Thursday, September 11, 2014

History 361 - Antebellum 1820-1860 Opinion Piece #1 - Indian Removal

Indian Removal
            I chose Jackson's Indian Removal as the subject of my first Response Essay.  I think that while most Americans are fairly knowledgeable about the evil of slavery, few are cognizant of the near extinction of an entire race of people. The Native American people still suffer from treatment  that began with the landing of the white man in the Caribbeanin 1492.  Most Americans have not even heard of the Indian Removal and few of those that have realize that it was conducted for nearly the entire decade of the 1830s.    It was not just a single march of 80 miles, like the brutal Bataan Death March.   The Trail of Tears, the final portion of the Cherokee removal, was arguably  the most barbaric of the atrocities visited on the tribes in our history.  It crossed nine states and hundreds of miles.  This dark period was certainly not taught in the history classes of my youth.   
            I am in no way saying that slavery was not an abomination, but I believe that the Native Americans that were uprooted and moved west across the Mississippi River experienced an even  more horrific existence.  Slaves were considered  a valuable commodity so they were housed, fed, and clothed.  They were provided medical  care.  Many slaveholders were cruel, but they valued their slaves as they did their livestock.  Also, many slaves lived on the same land for generations and as a result had some stability in their wretched lives.   
            These tribes were forcibly removed from their land and everything they knew. Thousands died from disease, starvation, and exposure to the elements. These "savages" were not even valued as highly as slaves.  The government just wanted them to go away and they nearly did.   
            The United  States has never been the melting pot that it advertises itself as.  Throughout our history, each ethnic group, nationality, and race has been victimized and exploited by the white, primarily British, male, "ruling" class.  While it is mainly people of color that experienced the most prejudicial treatment, "lesser" white people, such as Irish, Polish, and Italian immigrants have been victims.  The Americans, following the British imperialist model, have colonized and exploited many other countries, expanding the reach of political and military power and desire for resources.  But none of this even approaches the evil it has  exercised  on the Native Americans.  Most immigrant groups have eventually been accepted, if not welcomed, and allowed to share in the quality of life afforded an American citizen   The "American Dream" has  been primarily a nightmare to the American Indian.  
            My mother's grandfather was a full-blooded Native American.  He died long before I was born, and was never talked about.  My mother's grandmother was disgraced by having "been with" an Indian.  I only found out about him by accident.  That is a part of my ancestry that I will never know about.  A philosophy lost to me.     
            I lived in Wyoming for six years in the town of Riverton, in the middle of the Wind River Reservation.  I got a firsthand look at the hopelessness of these people.  I even substitute taught in one of the Indian schools.  Abject poverty; alcohol, drug, and physical abuse are a way of life.  Unlike the African Americans, the Native Americans have scant positive role models to encourage expectations of a better life.  They have no Michael Jordans, Martin Luther Kings, or Barack Obamas to inspire them.  They have casinos.  However, the income from those often does not trickle down below tribal "leaders."      
            Though the American government has always lacked respect for people of color, I believe the Native American has received the poorest treatment for the longest time.                               

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