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America, A Nation Blessed by God? Part Ten
A Clash of Cultures
By the late 1800s reservations had become, in effect, concentration camps. Most were on barren lands that were useless for farming and devoid of game and Indians were forced to live off of United States food rations. Predictably, providing subsidies and food for over 200,000 people was big business and this resulted in wide-spread government corruption, manifesting itself in what was called the Indian Ring, which left the people in poverty.
To their credit, not all Americans agreed with the treatment of the Indians.
“I noticed…a small group of Indians who sat under a tree…all were dirty, ragged and lean….Soon an Indian woman and a young girl…hurried into the group, laid down…packs and opened them….I could see spread out there some dingy meat, evidently meat from a butcher’s shop, some discarded scraps of stale bread, and other stray odds and ends of food…. I felt a wave of fury toward our government’s whole Indian policy….” Thomas Tibbles, Reporter
Many eastern reformers were determined to break the Indian Ring, but they believed that the only lasting solution was change, not only for the bureaucrats, but for the Indian people themselves. Indian ways were considered to be backward and that for their own good their cultures had to be erased. Indians were to be remade in the image of the white man.
“The Indian’s only safe future can be found in merging their interests with ours in becoming part of the people of the United States. Their safe course is to quit being tribal Indians, to go out and live among us as individual men, to adopt our language, our industries, and become a part of the Power.” – Richard Pratt, director, Carlisle Indian School.
The policy of stripping Indian people of their cultures became official with the 1887 passage of the General Allotment Act. The Act broke apart communal land ownings, assigning plots to individuals in an effort to force them to live like white farmers. In effect, it attacked the Indian concept of land belonging to all the people.
“As long as the Indians live in villages, they will retain many of their old and injurious habits. Frequent feasts, heathen ceremonies and dances, constant visiting--these will continue as long as people live together in close neighborhoods and villages. I trust that before another year is ended they will generally be located upon individual land or farms. From that date will begin their real and permanent progress.” – a Government Commissioner.
Once again, corruption raised its ugly head. Corrupt agents declared small children, dogs and horses as allottees, then seized their lands and sold them. Indian orphans were shuffled off to white families who had adopted them to obtain title to their allotment. After allotment plots were handed out to Indian people the US government was free to sell the remaining reservation land to whites. During this period the Indians lost two thirds of the little land that remained in their hands.
Two years after the passage of the Allotment Act Oklahoma Indian territory was officially opened to settlers. What followed were the famous land rushes -- land which had been promised as permanent, unassailable refuges in exchange for their lands east of the Mississippi.
The cruelest government policy was yet to come. Indian people would be robbed of even their children. Across the country Indian children as young as four years old were taken from their parents, often by force, and sent to boarding schools. They were stripped of all outward appearances linking them to their Indian past.
"It was very cold that day when we were loaded into the wagons. None of us wanted to go and our parents didn't want to let us go. Oh, we cried for this was the first time we were to be separated from our parents. I remember looking back at Na-tah-ki and she was crying too. Nobody waved as the wagons, escorted by the soldiers, took us toward the school at Fort Shaw.
"Once there our belongings were taken from us, even the little medicine bags our mothers had given to us to protect us from harm. Everything was placed in a heap and set afire. Next was the long hair, the pride of all the Indians. The boys, one by one, would break down and cry when they saw their braids thrown on the floor. All of the buckskin clothes had to go and we had to put on the clothes of the White Man....
"We were told never to talk Indian and if we were caught, we got a strapping with a leather belt." (Nabokov, 1991, p. 220). – Lone Wolf, Blackfoot.
After the father of one boy who had been beaten and had his collar bone broken confronted the school, the family left for Canada and never returned.
Children were forbidden to speak of their traditions and severely punished if they used their native languages. They were fed distorted images of evil Indians and many came to doubt their own identity. Many boarding schools were set up in converted military posts. Students were drilled daily in strict military regiment. Boarding school graduates returned to the schools and encouraged new students fresh from the reservations to give up their traditions, as can be seen from this former graduate who returned to speak to the students:
“Don’t look back, all that is passed away. This country through here is all improved. You saw when you were coming, cities, railroads, houses, manufactories. Boys, this was once all our country, but our fathers had not their eyes opened. We have. Now, the only way to hold our land is to get educated ourselves.” – Henry Jones, Creek
This is a glowing example of how people can be engrained in a single generation to think that things once thought abnormal are now normal and how the previous generation was backwards, ignorant, and uneducated. Such methods are rampant in today's culture - what was wrong is now right and what was right is now wrong.
America, A Nation Blessed by God? Conclusion
People came to this country looking for freedom and religious tolerance but showed little of it to the Indians.
So how are Native Americans treated in the twenty-first century? Today there are 10 million Indian people in North America, with two million in the United States alone. They continue to deal with the complex struggle to maintain their cultures and quality of life.
The Council of Indian Nations reports regularly on Native Americans, particularly the elderly, who struggle to survive tough winters. With their food sources and other resources taken away many live in shacks, homes made of stone with broken windows, holes in the walls, etc. Many have very little food and every year some die - this in the richest nation in the world!
Up until now we have been looking at the treatment of the American Indians by the white man. However, mistreatment has not been confined to just them. One could also talk about the use of the Chinese as cheap labour during the California Gold Rush.
We could discuss the taking of Mexican land by force in what is now the southern part of the United States.
In more recent times, we could also mentioned the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. We could discuss the internment of German Americans during both World War I and World War II. The German Americans have never received an apology.
We could also discuss the greatest holocaust of all time, the murder of over 54 million babies in the United States just since the overturning of Roe vs. Wade in 1973.
We could also make note of the fact that the United States is the only industrialized country that doesn't provide health care to all its citizens. In contrast to the attitude of the Native Americans, who willingly did what they could to provide care for the less fortunate, in today's society it is those with money who receive the best health care. Those who struggle for employment are considered lazy, wanting only to sponge off the wealth of others. (This isn't the attitude of every American, but it is the attitude of the society as a whole).
So in light of all this, the question must be asked: Is the United States a country blessed by God? While it is certainly possible for God to bless individuals, can He bless a country as a whole that has treated other human beings the way it has throughout its history - a country that was born through violence and that has been a warring nation ever since, using as an excuse the motto "Freedom isn't free"? Do scientific accomplishments and medical discoveries mean God is blessing the country? Yes, we are in the computer age, with iPads, fast cars and 3D television. However, these came at a heavy cost, a cost that has not been corrected. So has God really blessed the United States? We will leave the answer up to the reader.
America, A Nation Blessed by God?
Has the United States been blessed by God?
Links to America, A Nation Blessed by God?
- America, A Nation Blessed by God? Part One
- America, A Nation Blessed by God? Part Two
- America, A Nation Blessed by God? Part Three
- America, a Nation Blessed by God? Part Four
- America, A Nation Blessed by God? Part Five
- America, A Nation Blessed by God? Part Six
- America, A Nation Blessed by God? Part Seven
- America, A Nation Blessed by God? Part Eight
- America, A Nation Blessed by God? Part Nine