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Posts Tagged ‘Native Americans’

Yesterday,  I was passed by a pickup truck that had an interesting sticker on its back window. It read:

WELCOME TO AMERICA

NOW SPEAK ENGLISH

An interesting point of view, and in my younger, less experienced days, I might have thought that this was a reasonable statement. Yet, the more I see and learn and think about our country, the more I wonder about things I was taught in school, things that I just learned as part of our culture, and things that just seemed like they were part of the unquestioned “normal” – things like English being our de facto national language. And then I start to think about just whose country this is anyway. I mean, why shouldn’t the sign say,

WELCOME TO AMERICA

NOW SPEAK CHEROKEE

or Nipmuck, or Mohican,(OK, not Mohican ’cause they’re all gone),  or Apache, or so many others. Why do I say this? It’s because the native Americans owned this place, this continent – in fact. They were living in both North and South America for at least 10,000 years, (yes, think about it. Ten thousand years.) maybe more, before the Europeans arrived a mere 400 years ago.  Of course the Europeans promptly announced that they had discovered America, because the native Americans didn’t count.  Which is why Sir Walter Raleigh didn’t notice that North Carolina was already taken and already had its own name.  Of course it was the English who “discovered” the East Coast (disregarding the Vikings who were there 500 years earlier,but they also don’t count) – except for Florida, which the Spanish “discovered” years and years before the Pilgrims ever dreamed of setting sail to the New World. And let’s not forget the French. They were all over North America, exploring and claiming a far greater part of the what is now the USA than the English ever did. But, we bought the French-owned areas cheap when they needed money for their wars in Europe,  and we fought with the Spanish and just took the land they claimed in the Southwest places like Texas and Arizona and New Mexico. We bought Alaska from the Russians, who also figured the native Americans didn’t count.  And Hawaii? Well, we just took it because we wanted it.  The Hawaiians didn’t count either. (By the way, when I say we, I mean the English settlers of yore – not you and me, of course. We had no part in their crimes, we are simply the innocent beneficiaries of their theft.  Feel better?)

I suppose it was all very convenient.  The land was there for the taking, except for those pesky native Americans.  Of course, they didn’t have the guns the Europeans had.  And the Native Americans soon learned, to their regret, the high price they would pay for resisting the avarice of the Europeans. It was nasty old President Andrew Jackson who ordered the “removal” of the native Americans from the eastern U.S.  He sent them off to the hinterlands, beyond the Mississippi.  We needed their land so…..  so it was OK.  Right? Sure.  Will of God.  Manifest Destiny. The Elect were simply doing God’s will. So the Cherokee and others were forced westward along a devastating march they called the  “Trail of Tears”. But I don’t think many of the English settlers who took their lands were crying.

Which brings me to Arizona. Not that the Cherokee went that far, but there are other native American tribes there now.  On reservations.  If you ever drive across the Southwest there is one thing you will find striking – unless you already live there because then it will just seem normal.  It is the starkly barren, landscape. You can pass native American reservation land and hardly see a blade or grass, or anything else green. It’s all sand and rocks. You’re probably saying to yourself, “Why would these Native Americans choose to live in such God forsaken places when there is so much beautiful land in America?” Indeed.

Which brings me to that ugly sheriff in Arizona who goes around arresting all the illegal immigrants and shipping them back to Mexico. I’m talking about the Hispanics of course. There are plenty of other illegal immigrants in the U.S. in other places. There are thousands and thousands of illegal Irish immigrants who quietly live as maids and caretakers for the children of the wealthy – mostly in the Northeast I believe. There are plenty of other European “illegals” too who we just quietly welcome and employ because they work hard for us (illegally) and cheaply and we don’t have to pay Social Security tax or anything else for them and they blend in and they look sort of like us and they talk like us, sort of, and they go to the same churches we do.  (I don’t mean you and me, I mean the rich folk.)

So what is happening in Arizona? Haven’t all these Mexicans come up for years and worked for next to nothing in agriculture and  in the house building trades? Didn’t they supply a huge and very cheap labor force where their employers didn’t have to provide any benefits or Social Security or anything except a wage that was a small fraction of what they would have had to pay a white man of European descent – you know, a real American? Could it be that the jobs are now gone and the Mexicans are no longer needed so they get the royal boot?

