Racism, Justice and the American Indian
Racism against Native Americans
Forgotten Story of Indian Slavery
From Associated Content,
Race & History,
Racism against Native Americans
When you hear the word racism, most people think African American or Hispanic, but there is an entire other race in America who experiences racism on every level without a real sense of justice, it is the American Indian.
Racism far exceeds just Black and White or Hispanic and Asian. Often forgotten, the American Indian has experienced a great deal of racism in the U.S. Although many people overlook or excuse the behavior of the settlers, this was the home of the Indian person before Christopher Columbus. Contrary to popular belief, Columbus didn't discover America, the Indians already called this vast land home. And like any person defending their home or territory, the Indians fought to keep their land.
It seems a shame that Native Americans are subjected to racism in a country they called their own but they do. According to the United States Department of Justice Native Americans experience per capita more than twice the rates of violence as the average American citizen. American Indians are the victim of violence by those of other races more than 70 percent of the time. So why then is the public not aware of these statistics? The answer is horrifyingly simple; the justice system in American does not tend to care for its native sons and daughters.
According to the US Department of Justice, by its own admission, crimes against Native Americans go unpunished. The DOJ states that some of the problem is reporting of crimes by Indians but they also admit that police officers nationwide are not equipped with the knowledge needed to fight crime within Native tribes. Many times because tribal members live on reservations local police are reluctant or discouraged from responding to crimes against natives. In affect this leaves many tribes policing themselves that can get difficult because of tribal ties.
More good reading:Native Americans in the United States
Hundreds of native peoples made up of millions of individuals occupied the lands that would become the United States of America. During the colonial and independent periods, a long series of Indian Wars were fought with the primary objective of obtaining much of North America as territory of the U.S. Through wars, massacre, forced displacement (such as in the Trail of Tears), restriction of food rights, and the imposition of treaties, land was taken and numerous hardships imposed. Ideologies justifying the context included stereotypes of Native Americans as "merciless Indian savages" (as described in the United States Declaration of Independence) and the quasi-religious doctrine of Manifest Destiny which asserted divine blessing for U.S. conquest of all lands west of the Atlantic seaboard to the Pacific. The most rapid invasion occurred in the California gold rush, the first two years of which saw the deaths of tens of thousands of Indians. Following the 1848 American invasion, Native Californians were enslaved in the new state from statehood in 1850 to 1867.
Military and civil resistance by Native Americans has been a constant feature of American history. So too have a variety of debates around issues of sovereignty, the upholding of treaty provisions, and the civil rights of Native Americans under U.S. law.
Forgotten Story of Indian Slavery
Once their territories were incorporated into the United States, surviving Native Americans were denied equality before the law and often treated as wards of the state. Many Native Americans were relegated to reservations--constituting just 4% of U.S. territory--and the treaties signed with them violated. Tens of thousands of American Indians and Alaska Natives were forced to attend a residential school system which sought to reeducate them in white settler American values, culture and economy--to "kill the Indian, saving the man."
Further dispossession continued through concessions for industries such as oil, mining and timber and through division of land through legislation such as the Allotment Act. These concessions have raised problems of consent, exploitation of low royalty rates, environmental injustice, and gross mismanagement of funds held in trust, resulting in the loss of $10-40 billion. The World watch Institute notes that 317 reservations are threatened by environmental hazards, while Western Shoshone land has been subjected to more than 1,000 nuclear explosions.
While formal equality has been legally granted, American Indians, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders remain among the most economically disadvantaged groups in the country, and suffer from high levels of alcoholism and suicide.
When Americans think of slavery, our minds create images of Africans inhumanely crowded aboard ships plying the middle passage from Africa, or of blacks stooped to pick cotton in Southern fields. We don't conjure images of American Indians chained in coffles and marched to ports like Boston and Charleston, and then shipped to other ports in the Atlantic world.
Yet Indian slavery and an Indian slave trade were ubiquitous in early America. From the Atlantic to the Pacific, and from the Gulf of Mexico to Canada, tens of thousands of America's native peoples were enslaved, many of them transported to lands distant from their homes.
Our historical mythology posits that American Indians could not be enslaved in large numbers because they too readily succumbed to disease when exposed to Europeans and they were too wedded to freedom to allow anyone to own them. Yet many indigenous people developed resistance to European diseases after being exposed to the newcomers for well over a century. And it is a racist conception that "inferior" Africans accepted their debased position as slaves - a status that American Indians and Europeans presumably could never have accepted. This is a gross misconception of history.
We are just scratching the surface of what this all means. For the enslavement of Indians forces us to rethink not only the institution of slavery, but the evolution of racism and racist ideologies in America.
Scholars long have known about the Indian slave trade, but the scattered nature of the sources deterred a systematic examination. No one had any conception of the trade's massive extent and that it played such a central role in the lives of early Americans and in the colonial economy.
Indian slavery complicates the narrative we have created of a white-black world, with Indians residing outside on a vaguely defined frontier. The Indian slave trade connects native and European history, so that plantations and Indian communities become entwined. We find planters making more money from slave trading than planting, and if we look more closely we find Indians not only enslaved on plantations but working as police forces to maintain those plantations and receiving substantial rewards for returning runaway slaves.
We are also learning a great deal more about American-Indian peoples. Most importantly we can now tell the stories - the tragedies - that befell so many who were killed in slaving wars or spent their days as slaves far from their homes. They and their peoples have been largely forgotten. The Natchez, Westo, Yamasee, Euchee, Yazoo and Tawasa are among the dozens of Indian peoples who fell victims to the slaving wars, with the survivors forced to join other native communities. These are tales that Indians themselves have not told: Just as the story of Indian slavery was excluded from the European past, it was largely forgotten in American-Indian traditions.
Americans often wish the past would just go away, save for those symbols we celebrate: Pocahontas saving John Smith, the "noble savage," and the first Thanksgiving. The image of Pilgrims and Indians sharing a meal is one of the most cogent images we have of American Indians and of the colonization of this continent.
Food for Thought
When there's a single thief, it's robbery. When there are a thousand thieves, it's taxation. - Vanya Cohen