do we, as a nation, still want to force these people to exist on the terms of western capitalism? They are still forced to sacrifice who they are by leaving the land they have left in pursuit of a paycheck while traditions and language are being lost.
More and more young Native Americans are embracing their heritage, and the United States as a whole is beginning to realize how precious these people are to our national identity, but we must all realize more needs to be done. One may scream "socialist liberal plot", but I counter by saying; give the Native American a choice, nothing more, nothing less. I think we could at least offer them schools which can compare to the best in any district across the nation, real healthcare and free access to a university regardless of the GPA.
"But they get oil concessions, mineral concessions, gaming concessions, they already get federal aid!" Tell that to the Oglala Sioux.
Is this an anti-American rant? Absolutely NOT! This is simply an observation on how we need to finally fulfill the promises of the two glorious documents which carries as much importance for the world as it does for you or I; the Declaration Of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.
If somehow the Nation as a whole can join the Native Americans and embrace them as brothers instead as a separate people, if we can help Native American children to receive an education which will empower them to help economically develop their own culture on their own terms, to help them preserve their culture while educating those of us who are not members of their tribe, to make reservation land a place of hope rather than despair; then, just maybe, we can view such a success with great pride and come to realize we can do that for all Americans, that we as a Nation have finally arrived at the gates of an idea which was born with the founding of the Nation; united, stronger and ready to go into this next century with the willingness and ability to continue to do wondrous things.
And if we are lucky, perhaps one day we will stop calling ourselves, African-American, Native-American, Mexican-American, etc, etc, etc and simply begin to refer to ourselves as Americans.
I leave you with this vid from Resistant Culture "It's Not Too Late" and one From Navajo band Ethnic De Generation entitled: "Self-infliction", dig it!