But why all the virulence from that ugly sheriff?  These are Hispanics right? And aren’t the Spanish people also Europeans too? Why are they so unwelcome now when no one complains about all the other illegal Europeans? What’s that you say? You say the Mexicans aren’t Spanish? Come to think of it, they don’t look much like Penelope Cruz, 0r Salma Hayek, or Antonio Banderas, do they? In fact, there seem to be a lot of them, not just Mexicans, but people from all over Central and South America who look sort of, well, like native Americans, don’t they?

Oh. You mean they had Indians in Mexico and South America too? Yep. And it seems that a sizable number of people from south of the border have a sizable amount of Native American blood, unlike us pure-blooded people here – which accounts for the fact that they don’t look Spanish, even though they sort of speak it.  I suppose it isn’t an accident that the Statue of Liberty faces Europe and not South America or Asia.  What are the words? “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, I lift my lamp beside the Golden Door.” Right. Thing is, the Golden Door is in New York City, not certainly Phoenix. But it is still open – for the right people. And it looks like people from south of the border aren’t the right kind of people.

SPEAK ENGLISH the sign said. SPEAK ENGLISH. Right…good idea. Let’s all just forget our native tongue (God knows the Irish did) and speak English – after all, it’s our national language, isn’t it?

And by the way, all you native Americans – WELCOME TO AMERICA.

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In his recent travels around the world, President Obama has made it a point to visit geographic sites that symbolize man’s inhumanity to man. First, he visited the World War II German concentration camp at Buchenwald.  It was a place of special significance for him because his great uncle had been involved in the liberation of one of Buchenwald’s sub-camps.  During his visit he made a speech, inviting Iran’s Prime Minister Ahmadenijad to visit the camp, saying, “I have no patience for people who would deny history”. It is a good point, the denial of history is the first step in national self-deception.

Recently, President Obama traveled to Ghana on the African coast – it is a model of democracy on a continent that has had its share of tyrannical dictators. Before he left, the President made a point of visiting Cape Coast Castle, Britain’s headquarters for its slave trade to America. Once again, President Obama took solemn note of how people can be cruel and unjust to each other. This key part of the slavery system that sent so many blacks from Africa to America and a lifetime of slavery is a fitting reminder of how the rich and powerful can conveniently forget all notions of fairness, justice, and humanity when there is a buck to be made.

So, I’m wondering, while President Obama is still in the mood to bring our attention to mankind’s atrocities and remind us of how evil men have literally gotten away with murder and theft, if he has any plans to visit one of America’s own symbols of man’s inumanity to man. I’m talking about Wounded Knee, South Dakota.  Specifically, this was the location of a massacre of about 300 Sioux Native Americans when they tried to surrender to the U.S. 7th Cavalry on Dec 29, 1890.  The massacre at Wounded Knee ended the hundreds of years of warfare between the Native Americans and the Europeans and it is, therefore, a fitting symbol of the geneocide that was conducted by the colonists as they grabbed whatever land they could on the North American continent, content to regard the Native Americans as subhuman – just as the Nazis and the slave traders have done to their victims.

Wounded Knee could be the symbol of America’s own dark history of murder and theft – all for the sake of a buck.  Wounded Knee is a symbol, just as vibrant and true as Buchenwald or the Cape Coast Castle, for genocide and oppression existed here as much as it did there.  It is one of America’s little “inconvenient truths” that we choose to forget while we continually remind the Germans of their transgressions and while we rightly remind the Brits of their murderous and greedy past while they made slaves of the African people.  The question is: have we forgotten our own past?  Have we forgotten the genocide that the settlers of this country visited upon the people who owned the land before they arrived? Or could it be that we have a little of Ahmadinejad’s way of thinking in us too?  Are we denying our own history?  When will we ever apologize to the descendents of the people that the founders of this country slaughtered so that they could grab their land and make a buck?

So, here’s my question to the President: Mr. Obama, when should we plan on seeing you pay a visit to Wounded Knee where you will make another speech, reminding us once again of man’s inhumanity to man and finally offering an apology to the few remaining survivors of a vast people who once owned all of this land, from sea to shining sea?

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