Why Are Indigenous Marginalized in Contemporary U.S. Society?

This war did not spring up on our land, this war was brought upon Us by the children of the Great Father who came to take our land without a price, and who, in our land, do a great many evil things… This war has come from robbery — from the stealing of our land.
Spotted Tail

The Boston Public Library

The genocide committed by the United States against Indigenous Peoples has never been reckoned with. Much has been written about it — and there is increasing dialogue acknowledging the crimes — but what restitution can we expect to see when the United States has not owned up to the crimes it committed against Indigenous Peoples?

That don’t hardly say it¹

The Mashantucket-Connecticut gaming agreement allowed the Pequot Tribal Nation to operate a casino in Connecticut in 1992, with slot machines coming a year later. This superficial recognition of the genocide committed against the Pequots in 1637 — twelve miles from Mashantucket, near Groton, Connecticut — was a sort of apology for the five centuries of violence committed against Indigenous Peoples — directly monetarily benefiting Pequots — by an indirect acknowledgment of the crimes committed against them at the hands of European settlers — issued in the form of a moneymaking device for the state. The casino earned Connecticut $134,200,000 in 2020, down from $196,950,000 in 2019, and $207,225,000 in 2018.

But it was not a public apology.

Public apologies have been issued by the United States to Native Hawaiians for stealing their land and abolishing their kingdom in 1893, to Japanese-Americans for imprisoning them during World War II, and to Black Americans for slavery.

Even though crimes committed by the settlers and the United States Government against Indigenous Peoples in the Americas include genocide, rape, humiliation, kidnapping, and ethnic cleansing — with a death count of at least 95 million people — stemming from the decades of the European settlers, through five centuries to our present day — no apology for what the forbearers, citizens, or the developed government itself committed against Indigenous People in the name of white supremacy has ever been issued.

But that’s not what the United States would say. There was, in fact an official apology to Native Peoples issued by the United States. Maybe you’re familiar with it.

It appeared in Section 8113 of the 67-page Defense Appropriations Act of 2010, safely inserted on page 45, in-between disclosure of taxpayer funds spent by the military. In 272 words, the United States acknowledges “the many instances of violence, maltreatment, and neglect inflicted on Native Peoples by citizens of the United States.”

The United States Government: Five centuries of genocide — a page of writing in acknowledging it inadequately.

Foxwoods Resort Casino, Ledyard CT · 500 Nations

Genocide is not mentioned in their apology, therefore it is not recognized or apologized for. Section 8113 of H.R. 3326–46 is not an apology that apologizes for the crimes that were committed against Indigenous People. It doesn’t mention any crimes by name, it merely states an idea of the crimes in eighteen words, where three of those words characterize the crimes — but they are the wrong words to use.

Their statement doesn’t give any indication for how long the “violence, maltreatment, and neglect” took place.

It doesn’t give an indication that 17,000 Indigenous were marched through six states during winter, in a process of ethnic cleansing which forcibly removed them from their ancestral land, killing 4,000 of them in the process.

It doesn’t talk about the racist policies of America’s presidents. There’s no mention of the intention of wiping them off the face of the planet. It’s important to remember that the goal of genocide is to remove the target group of people from existence. This statement doesn’t approach that topic. It doesn’t own up to what happened.

The core of the apology is made on behalf of the “citizens of the United States,” giving no mention of Thomas Jefferson’s policies towards Indigenous Peoples. It’s strange to think that Thomas Jefferson was fascinated by the Indigenous — admired them and learned their languages and customs as a boy, later defended their rights as a lawyer — then advocated for the expansion of US territory at the expense of Indigenous lives while he was president.

Nor does it recall Andrew Jackson’s actions — murdering Indigenous while a Major General in the US Army — which paved the way to a 20 million acre land increase for the rising democracy; pushing for the Indian Removal Act to become law, and architecting the inhuman Trail of Tears while President. Jackson stood for white supremacy, increasing United States land mass, and was responsible for the death of thousands of Indigenous People. Both men stood for land gain at the expense of Indigenous lives.

