This is how I’ve spent the majority of my Friday nights this year.
Title: Is It?
There are 311,873,167 Americans in 50 states supported by a strong, influential government and attractive way of life. I am an American- Native American. A topic that often comes up in my life involves the question: if you consider the position of America as one of the greatest countries in the world, is it fair to say that what happened to Native Americans was (and is) overall better for Native Americans? I would have to disagree. If you consider the position of Native American tribes since the arrival of Christopher Columbus, through Westward Expansion and even today, you can see that what happened (and is still happening) to Native American tribes was not good for us and still isn’t.
When Columbus came to the Americas he brought with him genocide and destruction to a way of life; a trend that would continue for hundreds of years to follow. Chapter one of Howard Zinn’s book ‘A People’s History of the United States’ reveals the truth behind Columbus’s discovery of America by describing the fate of the Arawak Indians in Hispaniola- genocide. “By the year 1515, there were perhaps fifty thousand Indians left. By 1550, there were five hundred. A report of the year 1650 shows none of the original Arawaks or their descendants left on the island.” [Zinn] Genocide was accomplished through destruction of the land. Zinn goes on to tell the plight of many Arawak families forced into slavery, “men were sent many miles away to the mines, the wives remained to work the soil, forced into making thousands of hills for cassava plants”. [Zinn] This disregard for Native American life and way of life has plagued Native American communities ever since.
Following in the footsteps of early European conquistadors, Westward Expansion seemed to satisfy America’s greed for land and money but it also fueled a slew of iniquitous law passed by congress while Native American culture receded. In ‘Indian Givers How the Indians of the Americas Transformed the World’ by Jack Weathorford, Native Americans are given recognition for their many contributions to the world. For example the book mentions Thomas Paine and how he “used the Indians as models of how society might be organized” [Weatherford, p. 125]. Paine was not the only person to recognize the beauty in Native American government, but like all the other advocates described in this book his words did little to help their plight. Evidence is specified in legislation passed during this time such as the Indian Removal Act of 1830. This “forced the surviving Creeks to abandon their lands” [p. 159]. The Creeks were not alone, “many more Indian nations had to follow the same route” [p. 159].
So what does this all lead up to? In 2008 The Associated Press released an article entitled, “1 in 10 Native Americans deaths alcohol related”. Alcohol isn’t the only problem terrorizing the Native American community, last year Native American Times released an article stating, “Meth use by Native Americans remains among the highest of any ethnicity”. It seems in these last 500 years since Columbus first ravaged our way of life, we have evolved into a minority of Americans who suffer from high percentages of horrifying statistics. Add this to Native Americans fight to remain separate as illustrated in High Country News’s article “Blood Quantum”. This article addresses dwindling enrollment numbers among tribal members. All in all, it is easy to see that Native Americans have a lot of work ahead concerning the current state of Native American issues.
Through all these challenges you might think there is no hope for Native Americans, but that is not true. Opponents could argue with the help from money brought in by casino’s, Native Americans are rebuilding better nations for themselves minimizing the effects of past endeavors. Hillary Shenfeld of Newsweek reported in 2007 “tribal gaming revenue hit $27 billion” dollars and “of the 562 federally recognized tribes, about 220 have gaming operations”. With this new found wealth many tribes are investing “in land for housing, businesses, farming, hunting and fishing grounds, grazing lands for cattle and buffalo- or simply returning it to the wild”. It appears casino money has opened a plethora of opportunities for Native American communities leading all of Americans to believe everything is honky dory here in Indian Country! This type of thinking is also known as ‘stereotyping’.
Stereotyping is the belief one particular individual represents the majority of people in which that person is categorized in. In other words if you believe because some tribes have profited from casinos therefore all tribes have profited from casinos, then you are stereotyping Native Americans. First of all not all tribes have casinos. The article clearly states only “220 [tribes] have gaming operations”. This number does not even make up half of the “562 federally recognized tribes”. Secondly, if you were to read further in Shenfeld’s article you would learn about the battle tribes are facing concerning their rights to the land because “tribal leaders are increasingly removing the land from tax rolls by placing it into federal trust”. Some of these disputes over land have reached the U.S. Supreme Court. In the above example the reason tribes are placing their land in trust is due to a ruling which set forth the policy that land purchased by tribes can only be “tax-exempt if it were in trust”. What does this mean? After Native Americans buy back land stolen from them through legislation passed such as the Indian Removal Act, their rights to then govern that land is limited by the American government.
Finally we begin to understand what this all means and why in 2010 the U.S. Bureau reported there are only 2,932,248 American Indian or Alaskan Natives, making up less than 1 percent of the American population. Yes, we have come a long way since the arrival of Columbus but our fight to survive remains the same and what has happened (and is still happening) to Native Americans cannot be ignored simply because the progress the rest of America has made as a country. Furthermore, it should never be thought of as beneficial for Native Americans ever. Jack Weatherford ended his book with this statement: “In the 500 years since Columbus’s voyage to America, the people of the world have benefited greatly from the American Indians, but the world may have lost even more than it gained”. With so much lost, how can it be good for anyone- especially Native Americans? It isn’t.
Author – Millicent Michelle Pepion
Submitted – Friday, July 29, 2011
*U.S. Census Bureau (2011). U.S. & World Populations. Washington: Government Printing Office, 2011.
*Zinn, H. (2005). A People’s History of the United States: 1492-Present. Harper Perennial Modern Classics.
*Weatherford, Jack. Indian Givers: How the Indians of the Americas Transformed the World. New York: Crown Publishers, Inc, 1988.
*“1 in 10 Native American deaths alcohol related”. (August 28, 2008). MSNBC News. Web. July 23, 2011.
*Bryan, Susan. “Ad campaign targets meth use in Indian Country”. (May 4, 2010). Native American Times. Web. July 22, 2011.
*Appleton, Andrea. “Blood Quantum”. (January 19, 2009). High Country News. Web. July 23, 2011.
*Lacroix, Celeste. “High Stakes Stereotypes: The Emergence of the ‘Casino Indian’ Trope in Television Depictions of Contemporary Native Americans”. (2011). The Howard Journal of Communications. Web. July 29, 2011.