“They made us many promises, more than I can remember. They kept but one. They promised to take our land and they took it,” – Red Cloud (1822-1909), Oglala Lakota Sioux.
The eloquent words above justifiably explain why, from the Native American perspective, no white European ever immigrated to America “the right way.” They just brutally took the land from its rightful owners.
Most readers may be familiar with the word “Diaspora” as it relates to the Hebrews’ Biblical uprooting and exile to Egypt, Babylon, and elsewhere. The fact is that one of the most massive, multi-faceted diasporas occurred right here in the U.S. Indeed, no place was safe for Native Americans living in ancestral lands that European-descent people wanted and took without mercy from sea to shining sea.
Besides the enslavement of African people in the U.S. (meriting its own designation as a diaspora), no other part of U.S. history is more appalling, more disturbing than the fate of Native Americans in what is now the U.S.
Alas, the deliberate, degrading displacement shows how much U.S. policies were focused on depriving indigenous people of their most cherished communal possession – their land. Crafting what plainly became extermination strategies, U.S. government mandates sent Native Americans to their death. How? By forcing indigenous families to walk great distances, resulting in the loss of the most vulnerable – women, children, and elderly. The ones who survived the march were sentenced to a prison-like existence in faraway stockades.
For the record, sympathetic white advocates voiced passionate disapproval of U.S. heavy-handedness. Yet, their voices were silenced by racists ruling the day; sowing the bitter seeds of intolerance toward brown-skin human beings still present today in our country.
The U.S.-led diaspora is deep-rooted. From (l) the taking of the east coast in the 1600s, (2) General Jackson’s 1830 Indian Removal Act (Trail of Tears), (3) Sioux displacement, and (4) the capture and forced exile of Geronimo (Goyaalé) from his New Mexico homeland in the late 1800s. In what became a contest between white intolerants vs. indigenous Americans, the intolerants won.
Setting the standard, the first Anglo-Powhatan War in 1610 Virginia was an ominous sign of things to come. That is, white trespassers armed with more technologically advanced weapons ejected natives from their villages, inflicting unspeakable barbarism on native men, women, and children.
Things didn’t fare any better for southeast Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole tribes, as English settlers continued their unrelenting encroachment. By the early 1800s, whites had completely victimized Native Americans to the point that they weren’t even allowed to own property deeds in white communities.
So began the Native American Diaspora. Chronologically speaking, the 1830 Indian Removal Act symbolizes the first major phase in the banishment of indigenous people from their land; darkly referred to as the “Trail of Tears.”
Emulating ancient Egyptian and Babylonian tyrants, President Andrew Jackson’s cruel removal act inflicted much misery and pain. Indeed, thousands of early Floridians perished on their way to prison-like reservations in “Indian Territory” (now Oklahoma).
To the west, more bad news. Taking steps only designed to buy time, U.S. negotiators signed treaties. Albeit, they immediately violated agreed rules. Such was the case with the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty.
The agreement directed the exile of Sioux people from their homeland in today’s North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, and Minnesota; confining them to a reservation called the Great Sioux Reservation. Yet, as the flood of Anglo migrants moved west and squatted on their property, the U.S. chipped away much of the Sioux territory for white settlements, especially after gold was found in the Black Hills.
War broke out. Ultimately, the Sioux lost their beloved Black Hills, site of Mt. Rushmore. Representing a crown of empire confirming that their land was under new management, the white faces carved on the sacred Six Grandfathers Mountain profoundly wounded the heart of the Sioux Nation.
The Sioux didn’t forget the U.S. treachery. In 1980, they sued for the return of their land (U.S. vs Sioux Nation of Indians). The court found the U.S. guilty as charged and directed payment to the Native Americans. Although a monetary amount was offered, the Sioux refused to accept the money. To this day, the funds are still in escrow because the Sioux Nation has not accepted financial compensation, preferring instead the return of their ancestral lands.
The story in the Southwest was equally distressing. Although relations between New Spain and Natives had initially been horribly brutal as demonstrated by the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, the culture-clash crucible produced the mixed-blood Mestizo people (half Spanish European and half Native American), commonly called Mexican Americans.
Assuaging the fragile relationship, the Mexican American population created a conduit between whites and indigenous people. After 1848, U.S. officials and the U.S. Army had perfected their deceptive treaty tricks. A series of U.S. engagements referred to by historians as the Apache Wars began in 1849, and lasted into the 1920s.
In retrospect, Southwest Native Americans were not one cohesive population. Truly, distinct groups lived and protected assigned territorial boundaries.
For example, individual components in the Southwest included Apache, Chiricahua, Jicarilla, Yavapai, and Tonto. Each grouping was likewise headed by individuals who planned their own destiny, revolted against white aggression, and executed their own battles, such as, Cochise, Geronimo, Victorio, Mangas Coloradas, Chato, Nana, and many others.
Eventually, peace was declared through a series of treaties that turned out to be one-sided, favoring the U.S. Enticing Native Americans to move to reservations, U.S. promises to provide them with food, clothing, supplies, and security were generally broken. Geronimo and Chiricahua Apaches were exiled to faraway Florida. Alas, Geronimo died in 1909 at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, still classified as a prisoner-of-war.
In summary, now you know why Native Americans are not in a thankful mood on Thanksgiving Day. Incredibly, because of their brown-skin, their legitimacy to live in their ancestral land (America) is often questioned by white people who should know better.
In fact, here are two present-day examples of blatant disdain:
- Native Americans are often told by whites “to go back to your own country.”
- The “Build the Wall” movement’s much-publicized portion of the wall is being built, not on the U.S.-Mexico border, but in Tohono O’odham Nation land.
(Note: As this article goes to press, several people have been indicted for stealing the money they collected; donated by gullible donors whose fear and hysteria is driven by anti-immigrant rhetoric.)
Hopefully, this story will one day be integrated into mainstream U.S. history. Why? Because the majority of white people are unaware of the American Diaspora.
Finally, some objective-minded historians and prudent leaders witnessed and wrote about the horrid treatment of Native Americans. Appropriately, this article ends with the astute words of two men who knew the truth and poignantly expressed their views (Peter Cozzens, “The Earth is Weeping”).
U.S. Army Captain John G. Burke: “There is no more disgraceful page in the history of our relations with the American Indians than that which conceals the treachery visited upon the Chiricahuas who remained faithful in their allegiance to our people.”
U.S. Army General George Crook: “I do not wonder, and you will not either, that when Indians see their wives and children starving and their last source of supplies cut off, they go to war. And then we are sent out there to kill them. It is an outrage. All tribes tell the same story. They are surrounded on all sides, the game is destroyed or driven away; they are left to starve, and there remains but one thing for them to do – fight while they can. Our treatment of the Indian is an outrage.”
Editor’s Note: The above guest column was penned by historian and author José Antonio López. It is published in the Rio Grande Guardian with the permission of the author. López can be reached via: [email protected]
Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above guest column shows Red Cloud.
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