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American Indian Relations, Past and Present

Updated on March 11, 2008
Sitting Bull
Sitting Bull

They tell ya “Honey, you can still be an Indian down at the ‘Y’ on Saturday nights. -- "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee," Buffy Sainte-Marie

The question of whether European Americans feel guilty for taking over American Indian land is a complicated one. I think many Americans do feel bad about the situation of the native tribes, when they think about it at all, but not necessarily bad enough to do anything about it, and certainly not bad enough to give the land back.

The question of whether European Americans even should feel guilty is equally thorny. The ancestors of a significant percentage of European Americans today were not directly involved in killing the native peoples and taking their land, though they benefited after the fact from it. And even among those who are descended from soldiers who fought in the Indian Wars, or traders who passed along smallpox infested blankets, or even scientists and other educated people who used their intellect to construct elaborate justifications for the land grab and near-genocide of America's first peoples, very few modern Americans share their prejudices and hatred of the native tribes.

I personally do feel guilty about our past treatment of American Indian tribes, yes. I think what happened to them was appalling and frequently outright criminal. However, I also think that what's past is past, and cannot be changed. It is more important that we work to ensure that the injustices of the past are not repeated.

Apache reservation, by PhillipC
Apache reservation, by PhillipC

The Alcatraz Proclamation

In 1969, a group of American Indian Movement (AIM) activists and others occupied the then-deserted island of Alcatraz in the San Francisco Bay for 19 months, claiming jursidiction under the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie. They issued the following proclamation:

We feel that this so-called Alcatraz Island is more than suitable for an Indian reservation, as determined by the white man's own standards. By this, we mean that this place resembles most Indian reservations in that:

1. It is isolated from modern facilities, and without adequate means of transportation.

2. It has no fresh running water.

3. It has inadequate sanitation facilities.

4. There are no oil or mineral rights.

5. There is no industry and so unemployment is very great.

6. There are no health-care facilities.

7. The soil is rocky and non-productive, and the land does not support game.

8. There are no educational facilities.

9. The population has always exceeded the land base.

10. The population has always been held as prisoners and kept dependent upon others.

I learned a safety rule, I don’t know who to thank: Don't stand between the reservation and the corporate bank. They send in federal tanks. It isn’t nice but it’s reality. -- "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee," Buffy Sainte-Marie

And the sad fact is, the injustices of the past are still being repeated. Indian reservations throughout North America suffer from extraordinarily high rates of poverty, alcoholism, and unemployment. On some reservations, the unemployment rate is as high as 90%. The life expectancy of many Indians, especially Indian men, is on par with that of third world countries, and Indian tribes suffer from the highest rate of teen suicides of any ethnic group in the United States: more than three times the national average. Crime rates on many reservations are very high, and significant percentages of the homes on many reservations lack adequate plumbing, sanitation, and electricity. The Indian Housing Authority estimates that only 68% of Indian households even own a telephone.

A lot of whites wonder why the Indians haven't adjusted all that well to white culture when, "Heck, my grandparents came over here from Holland - didn't speak a word of English and didn't have a dime - but they managed to do all right, and they never went on welfare either." That's the way Royal Cupp put it, and you've heard the same thing from other people in other places. Well, there's a much bigger jump from Indian to white than from Holland to America. -- It's Not the End of the Earth, But You Can See It From Here, Roger Welsch

In recent years, many tribes have undertaken renewed efforts to preserve and celebrate their cultural heritage, in the hope that doing do will renew the peoples' pride in their heritage and help reduce rates of alcoholism, violent crime, and other proplems. Other efforts have been more controversial, and many of the founding and/or active members of AIM are jailed or dead.

Although disastrous previous policies, such as the practice of taking Indian children from their parents and educating them in boarding schools and the "termination" movement of the 1950s and 60's, have been discontinued, there is clearly still a long way to go before white-Indian relations have healed.

Wounded Knee, by rlh
Wounded Knee, by rlh


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    • profile image

      bob 6 years ago

      hi its really good thanks for your info

    • wheelinallover profile image

      Dennis Thorgesen 6 years ago from Central United States

      Although I am part Indian I never lived on a reservation. I did spend time on a Serrano reservation as a child, my grandmother somehow got permission. At that stage of my life I didn't understand what poverty was. For me having little to eat, few toys, and mostly candle light or coal oil lamps was just the way things were. When I was on the reservation things "were just like they were at home" only they spoke English, while we spoke Cherokee, Spanish and English.

      My half brothers and I were alcoholics by the time we were teens and two of my half brothers and a half sister were drug addicts by their middle teens. The death rate in our family is high, of eight children by my mother there are only 5 left. All of my half brothers spent at least two years in prison.

      From this my guess would be that the mistreatment was not only on reservations but on Indians in the general population as well.

