The first is that I recently had it pointed out to me by a new friend who grew up half her life in a “third world country” and is feeling the lack of certain aspects of that culture - the simplicity, the community and the open friendliness. The fact that she pointed out is one I have struggled with myself; that we have missionaries and philanthropic efforts that go to other countries to help out and build infrastructure (also to spread Christian beliefs)... while we have incredible poverty and deep suffering and alienation in our own country...
And the second is that I recently attended a presentation at the Department of Veteran Affairs Rehabilitation Center on working with Native American Veterans. It was just before Christmas. I've included a photo below.
It was led by a man named Rick Martin who is retiring this week after 25 plus years of working with the VA Rehab Center in White City, Oregon. This particular center is one of the most progressive in the nation - leading the way in creating some of the most effective programs for helping war Veterans in the United States. Mr. Martin has been a part of co-developing over 3 dozen of those programs in the last 10 years. The Native Veteran’s Association is one of them and it has proven to be a big help in the efficacy of treatment for PTSD (not only for Native Veterans.)
In his presentation to the staff on working with Native Veterans, he spoke of the cultural differences between Native cultures and the general Euro-Christian based American culture. He talked about behaviors of Native Veterans that American staff/doctors/therapists of the VA might misread as disrespectful - lack of eye contact, a soft handshake, the importance of consulting with their family and elders and medicine people before making a decision on their treatment, reticence to trust or speak or ask for help...He advised the staff on many things. The one that stood out most to me was to not promise too much, in fact, to promise less than they knew they could and would follow through on...why? Because their actions and their follow through is what builds the trust. Because deeply imbedded in the Native American (whether pure Native or not, whether grown up on the reservation or not) is the experience of being abused, lied to, betrayed, their open good intentions and communal spirit used against them, to trick, to conquer, kill and displace them. This is so clearly still going on...it has a different shape now, just as a boulder changes shape as it is tumbled through the waters of the river and the sea and experiences the weather over many many years, but we still have people suffering, disrespected and hurting deeply on the inside - lacking a certain very important positive sense of self because of the 500 plus years of maltreatment, of messages being sent that they were inferior and because of the genocidal, dictatorship like actions taken to hold them in an inferior position. And how many of us do not have some, even if very small, bit of native blood in us? This reality affects us all. It is in our genetic memory. It is in the land. It is our story.
We still have reservations. I mean the Reservations still exist. We talk about the casinos as though suddenly, after years and years of Euro-Christian-elitist behaviors guiding the direction of our government and society and culture; guiding the decimation of a beautiful land and peoples and culture; as though suddenly those First Nation’s peoples that have survived should be ashamed of themselves for indulging in such a "sinful act." As though they are greedy. As though the fact that they would make a profit to bring in some economic prosperity to the reservations, by capitalizing on the same gold-hungry energy that almost nearly destroyed them, proves that they are not any better than us. That they are not as pure and spiritual as they would have us believe.
If you are aware of the negative impact that abuse can have on a child and the residual affects it can have on them as adults and on their own children, then you must understand how the abuse of Native Americans and African Americans in this country over the past 392 to 519 years might affect them and all of us (most of us are mixed, no matter what we claim on the census - and that's a whole other topic). Our nation. And you might really wonder why we have so many resources to go abroad and “save” the other nations from themselves, but we can’t seem to help out our own, we can’t seem to heal our own wounds. I believe we can. If we sober ourselves and guide our actions with the right intent. I'm not preaching. I'm just saying what I believe.
These things I/we are reading, about Indian Removal. These are things I did not know. I could feel them, but I didn’t know what I was feeling. Now I know. These are things my grandmothers 4 and 5 and 6 generations back experienced first hand. And everything I’ve included below, from A People’s History of the United States, items which Howard Zinn chose to include in his telling of our history, reinforce the understanding that exists in me, and I think most of us, on the cellular level. But now we can put some factual knowledge behind it. Open our eyes completely and acknowledge actively and compassionately and humbly the centuries of abuse that our land has witnessed...and allow our actions to be guided from there. It can be scary to open our eyes completely, to see the full picture. But it is better than living in a cowered position, only half experiencing life.
