The Past Dimly

It isn't what we remember, it's what we forget.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

There are, it seems to me, three tragic categories of varied moral weight attached to the bleak history between the Indigenous people of North America and European settlers.

The first tragedy, the cataclysmic die-off among native peoples of the eastern seaboard when exposed to unfamiliar germs, was unanticipated, unstoppable and a horror to all concerned. “[The Indians] die like rotten sheep,” Massachusetts Governor Bradford wrote back to England. This is the unfortunate nature of life on Earth and holds no moral obloquy.

The second tragedy, one of force of arms, was a consequence of an ebb and flow of martial conflict, especially in the wilderness interior of New York and Pennsylvania, between England and France, in which native people, in shifting alliances played a very large, and enthusiastic, role in the balance of power in regards to land and trade.

England defeated France, along with her native allies, and when the American Revolution began some fifteen years afterwards, those tribes which remained loyal and fought for England suffered a great deal at the hands of Washington’s Army.

This was war however. All sides knew what they were doing and what was at stake, and the taint of a moral corruption does not attach itself more to one than the other. Atrocities were committed by all.

This, alas, brings us to the third tragic phase and to a moral squalor that this country still to a great degree needs to make sense of, and that is the systemic, conscious and complete betrayal of every treaty ever made by our government with, to use the old phrase, American Indians.

I will cite but two: the forced collection and relocation of the southern tribes, most notably the Cherokee, to ”Indian territory” west of the Mississippi in 1840; an action taken - it should be noted - by the Executive branch against national popular opinion and the express ruling of the Supreme Court (“Justice Marshall has made his ruling,” said Andrew Jackson. “Now let him enforce it.”)

The second is the unilateral disintegration of the legal designation of those very same lands, not quite 70 years later, with the creation of the State of Oklahoma in 1907. It should not surprise my readers that this action was made after the discovery of oil on the promised land.

I will now reply specifically to certain comments made at the Pepys site:

One JWB termed my phrase “…rape of north america…”

thus:

What hateful nonsense. The number of indigenous people in my state, Ohio, when white settlers enter could be seated in today’s Ohio State University football stadium and they eager to trap, cut & burn to get white men’s goods as white men were.

I suspect it was so poorly written because it was done in haste. However, JWB, what is hateful about calling attention to this and what is nonsensical about it? “Rape” is a strong word, I’ll grant you; and it was used as such. Your argument seems to be based on the “There was more of us than them” proposition, which may have a certain realpolitical weight, but is nothing to be proud of. I will add that I attended college in Ohio and will point out than when I did, the river that ran through Cleveland regularly caught fire from the solvents poured into it and that Lake Erie was considered dead. So I stand by my use of the word “rape”.That the lake has made a great comback is, I suspect, no thanks to the likes of you. Furthermore you may be interested to learn that the word “ohio’” is from an Algonquin language and means “bloody’. Make of that what you will.


Ruben then commented:

In Pepys times and for 300 more years they would cut trees wherever they were, if it resulted commercially profitable.
Indigenous population was small, really small, especially after the smallpox, measles, variola and other epidemics inflicted on them by the European Gods. This population would have rebounded, if not by the invasion by settlers.

No real argument here, however Ruben finishes:

Then we got this extraordinary State, different from anything known to human experience.

Our own Chief Executive in his most recent address to Congress said that we, as a nation, are addicted to oil. What do addicts do? They lie and steal, even kill to support their habit. Direct your gaze eastward and consider, dear Ruben, that the State has allowed this state of affairs to reach this point before you start waxing too proud and congratulatory. Also consider that that very same State seems intent on restricting certain rights which too many citizens have taken for granted for too long.