Monday, March 30, 2015

Columbus, greed, slavery, and genocide: what really happened to the American Indians9

Five years later, on 15 January 1891, the Sioux chief, Kicking Bear, finally surrendered. The wars were effectively over. By 1900, a people which once represented a hundred percent of the population of the USA. was reduced to a third of one per cent.
So what does this all tell us, apart from, as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld put it, "war is hell". And so was four centuries of genocide against the American Indians. In 2000, the US government’s Bureau of Indian Affairs apologised with the full support of the Clinton administration:
As the nation looked to the West for more land, this agency participated in the ethnic cleansing that befell the western tribes. … it must be acknowledged that the deliberate spread of disease, the decimation of the mighty bison herds, the use of the poison alcohol to destroy mind and body, and the cowardly killing of women and children made for tragedy on a scale so ghastly that it cannot be dismissed as merely the inevitable consequence of the clash of competing ways of life. … We accept this inheritance, this legacy of racism and inhumanity. (Kevin Gover, Bureau of Indian Affairs)
Perhaps one thing it all suggests is that the US celebration of Christopher Columbus Day on the second Monday in October every year is outdated and increasingly unacceptable to a growing number of those who have understood the man's motivations and his legacy of slavery, violence, and destruction.
Today, fanatics across the Middle East continue to bomb, shoot, or hack their way through non-combatant populations of men, women, and children for no more reason than the race or religion they were born into, or the land they were born onto. As the American Indians so tragically discovered, the world has become good at turning a blind eye to the genocides it prefers not to see.
At the start of this piece I suggested that readers could form their own view whether the American Indians had been the victims of genocide. Perhaps the final words on this should go to The New York Times.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow retired as Smith Professor of Modern Languages at Harvard in 1854. The following year, he published his epic poem about the Indian chief, Hiawatha. On 28 December 1855, page 2 of The New York Times carried a review of the poem, which described it as:
… embalming pleasantly enough the monstrous traditions of an uninteresting and, one may almost say, a justly exterminated race.

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