Obama’s Bullshit vs. 10 Realities on Past and Present U.S. Crimes Against Native Americans
September 12, 2016 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
During a town hall in Laos during his recent Asia trip, Barack Obama was challenged to say what he was doing about protecting the rights of Native Americans, including at Standing Rock (see: Native Americans Fight Modern-Day Genocide: Standing Up at Standing Rock). Obama dodged speaking about the protests. Then he said, “the way the Native Americas were treated was tragic”—and claimed that one of his priorities has been “restoring an honest and generous and respectful relationship with Native American tribes.”
No, Obama—what happened to Native Americans was not some “tragic” thing that just happened in the past, as if it fell from the sky. The way the rulers of this country have related to Native Americans has been full of lies, violent theft, and dehumanizing disrespect—from decimation of the original inhabitants through genocidal violence...to broken treaty after broken treaty...to the grinding oppression today.
Here are 10 realities about the past and present U.S. crimes against Native Americans.
1. The United States was founded on genocide. This country was founded on genocide of Native Americans—along with slavery and theft of Mexican land. George Washington, the “father” of this country, was commander-in-chief of a genocidal military campaign against native peoples in western New York, known as the Iroquois League. Washington ordered the U.S. Army to carry out “total destruction and devastation of their settlements, and the capture of as many prisoners of every age and sex as possible.” Over 50 communities were totally demolished. Hundreds of those who fled this horror during the dangerous winter months died from the cold, malnutrition and disease. This massacre became a model for the violent expansion of the United States westward across the country into territories where Native Americans had been living for centuries. Would Obama—or any other ruling class representative—ever denounce George Washington, quite accurately, as a genocidal maniac? Not a fucking chance. (For more on the massacre of the Iroquois that Washington commanded, see: “American Crime: Case #90: The Sullivan Expedition, 1779—Genocide of Native People and Scorched Earth in Upstate New York”)
2. Genocidal atrocities as official government/military policy. The history of the United States is marked by repeated massacres of Native Americans. Four examples: In 1838 and 1839 the U.S. stole the lands of tens of thousands of Cherokee people and forced them on a death march to Oklahoma—4,000 died on the forced march known as the “Trail of Tears.” On January 29, 1863, 450 Northwestern Shoshone were killed by the U.S. military near what today is Preston, Idaho. In 1890, the U.S. cavalry killed 300 Lakota men, women, and children on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota in the Wounded Knee massacre. On September 3, 1863, the U.S. Army massacred more than 300 people from different Sioux communities at Whitestone—not far from where the current fight over the Dakota Access pipeline is taking place.
3. The United States has broken every treaty it ever made with Native Americans, with the murderer’s logic of “might makes right.” One example is the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 that granted land to the Sioux, including the land now being used for the Dakota Access pipeline as well as the Black Hills area of South Dakota. When gold was discovered in the Black Hills, prospectors rushed in. At that point, the U.S. government instigated armed conflict against Native people of the area, in what came to be called the Great Sioux War of 1876. There was determined and heroic armed resistance by Native Americans. The U.S. military suffered a significant defeat at the Battle of the Little Bighorn (portrayed in American culture as “Custer’s Last Stand,” as if the genocidal general who commanded the U.S. troops died a “hero”). However the U.S. defeated the native people’s forces, tore up the Fort Laramie Treaty, and forced the Native Americans to give up much of the land that had been covered by the Treaty, including the Black Hills.
4. Cultural genocide. Part of the genocide carried out by the U.S. against Native Americans were the attempts to wipe out the people’s language and culture through forcing Native children into “boarding school” to be educated according to European-American standards. Beginning in the late 1800s, these schools were set up by Christian missionaries as well as the U.S. government’s Bureau of Indian Affairs. Youths were often separated from their families, forbidden to speak their original languages, and pressured to abandon their Native American cultures and identities. Their traditional names were replaced by European-American names, in the name of “civilizing” and “Christianizing” the children. Recent investigations have revealed many documented cases of physical, sexual, and mental abuse at these schools (for example, “Soul Wound: The Legacy of Native American Schools” in Amnesty International magazine).
