The Slaughter of Native Americans Was The U.S.’s Original Stand Your Ground

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





17 Replies to “The Slaughter of Native Americans Was The U.S.’s Original Stand Your Ground”

  1. It is another shameful chapter in American history and while there is much to be proud and thankful for in our collective history, we are not exceptional when it comes to certain things we shouldn’t be proud of. As the case of Trayvon Martin illustrates, racism is very much with us and we have yet to deal with it honestly on a national scale. It’s very easy to forget about or ignore a group whose numbers are small, but like every other group, they are an inextricable part of American history and American life, especially since they were here first. How we address issues like this as a nation is an indicator of how far we have advanced, or failed to. One underlying narrative in this country is the endless conflict between stated ideals and certain unpleasant realities like these.

  2. Thank you for posting this. My tribe (Muskogee or Creek) is one of those removed during the trail of tears. Most people don’t know that we’re called the five civilized tribes (Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Seminole), and at one time the Cherokee had the most advanced schools in the country. The whites, while they recognized we had relatively advanced civilizations, still removed us from our homelands.

    Another point that is very little known (even among eastern Native Americans, who generally tried to pass as white and avoid being shipped to Oklahoma) is that the Indian Health Service forcibly sterilized many of our womenfolk in the 60s and 70s.

    Quote from Dr. Marie Ralstin-Lewis (Wicazo Sa Review Spring 2005 Pgs 71-72):

    “Ironically, while middle- class white America applauded a newfound freedom over reproductive rights during the 1960s and 1970s, many policy makers and physicians targeted Native women for involuntary birth control and sterilization. Estimates indicate that, from the early to mid-1960s up to 1976, between 3,400 and 70,000 Native women— out of only 100,000 to 150,000 women of childbearing age— were coercively, forcibly, or unwittingly sterilized permanently by tubal ligation or hysterectomy. Native women seeking treatment in Indian Health Service (IHS) hospitals and with IHS- contracted physicians were allowed neither the basic right of informed consent prior to sterilization nor the right to refuse the operation. IHS also subjected mentally retarded Indian girls and women to a contraceptive known
    as DepoProvera before it received approval from the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) in 1992.”
    (Note: to make things more legible I deleted a few endnote markers.)

    Another good article is by Jane Lawrence(2000): “The Indian Health Service and the Sterilization of Native American Women” American Indian Quarterly Vol 24, No.3. It says essentially the same thing. Both of these articles are hard to read. I’ve met women that I now think had been forcibly sterilized.

    NOTE: The sterilizations took place before my people gained the right to just EXIST in much of the southeast (in 1980-1981). The official number of Native Americans climbed as it became safe to admit to who we were, and also people like myself (whose family had passed as white three or four generations back) also discovered that they weren’t what they thought they were.

    Everything you wrote is true for those of us who passed as white as well. As I heard multiple times during the weekends of ceremonial gatherings, “last hired and first fired”. One of our medicine people has bullet scars from being shot. I’ve already mentioned the father of the wife of a medicine person… who was gut-shot (with a shotgun) and the shooter as of last account is still free and bragging about “shooting an injun”. We’ve been threatened with death (multiple times), had to carry weapons so the Klan wouldn’t disrupt ceremonies, and I think I know only a handful of people who have SES of lower middle class or higher. Most are poor, one elder only had two dresses, her moccasins, and one other pair of shoes. Extreme poverty is a real problem.

    The good news: we’re still here. Yeah, we’ve lost much and we’ve lost a lot of people, but to quote a line from Bill Miller’s album “The Red Road”: “The Eagle still remains!”

    Oh… and the Trail of Tears law came off the books in 1980 or 81. Finally.

  3. My house stands on the edge of a ridge in the west part of a coastal Florida county, and when I first slept here, before my furniture was moved in, I used to hear the eeriest thing: a native flute, in the small hours, travelling along the top of the ridge. I don’t hear it any more, but it brought with it certain images, of a very tall, well-built young man, of whose apparel I discerned only a loincloth and a single feather. Years later, I saw illustrations of Timocuans and read about how they lived. !! I thought of their imprint in the very ground we trod, and built on, and lived on, without ever thinking. An entire, magnificent people laid low by European diseases and then finished off by land scavengers! And they were not alone. We can’t bring them back, and we can’t make Columbus go down in a maelstrom in the Sargasso Sea. We can only insist that whoever and whatever is left of primal America be treated with respect, and that’s going to be hard, with howling disrespect all around us.

  4. I’m not sure where you live, but look up the Windover site sometime (it’s on the Florida East Coast not too far from Titusville). I know the archaeologist who was in charge of that dig… a bog burial where they found 9-10,000 year old LOOM WOVEN cloth. It was a very advanced weave at that… a triploid weave, and some of the cloth was about as fine a weave as t-shirt material.

    “Primitive”… I don’t think so. A triploid weave is considered very advanced even by today’s standards, from what I’m told. It takes great skill to do something like that.

