Indians were also colonists

Published 6:49 am Monday, July 26, 2010

I’ve commented here about the inconsistency of courts allowing the designation of Indian sacred grounds within Yosemite National Park but also disallowing a secular cross in a nearby national preserve. I assign this to political correctness rather than the U.S. Constitution.

While in Yosemite, I made another observation about inconsistency (perhaps even hypocrisy) in regard to American Indians. Whereas the sacred grounds and the cross were simply nearby geographically, I read this additional inconsistency within the same books. Then being in a well documented tribal area, I was able to look at several locally published books on Indian history, and what I found is consonant with what I had read previously.

I found some jarring differences between the language used for pre-colonial eras from the language used for the colonial era. In describing the all-Indian era, the literature notes a wide range of tribes and also related tribes forming Indian nations. I found fascinating the descriptions of differing ethnic characteristics and distinctive cultures. As an elementary school student I had presumed Indians were homogenous. The fact is some tribes differed from others at least as much as the Spanish colonists differed from the British, French, and Dutch colonists.

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Yet, when the literature turns to narratives of the interface of Indians and Anglos, it is just this—Indians and Anglos, as if all Indians were alike and all Europeans were alike.

I recognize this same inconsistency in the term “colonies” for the European settlements and “tribal territories” for the Indians. Except that the tribes were not able to maintain contact with their points of origin, it seems to me they were also colonies, e.g., Apache, Winnebago. The Indians were as much colonists as were the Europeans. If they can be grouped in distinction from each other, we can speak only of the earlier colonists and the later colonists.

The literature of the discipline of Indian history locates the various tribes  by their respective geographical territories. This had fascinated me as a student, and I had tried to memorize their locations. Different maps confused me, because they placed the various tribes in different locations. What I didn’t then recognize is that the tribes kept moving around, migrating from one area to another. Each time they settled, they declared this their territory.

The language the literature uses is the Indians “competed for territory” or “struggled over disputed lands” or “vied with each other over watering rights and hunting ranges.” But when it describes Anglos seeking new areas in which to settle, the language changes to “the colonists drove the native Americans off their ancestral lands” or “wrested it out of the hands of the native peoples” or “seized what belonged to the original inhabitants.”

The European colonists, at least at times and in places, did exactly this. I suppose the most distressing was the Trail of Tears in the forced deportation of the domestic tribes in the south.

But the Indians had been doing the same thing for centuries before the white men even knew there were such places. They attacked each other, they raided other tribes for their live stock and women, they forced whole tribes out of areas where they had lived for generations. Indian reservations created by the United States government were never a good idea and have resulted in serious abuse, but at least a place was provided—which none of the Indian tribes ever did for the tribes they displaced.

One source states, unguardedly I sense, that when peace was finally created between the whites and the Indians, the Indians had nothing left but to return to raiding each other.

Again I assert this inconsistency is the product of current political  correctness. Its fundamental doctrine is that all discrimination, intolerance, and other social evil is the action of majorities. Minorities, by PC definitions, can never be charged with any of these and were always the victims.

The sins of American Indians and European settlers were the same: failure to sustain human values and failure to act humanely.