5. Poisoning of health and environment. There is an ugly history of the U.S. rulers not only stealing resources from the land Native Americans lived on but also utter disregard for the effects on people’s health and their environment. One example is U.S. uranium mining and the deadly consequences for Navajo people in the Southwest. After World War 2, the U.S. ramped up uranium mining as they rapidly expanded their nuclear arms arsenal. When large uranium deposits were found in or near the Navajo Reservation, many Navajos were hired to work in the mines. The mining companies and the U.S. government kept the Navajos in the dark about the known dangers—this went on for decades. As radiation illnesses began to mount among the Navajo, those who tried to get compensation and help through the courts were often unsuccessful. And this poisonous legacy continues today—with hundreds of uncleaned abandoned mines in the Navajo areas and other regions of the Southwest posing continuing health and environmental dangers. This, again, is not some blameless “tragedy”—it is a deliberate crime against a whole people, a product of a system of exploitation and oppression, carried out by those in power in the U.S.
6. Deep, widespread poverty. The horrific legacy of the crimes that the U.S. has carried out for so long against Native Americans continues to have very real and terrible effects today. Most of the people who survived the massacres and other genocidal assaults on Native American lives were forced onto reservations controlled and surrounded by the armed forces of the U.S. capitalist-imperialist state. Today, most Native Americans live outside reservations. While poverty rates for Native Americans as a whole are very high, the reservations are some of the most poverty-stricken areas of this country. In the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, the poverty rate is over 42 percent, triple the average nationwide. Two out of three members of the tribe are jobless, and the average annual individual income is only about $4,400 (compared to the national average of over $24,000).
7. Disparities in health and life expectancy. Because of poverty, discrimination in delivery of health services, and other factors, Native Americans are disproportionately affected by serious health problems. Native Americans die at higher rate than other people in the U.S. in many categories of health problems, like chronic liver disease and cirrhosis, diabetes mellitus, and chronic lower respiratory diseases. Among young adults ages 18-24, Native Americans have a higher suicide rate than people of any other nationality/ethnicity. Life expectancy on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is the lowest anywhere in the western hemisphere, except for Haiti. A recent study found the life expectancy for men to be 48 years, and for women it is 52 years.
8. Targets of police murder and terror. Today, Native Americans make up just 0.8 percent of the total U.S. population—but they are victims in 1.9 percent of all killings by the police across the country. This is a higher rate of death at the hands of the police than for any other group. Native American men are sent to prison at four times the rate of white men; and the incarceration rate for Native American women is six times the rate for white women.
9. Assaults on Native American culture. Attacks against and degradation of Native American culture—as part of promoting white supremacy—is not a thing of the past. The callous disregard of the Standing Rock Sioux ancestral burial grounds and other important cultural sites by the Dakota Access pipeline company and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is one manifestation. According to LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, Standing Rock Sioux tribal historian, “Of the 380 archaeological sites that face desecration along the pipeline route, 26 are at the confluence of these two rivers [Missouri and Cannonball]. It is a historic trading ground, a place held sacred not only by the Sioux Nations, but also the Arikara, the Mandan, and the Northern Cheyenne.” (Yesmagazine.org, 9/3/16)
10. Continuing imprisonment of political prisoner Leonard Peltier. In 1975, Leonard Peltier was framed by the U.S. government for the deaths of two FBI agents who were part of a massive attack on an American Indian Movement (AIM) camp on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Peltier and others were helping to protect the people on the reservation from violent thugs who were protected and backed by the U.S. government and the FBI. During this “Reign of Terror,” 64 AIM members and supporters were murdered. Peltier has now been in federal penitentiaries for over 40 years. He is in failing health, and there have been calls for his release from a wide range of forces in the U.S. and worldwide. But the U.S government continues to keep this political prisoner behind bars.
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