    There also was evidence of a human burial associated with a mammoth on the east coast of Florida.

    There are several paleoindian sites in Florida, including Salt Spring and Warm Mineral Springs. The oldest known decorated artifacts in the US… are in the collections at UF. I was allowed to inspect them a few years ago… ivory foreshafts for a Clovis-era spear. It had a lightning design etched into it. It was found in one of the rivers in Panhandle Florida, where they find a lot of Clovis era points.

    There is even a paleoindian site only a few miles from my school, and I go by it every day I go over. It’s right on the edge of the Hillsborough river and in a park. (Telling on myself…) When I was an undergrad and just starting the anthropology program, we stopped at that park and I found some flakes. I thought I’d found something and took the flakes to one of my professors, only to find out that the site was very well known and documented. That’s also when I learned about not removing artifacts from their context, although in this case it wasn’t as big a deal (highly disturbed and only flakes).

    BTW… Cactus Hill in Va, the Topper site in SC, Meadowcroft Rockshelter, and other pre-Clovis sites are starting to be accepted, and archaeology is reconciling itself to the fact that “Clovis First” isn’t valid. Most of us now accept that humans were here as much as (and maybe more than) 40,000 years ago. Funny, but that’s what some of the elders have been saying all along.

  5. I remember as long ago as the Seventies, a forty-thousand-year-old campfire site was found in (if memory serves me) either Mesoamerica or the Northern Andes. Of course, it was discounted as either lightning strike or vulcanism, since there were no human remains or obvious human artifacts, but for my part, I accept it as real. Nor can we assume either that all human immigration came by way of Beringia, or that human Beringian migration was all one way.

    Canis dirus was said to have left no descendants, yet members of that genus are known for outbreeding and leaving fertile descendants. If Dirus DNA is available, I suggest it be checked against not only the massive Malamute and Mackenzie sledgers, but against the chows and akitas of East Asia, some of whom share the Arctic blue-tongued trait – a possible antifreeze trait- with the polar bear. Did someone take massive *dirus* dogs westward, back into Siberia? What else did they take? There are a lot of possibilities too easily dismissed as, “That’s silly!” We shouldn’t.

  6. Very true. I don’t accept the Bering land bridge idea myself, as we know that humans had the ability to do deep ocean travel at least 40,000 to 50,000 years ago. That was when humans colonized Australia (earliest known date) and there is a long stretch of deep ocean that has to be crossed to do that.

    As I argued in one paper for class (and learned), it would have been easier to travel along the ice edge and shores anyway… they are far more productive as far as food than an inland route. The radiocarbon dates also tend to back that up, with the oldest dates being found along the coast (most of the really old stuff the US eastern coast and South America) and tending somewhat younger towards the center of the continent. The sample size wasn’t big enough and dense enough to statistically say that the old-coast to younger-center was really significant.

    Plus some information came my way that suggested that the “ice-free corridor” was quite problematic.

  7. It’s pretty clear that the Aurocana chickens are pre-Columbian stock descended from two species of southeast Asian jungle fowl brought across the Pacific by Polynesian rafters, and Thor Heyerdahl made the raft journey both ways. The Little People of Flores had physical peculiarities that legend also ascribes to the PukWudgies of North America. Is it possible that they were once more than a shrunken, relict species confined to a single island? Remains of extremely tall humanoids have been recovered from the Cape of Good Hope; the Spaniards described very tall humans at Cape Horn. Ancient navigators of the Southern Ocean? I don’t intend to swallow it all like a seagull at a garbage dump, but I’m curious.

  8. I am so glad I read your post, Dennis S, because it is a reminder to me to send another donation to NAHA. I received a reminder a couple weeks ago, and I just need to do it. I’m not surprised that the majority of Americans have no idea how our government and citizens have treated, and treats, American Indians. Since I’m a survivor of America’s period of segregation, I feel somewhat qualified to throw in my two cents. Out of sight, out of mind seems to be the way Americans can avoid dealing with the abuse we have heaped on our American Indian, and other, populations. It’s shameful, but it’s just how people in this country choose to deal with “unpleasant” things and/or avoid taking responsibility for them.

  9. It was a new world for the taking and The North American continent quickly became the last frontier to be discovered and settled.
    And settled it was….quickly.
    Truth have it that the genocide of the Native American was for the name of God.
    Each new territory certainly had its ‘renegade’ bunch that needed to be addressed so as the wagon trains could proceed west without trouble. But overall, the ingenuous people of the land were generally deemed as not Christian and therefore persecuted as such.
    Christianity became the sabre to which the settler could rattle against the throat of those who might stand in the way of this great white expansion. Even then, the leaders of the time knew how to play the race card.

  10. Flores and homo floresiensis… I’ve met Dr. Brown and seen the casts of the brains and skulls. Definitely a different species. I found his arguments persuasive.