Zinn tells of Andrew Jackson’s response to the Cherokee nation when they addressed a memorial to the nation, a public plea for justice in 1830:
“Jackson's response to this, in his second Annual Message to Congress 111 December 1830, was to point to the fact that the Choctaws and Chickasaws had already agreed to removal, and that "a speedy removal" of the rest would offer many advantages to everyone. For whites it "will place a dense and civilized population in large tracts of country now occupied by a few savage hunters." For Indians, it will "perhaps cause them, gradually, under the protection of the Government and through the influence of good counsels, to cast off their savage habits and become an interesting, civilized, and Christian community."
He reiterated a familiar theme. "Toward the aborigines of the country no one can indulge a more friendly feeling than myself. . . ." However: "The waves of population and civilization are rolling to the westward, and we now propose to acquire the countries occupied by the red men of the South and West by a fair exchange. . .."”
“Georgia now put Cherokee land on sale and moved militia in to crush any sign of Cherokee resistance. The Cherokees followed a policy of nonviolence, though their property was being taken, their homes were being burned, their schools were closed, their women mistreated, and liquor was being sold in their churches to render them even more helpless.”
“The same year Jackson was declaring states' rights for Georgia on the Cherokee question in 1832, he was attacking South Carolina's right to nullify a federal tariff. His easy reelection in 1832 (687,000 to 530,000 for his opponent Henry Clay) suggested that his anti-Indian policies were in keeping with popular sentiment, at least among those white males who could vote (perhaps 2 million of the total population of 13 million). Jackson now moved to speed up Indian removal. Most of the Choctaws and some of the Cherokees were gone, but there were still 22,000 Creeks in Alabama, 18,000 Cherokees in Georgia, and 5,000 Seminoles in Florida.”
“The Creeks had been fighting for their land ever since the years of Columbus, against Spaniards, English, French, and Americans. But by 1832 they had been reduced to a small area in Alabama, while the population of Alabama, growing fast, was now over 300,000. On the basis of extravagant promises from the federal government, Creek delegates in Washington signed the Treaty of Washington, agreeing to removal beyond the Mississippi. They gave up 5 million acres, with the provision that 2 million of these would go to individual Creeks, who could either sell or remain in Alabama with federal protection.”
“Van Every writes of this treaty:
“The interminable history of diplomatic relations between Indians and white men had before 1832 recorded no single instance of a treaty which had not been presently broken by the white parties to it ... however solemnly embellished with such terms as "permanent," "forever," "for all time," "so long as the sun shall rise." . .. But no agreement between white men and Indians had ever been so soon abrogated as the 1832 Treaty of Washington. Within days the promises made in it on behalf of the United States had been broken.””
“A white invasion of Creek lands began-looters, land seekers, defrauders, whiskey sellers, thugs- driving thousands of Creeks from their homes into the swamps and forests. The federal government did nothing. Instead it negotiated a new treaty providing for prompt emigration west, managed by the Creeks themselves, financed by the national government. An army colonel, dubious that this would work, wrote:
“They fear starvation on the route; and can it be otherwise, when many of them are nearly starving now, without the embarrassment of a long journey on their hands.... You cannot have an idea of the deterioration which these Indians have undergone during the last two or three years, from a general state of comparative plenty to that of unqualified wretchedness and want. The free egress into the nation by the whites; encroachments upon their lands, even upon their cultivated fields; abuses of their person; hosts of traders, who, like locusts, have devoured their substance and inundated their homes with whiskey, have destroyed what little disposition to cultivation the Indians may once have had.. .. They are brow beat, and cowed, and imposed upon, and depressed with the feeling that they have no adequate protection in the United States, and no capacity of self-protection in themselves.”"