SAN JOSE, November 29, 2016 – The month of November was designated as American Indian Heritage Month by Congress in 1990, with the primary purpose of remembering the people who came before the United States ever existed. Like many young Americans today, many native young people do not completely know the history of their people. Many do not realize that it was educated and intelligent members of the Indian community in the 1900s that were requesting the creation of a legal holiday to remember the Indian. The stimulus behind the initiative was the desire to create a more formal and fulfilling relationship with Americans in the white-dominated culture.
For 70 odd years, essentially what could be deemed an entire lifetime, the American Indians had been pushed off their land, harassed, humiliated, hunted, murdered, and fought officially by the government of the United States; yet, the Indians in the early 1900s were a different generation from those who had been forced off their lands at gunpoint as a result of the Indian Removal Act of 1830. Despite the prevailing Progressive-revisionist narrative that most whites were always at odds with the American Indians, the truth is that it was usually greedy, land-hungry, or those with a serious case of gold fever, who were the ones responsible for serious problems with the Indians; but when such treatment becomes official government policy, it becomes a travesty.
The deceitful and insidious actions by President Andrew Jackson and congressional Democrats after he took office in 1829 set in motion a new precedent of official government relations on the federal and state level with regard to relations with the Indian peoples all across the nation. The Indian Removal Act represented a dramatic departure from former legal agreements and from presidential precedents regarding ownership of Indian lands within U.S. borders. Certainly, the most important legal precedent established to protect Indian lands was established in 1787 through the Second Continental Congress with the passage of the Northwest Ordinance. The Indian Removal Act essentially enabled the federal government to steal the ancestral lands of the Indians.
President Jackson and the Democrats got away with a very blatant redistribution of about 100 million acres of traditional Indian lands, but the brutality and the outright force utilized in formally removing people at gunpoint from their private property truly violated the human rights of tens of thousands of the “Five Civilized Tribes.” Even more tragic was that the outcome of the “Trail of Tears” was the unnecessary death of thousands of the Cherokee people. Such official federal government actions was not in line with the fundamental values of the establishment of the Republic. Yet, what the Democrats did over this period would have made Fidel Castro and the Communists in Cuba look insignificant in comparison. In fact, long before Castro took control of Cuba under false pretenses, Jackson beat him to stealing land by over 100 years. Sadly, both men are praised for their “contributions” to their country.
Yet, despite the obvious hypocrisy and the historical whitewashing of such horrific official government actions (in the U.S. – not Cuba), in the aftermath of the tumultuous relations between the federal government and the American Indians, it was the Indians who forgave the dominate white culture. However, it was more than just some simple remembrance the Indians sought. In 1915, in the midst of several efforts at this time, an officially recognized organization representing the Indian community requested that American Indians be willing to become officially recognized as citizens of the United States.
On September 28, 1915, the Congress of the American Indian Association offered a dramatic public proclamation that called upon “every person of American Indian ancestry” and all Americans to observe every second Saturday in May as a national “American Indian Day” as a day to honor the memory of the indigenous peoples. But, even more significant was the fact that for the first time since the inception of the nation, an official Indian organization made such a formal indication that Indians wanted to become U.S. citizens.
The appeal to the general American Indian populations noted that their forefathers had fought against domination “for home, for family, for country, and the preservation of native freedom…” but the delegates to this Indian Congress recognized that they needed to turn their attention to look to the future of their people so that they could “live in greater fullness” and “to move forward and acquire those things that make races and nations more efficient and more noble…” These words reveal the intent of the American Indians was to not just create a special day of remembrance, but to forgive an enemy, put the past in its place, and move on with their fight for family, for home, and for their survival as people.
The purpose of the original request of the Congress of the American Indian Association was to create a foundation to bridge the gap of distrust, resentment, and hatred that persisted between the two peoples. It was not to perpetuate such a horrible reality, and to have done so would beg the question of the purpose behind such actions. Fanning flames of anger, hatred, and resentment, only generates much of the same and does not unite people – it drives people apart. While it may not have easily worked out for all indigenous peoples, it did for many. But more importantly, the American Indians, considered less “civilized” by the dominant culture, show up as the nobler of the two peoples via more respectable and well-intentioned efforts.
At one point in time, leaders within the American Indian nations honestly believed their people needed to move beyond the pain, the bitterness, and the hatred so they could move forward and forge a better, brighter, and more peaceful future for their people. Their appeal was aimed at looking forward to the future and not to the past. They desired to “live in greater fullness” and “to move forward and acquire those things that make races and nations more efficient and more noble…” Their actions were definitely more noble, and provide good reason to honor the memory of the American Indians.
Such actions provide hope even in our more “advanced” civilization.