    They’ve found a lot more, btw (don’t know if you’d kept up with it or not).

    I remarked to him that the description of homo floresiensis matched the description of some of our little people… he said that there were tales like that all over. (They’re about the right height, the right description, everything.) My Talwv (kind of like clan but not) is said to have always been friendly with the little people who were good, but sometimes mischievous.

    I’ve read somewhere that when the Spanish came to Florida, they encountered Native Americans who were between six and seven feet in height. Unlike Europeans, there was sufficient healthy foods and people in the region weren’t limited by poor diet.

  11. It is disgusting that women were forcibly sterilized but not surprising. The atrocities that the Native Americans experienced at the hands of White men are mind-numbing. I think that the thought process is, “If they die off as a people, they can be written out of the history books.” If you look at history and more closely at conquered peoples, eventually they are absorbed and or assimilated in with those who conquered them so that they cease to exist or at least their numbers dwindle enormously. I think that with Native Americans, that is what the White man hoped but with Blacks, it’s a little more difficult. I think that racism persists in this country because White people have constant reminders of the atrocities that they have perpetuated. The Trail of Tears is this country’s holocaust.

  12. Another little tidbit that most people don’t know is that nearly every tribe east of the Mississippi river has had their own trail of tears at one time or another… as well as many of those west. For instance, the Navajo were sent to a real hell hole – Bosque Redondo. The tribe barely survived.

    It wasn’t any easier for those who tried to stay on the land and pass as white (or fled to pass as white in some other area). People would move from place to place, hoping to eventually wear out a back trail and then return to their homeland (or go someplace else where others had fled). From the time of the trail of tears until my lifetime, it was often a death sentence to be found out and at the least my people were taught to be ashamed of who they were. Tribal elders have told of branches of their family being eliminated because they’d been found out, and one of our people (my age), well, his grade school teacher found out he was Indian and had been to ceremony – and beat him so bad it put him in the hospital.

    The families would go to any length to hide their identity… even joining the Klan as they figured it was the perfect hideout. Some of our worst enemies right now are our own people… so terrified of being found out that they’d do anything to prevent it. (I’ve heard tales of horrible murders when newlywed -Klan- spouses found out they were married to Indians.)

    I’ve heard several times that about 10% of the Klan in some areas are American Indians… hiding in plain site as it were. They know they’re persecuting their own kin, but at the same time terror can make one do strange and terrible things.

    We have a saying in our tribe that I’ve heard several times: In black yards they burn crosses. In Indian yards they burned families. It happened – and not that long ago.

  13. Funny thing is that some of the tribes they persecuted were already Christian, but followed a way that was unknown to the “Good Christians” that settled.

    The way of my own people, known as the Way of the Square Ground, is said to be a precolumbian form of Christianity (I’ve heard it at two different squares and from three different medicine leaders). I believe it and that’s what is my core. Because the names were different (although the individuals were the same – God, Jesus in English), they refused to believe what we told them. Of course, to us the idea of proselytizing or “my God is bigger than your God” were really alien and weird – so maybe they couldn’t recognize it.

  14. I believe it was the Timocuans who reached that height. No pureblooded or culturally identifiable Timocuans are left, but a handful of their descendants, like the last Tequestas, left with the Spaniards when Florida was surrendered to the United States. I had a co-worker whose parents were from the Guantánamo area of Cuba, and she was often taken for Native American. She participated in the National Geographic project a few years back, and it turned out she had Tequesta ancestry.

  15. Thank you Dennis for your excellent article. It barely scratches the surface of this issue.
    So many injustices, so many lies.
    The documentary ” The Thick Dark Fog” is well worth watching. The missionaries that came on to the reservations were horrible. My Dad says the Mormons treated them the worst.
    My Father was born at Pine Ridge before Native Americans were even considered citizens. My Father just celebrated his 88th birthday this week. I say this week because two days after he was born, my Grandma had to walk to the county clerk to file for his citizenship. So, he was actually born on March 19th, but the clerk used the 21st of March because that is the day when Grandma got to the clerks office. They made Grandma change my Dad’s name to an “American” name.
    Native Americans were sold into slavery long before the interlopers started taking Africans off of their Native lands. Native Americans did not make viable slaves as they couldn’t tolerate the ships that took them to Honduras and other centers for sale and they lost their will to live, procreate.
    I will stop now, as this subject breaks my heart. So many lies, so many dead. It was the white man who scalped the Natives, there was a bounty on the dark long hair.
    I am a proud member of Oglala tribe.

  16. Thank you for an excellent and thoughtful article, Dennis, and to all the commenters for their interesting inpuut.

  17. They’ve sent missionaries to our people too, even though most already attend churches (as well as ceremony).

    I’ve had to dissuade some missionary-wannabes too (successfully in one case).

    I’m glad you spoke up. We need for our voices to be heard. Our history and reality needs to be known to the public in general, to counter the BS they teach in school.

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