    • ndnfoodie530 profile image

      ndnfoodie530 6 years ago from Nothern California

      Wopila! Goot writin'!

    • sethiya2003 profile image

      sethiya2003 6 years ago from India

      really useful article!

    • profile image

      a brother 7 years ago

      it may be that the taking of native land is in the past, but the oppression and of the people is in the present. pine ridge reservation has over 80% unemployment, the highest infant mortality rate, the average life expectancy is 48 for men, 52 for women and is the poorest county in the country. teenage suicide rates are 150% times higher than the rest of the US. 97% live below the poverty line. school dropout rate is 70% and teacher turnover rate is 800% higher than the rest of the country. 39% of homes have no electricity. in the 1970's pine ridge had the highest murder rate in the country. this is not a people who went willingly into such a loss of identity and culture. forced sterilization on females of fertile age caused the loss of an estimated 40% of a generation. schools [kill the indian, save the man] and relocation programs have killed of almost all sense of culture and pride. so although the US government is no longer stealing the land [only mining and stealing the resources], they are still taking from the native peoples. they are taking their culture.

    • davidseeger profile image

      davidseeger 7 years ago from Bethany, OK

      I am caucasian without any indian ancestry. I have, however so many friends and acquaintences who do have indian ancestry that I think I can comment on this with some understanding. Were indians mistreated and abused? You're damn right. Wounded Knee, the trail of tears and many other events attest to this fact. Gen. Sherman was a racist who would, today, have been tried for genocide. That is fact and history.

      And today? Is there still racisim and abuse going on? Again we have to say yes." Is that the end of it then? No, it is not. There is a substantial body of people both among the general public and government offices who want to see the indians fairly treated. Part of the problem with this is how do we understand "fair treatment?" There are european decendants who feel that the indians have already receive fair compensation. There are indians who feel justice will have been done when the last european waves goodbye from the fantail of the last boat heading east. I don't know what they would propose to do with orientals or mixed indians.

      In any case, an equitable position has to be found between the two extremes. Honestly I have to say the problem has too many of the characterics are too much like those of the "troubles" in Northern Ireland.

    • profile image

      kejobo 7 years ago

      you cannot forget the wrongs that were done to your people,it is history(albeit a shamefull one).however i cannot apologize for what my ancestors may have done in the past i was not there and i can only speak for myself thesedays.but I will say this you still cannot trust anyone that is not of your race.

      i am white and from the UK.

    • It's just me profile image

      It's just me 7 years ago from Alaska

      From my hub "There Is No Calvery"

      I've heard people ask why we can't forget the past all of these "bad" things happened so long ago. But you know what, they didn't my generation here in Alaska was the last of the enforced boarding school generation. My Great Grandmothers generation was the last generation of the Indian Wars, unless you count the battle at Wounded Knee in 1972. In the 1970's it was exposed that Native American women were being sterilized with out their knowledge or consent. It wasn't until my fourth child was ready to enter Middle School that the government decided it was no longer illegal for us to speak our own language.These things didn't happen a long time ago.

      We as Indians count time differently too. We count time not in centuries, or eras, we count time in generations.

      What has affected the generations before mine, and my children and my children's children is still effecting us today.

    • RedElf profile image

      RedElf 8 years ago from Canada

      Belated congratulations on 200 hubs!

      We have similar issues up here too (Canada). The gambling proceeds do not seem, to me, to be equitably distributed in some cases, but I also have heard some pungent comments from my First Nations friends about the corporate First Nations finally conquering the white man by building more casino's and letting them gamble themselves to death...biter bit, I say.

      It can be a complicated and thorny issue, and there are many ills to be redressed, but they will only be resolved by the good will and co-operation of all peoples.

    • kerryg profile image

      kerryg 8 years ago from USA

      newsworthy, I believe Welsch's book was published before Indian gaming became a big thing.

      Thanks for the congratulations!

    • profile image

      newsworthy 8 years ago

      A lot of whites wonder why the Indians haven't adjusted all that well to white culture--Welsch

      Roger Welsch must not know that the tribes which own Indian Gaming in America are operating on off-reservation land?   

      And like most things with any class of people, too much of it can effectively cause alchoholism, poverty and unemployment to rise.

      kerryg, congrats on 200 hubs.


    • trooper22 profile image

      trooper22 8 years ago from Chicago

      I disagree Patty. The problem is not that "Americans" have to much guilt, it is that there is not enough. There is to much Glossing of the past and not enough telling the truth in the U.S. In a land that is "For the People, By the People" there should be no room for this type of atrocity.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 9 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      I am 3/8 Mohawk. I don't think Americans need more guilt in the 21st century. I think that Americans should lobby for the recognition of ALL Native American nations, bands, rancherias, and pueblos in the USA so that they can be afforded more rights. That is the injustice to be remedied at this time.