About 7 or 8 years ago, when Native American Casinos were finally coming into vogue in Ohio after being around for decades, I worked pro bono with a very powerful republican political consultant to push for the construction of such a facility in a highly conservative, medium-sized Ohio county. The effort predictably failed, but in talking with a friend from the area the other day, it got me to thinking about that casino and more importantly about the civil and dignified tribal members who were sponsoring the project. That, in turn gave birth to this piece about our tortured history with the Indian people who I prefer to call Native Americans, though in a social context, Indian or American Indian is acceptable.
We must acknowledge our awesomely obscene history with Native Americans; a disgusting amalgam of indifference, death and denial that continues to this day.
The estimated number of Indians (savages being the bigoted historical preference) killed by Americans varies. But you’re never to talk about those near-genocidal numbers because in today’s America, truth is equated with being unpatriotic – or as a Santorum preacher once said to Rick’s repeated applause…”If you don’t love America, don’t like the way we do things, I’ve got one thing to say, get out!”
That’s what we told the indigenous Native American population many years ago, “get out!” Anybody with an ounce of compassion feels deeply ashamed of our ancestor’s indescribably barbaric treatment of Native Americans. As a result of the 1830 ‘Indian Removal Act’ for example, 5 tribes were removed from the Southeastern U.S. The Choctaw removal in 1831 cost 2,500 lives. The Cherokees were forcibly removed and lost 4,000 out of 15,000 to starvation, disease and exposure. There was a forced winter march of over 1,000 miles; 13,000 were confined to concentration camps.
The total number of Indians slaughtered by Americans is difficult to pin down. Understandably the U.S. government has painted a much more benign picture, even though responsible for actions of genocide and ethnic cleansing. The government range is 1 to 4 million deaths (murders). A second independent study calculates a minimum of 10 million deaths. And, of course the government has reminded us that many of those deaths were from assorted plagues and other diseases.
Figuring out when the first true Native American Indians settled in what is now the U.S. is a hard date to come by. Anthropologists who can tell shoe sizes and cell phone numbers from the Pleistocene Epoch simply have no idea when the Native Americans arrived. Could have been 40,000 years ago or 140,000 years ago or 1,140,000 years ago. Who knows dude? One thing we do know, they were here a hell of a long time before their ethnic cleansers arrived.
Native Americans were dispatched with the same unfeeling inhumanity then that killed African-American Trayvon Martin in modern-day Sanford, Florida. Follow from behind and do what you will.
Things have hardly improved from the earliest historical vulgarities. The modern-day Native American life expectancy is 58. Infant mortality is 10 times the national average. Indian babies are twice as likely to die of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). On some reservations the unemployment rate is 80%. Over a third of Native Americans have no health care and perhaps the saddest indictment of all is rampant alcohol and drug abuse and the highest suicide rate of any ethnic group in America.
The American Indians lost nearly 98% of their land to what one Internet site called the American ‘conquest’. There’s no other word for it. Americans came to an occupied land and conquered the rightful owners of that land, killing millions in the process. The government then banished those rightful owners to concentration camps called reservations.
Organizations like the Native American Heritage Association (NAHA) do what they can, running continuous caravans of food-trucks into various reservations with severe shortages of food. They’re assisted by such disparate sources as General Mills and the UAW. The federal government addresses Native American concerns through the Bureau of Indian Affairs, within the Interior Department and Indian Health Services, part of the Department of Health and Human Services. Since Republican Presidential Primary candidates have proposed abolishing the National Weather Service, EPA and the Education Department among many other government agencies, it would come as no surprise that Interior and HHS would be on their radar as well.
Candidate, Ron Paul in fact, does include the Interior Department on his agency hit list leaving the Native American community to fend for itself.
Most Americans are content to view the Native American culture through the prism of growing up playing cowboys and Indians or the westerns that depicted Indians as vicious wife-raping, husband scalpers or the two FBI agents shot to death during a gun battle with the members of the American Indian Movement (AIM). The shootout occurred on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota in June of 1975. Activist Leonard Peltier was convicted of the murders. The back-story of that incident is fascinating and too long to repeat here. Look it up sometime.
That’s all most Americans know or care about the American Indian. Just a pack of nomads sitting off on a reservation somewhere – though many live in urban areas. They’re out of the way and not worth a second thought as the last of their tiny numbers struggle to survive. They currently constitute less than 1% of the population.
I’ve been privileged to know a number of Native Americans over the years. I’ve marveled at their harmonious spiritual communion with nature – their faith being heartfelt and genuine, not the political expedient of the holy pretenders of the right. I’ve attended Pow Wows, an expression of all things Native American from the Grand Entrance replete with tribal AND American flags to the songs and dances that constitute deep spiritual symbolism and the connection among all generations. I’ve also possessed a prized original from the late, great Blackbear Bosin.
Native Americans are a tragic subset of a country that dismisses them as irrelevant. Perhaps that dismissal is born out of great guilt…more tragically, perhaps not.
I just ask that you accord these ill-treated Native AMERICAN citizens the heretofore-withheld respect they richly deserve.
Image: Censored News