Posts Tagged ‘American Indians’

Not too long ago, I took a road trip from the west coast of the U.S. to the east coast. It goes without saying that you can see a lot more of this beautiful country by driving across it than by flying across it. It was about the time that I crossed the California/Arizona border in Yuma that I started becoming aware of something that I guess a lot of people already know. There are these highway signs you see as you pass through the desert. The land is made up pretty much of mostly rocks with a little bit of sand and hardly a trace of anything green. The signs tell you that you are now driving through an American Indian reservation. I had never even heard of many of the tribes – they weren’t the famous ones like Apache and the Sioux. They were just small, mostly insignificant in the course of American history, consigned to living in a place in which I suspect neither you nor I would like to spend more than ten minutes.

The first time I passed one of these reservations was surprising, but after passing several more it became disheartening. This was land where you would have a hard time growing weeds. It was more of the same in New Mexico. You drive for miles passing what look like derelict trailers with some broken down cars parked beside them as you go from Albuquerque to Las Cruces. I don’t know how many different tribes and reservations I passed, but when I got to Texas they seemed to disappear from the side of the road. I didn’t see any more roadside reservations until I came down out of the Great Smokey Mountains National Park and drove into the town of Cherokee, North Carolina. As it happened there was a minor landslide on the highway and I had to take a detour through some of the residential areas of the Cherokee reservation. It wasn’t as bleak as Arizona or New Mexico and the small homes looked a little better than the beat up trailers I had seen in the west, but I don’t think anyone would mistake the town of Cherokee for Chapel Hill.

My guess is that most Americans spend less than one second a day thinking about the American Indians. They are pretty much out of sight and out of mind, unless I suppose you frequent some of the tribes’ casinos. There is one in Cherokee. It is a nice, mini-Las Vegas-looking facility, clean and neat and glittery and prosperous I hear. It provides a nice contrast to the rest of Cherokee.

If you would bear with me, I would like to recount a little prehistory and history for a paragraph or so. Most experts now say that the people we call the American Indians settled in North America approximately 10,000 years ago. This entire continent was their homeland for about 9,500 years until the Europeans “discovered” America. Remember the Pilgrims who landed in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1620 and who were befriended by the Indians? The Indians taught them how to plant corn and survive in the New World. Without their help the Pilgrims would almost certainly have perished, like the settlers of lost colony of Roanoke in North Carolina. It wasn’t long, however, before the Pilgrims wanted more land from the Indians and fighting broke out. There’s not much left of the Indians in Massachusetts today, except place names (like Massachusetts). Many of the Indians died of diseases like small pox and those that didn’t died from bullets.

This systematic destruction of the American Indian population (today it would be called genocide) occurred throughout the colonies. The Cherokee, whose territory once covered almost four states, were decimated and then driven from their homes and made to march on the Trail of Tears to a new “home” in no man’s land in Oklahoma under orders from President Andrew Jackson. A few of these Cherokee escaped from the march and made their way back to North Carolina and became the eastern branch of the Cherokee.

This destruction of the American Indian population and the appropriation of their lands that they had owned for almost 10,000 years was carried out while the colonists professed belief in the mass delusion that was called Manifest Destiny – today we know it is nothing more than a Hitlerish justification of theft and murder. Now, conveniently, the remnants of that genocide and monumental theft of sovereign territory have been swept from the view of the average U.S. citizen.

There has been an effort this year to have the American government apologize to the American Indians in a way similar to what the Australian government recently did for the Aborigines. I haven’t seen any recent press releases about the American apology, but whether the bill actually did make it through Congress and was signed by the President doesn’t make much difference. It is time to make real amends. It is time for justice for the American Indians.

I know it isn’t practical to think of giving the country back to the Indians, and besides, it wasn’t us who killed all the Indians. OK, so what would be a fair thing to do? Is it fair to force so many of these people to continue to live on some of the least desirable land in the country with essentially opportunity to live lives as good as ours? Here’s a bold idea that will make you catch your breath: why not give them our National Parks? OK, calm down – relax – think about it for a minute. We don’t live on those lands, right? And we don’t conduct business on those lands either. So it wouldn’t really inconvenience us in those sorts of ways. The American Indian has traditionally been a good steward of the land too – much better than we have been.

We could make an agreement with them, as part of the settlement, that they would continue to operate these areas as national parks and would allow us perpetual access, for a fee of course – that’s how they can make money. They maintain the parks and could also live in the parks, providing we all agree on certain guidelines, like no mobile homes allowed and so forth. As part of righting a grievous wrong, we should also give them a generous financial settlement for stealing their land. Can you imagine how many trillions of dollars the U.S. would be worth today if you wanted to buy it? I know we can’t give them what the place is truly worth, but the deal they have now amounts to nothing more than the continued theft of their property that those misguided and murderous religious pilgrims (our heroes) began four hundred years ago.

It is time for our government to stop its righteous preaching to the world and deal with the continuing disgrace of our treatment of the American Indian. Until then, we are in no position to teach the world anything about morality.

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