The US’s apology is a woefully hidden, inaccurate string of words brutally incoherent of the subject it speaks of. There is no acknowledgement of anything out of the ordinary, and it protects its ignoble phrasing in its closure — reinforcing the power of the United States at the expense of human lives, and the country’s own history — in a page of text.

The US government should acknowledge that genocide was committed against the Indigenous population by European settlers, their developing government, and the developed United States Government from point of contact in 1492 through the 20th century, in all five ways that the crime can be committed.

The United State’s apology to Indigenous Peoples is therefore not an apology for the genocide against “American Indians.” It is well past due for the United States Government to publicly recognize and apologize for committing genocide against Indigenous People.

There is a concerted effort to recognize the injustices against Indigenous Peoples within the annals of US History; through the brilliant labor of many scholars and first hand accounts of the crimes, now we have Indigenous Peoples’ Day on October 11. The face of our currency is changing, to broaden the changes initiated with the Running Antelope five dollar bill, and The Native American $1 Coin Program — and in 2030 the welcomed face of Harriet Tubman will replace the “Indian killer” Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill — who is now more widely recognized for the disgraceful human being that he was.

We can say both Tubman and Jackson were real Americans — and Tubman is a great choice to don our currency — but in denial of calling for, sanctioning, and committing genocide against Indigenous Peoples for five centuries without admitting it — what face is the United States showing the world?

Why does The United States acknowledge The Atlantic Slave Trade of 1490–1914, acknowledge The Armenian Genocide of 1915–1916, acknowledge The Jewish Holocaust of 1933–1945, acknowledge the Tutsi Genocide that took place in Rwanda during 1994; why does it point its finger at Myanmar and Tigray to say: “You are committing genocide against the Rohingyas,” point its finger at China to say; “You are committing genocide against the Uyghurs,” point its finger at Iraq to say; “You are committing genocide against the Yazidis,” but not acknowledge the systematic murder of 95,000,000 or more people that took place on the land that became the United States at the hands of European Settlers and the United States Government?

And why is it protective of something it says it’s not responsible for? The inadequate language of Section 8113 of H.R. 3326–46 closes with a disclaimer that the United States cannot be sued, because it is not liable for the unacknowledged matter it apologized for.

This apology was publicly acknowledged by President Obama in 2010 who offered no fresh perspective on what happened, and even worded his own speech with the actual text of resolution S. J. Res. 14, which has its roots in an earlier 2009 resolution propagated from the proposed resolution initially called for by Senators Sam Brownback (R-Kansas) and Byron Dorgan (D., North Dakota) during the surprisingly recent year of 2004.

The Boston Globe January 10, 2017

It’s important for the United States to admit that it committed genocide against the Indigenous population, because if that admission is made, then we can agree that we are in an honest conversation together. It’s from an honest conversation that the descendants of peoples who were the targets of genocide can begin to heal from the psychological malice they’ve suffered from living in a country which sought to exterminate their race — then marginalized and neglected the survivors so that the majority of its citizens grew up not thinking about the Indigenous situation to the extent that it needs to be considered in order to improve it — and include them into the mix of national society on an equal level of representation with the rest of us.

An apology for the crimes is not enough. To affect a meaningful lasting change that everyone can benefit from, the matter needs to go past the tipping point of scholarship and radical talk to common discussion. Once the topic is in common discussion will we be able to see the things that have hurt Indigenous people for over five centuries, and remove them from our lives.

John Chivington led the Sand Creek massacre which slaughtered approximately 230 Cheyenne and Arapaho, comprised mostly of women, children, and the elderly, in eight hours. Battlefields.org

It shows how the body can see and don’t see at the same time²

Conditions were created during the colonization era that have extended into contemporary times.

Violence is still being committed against the Indigenous population. We can see in this present day how Indigenous Peoples are subjected to structural violence — which is an arrangement within a society that endangers the lives of — or some of — its population.

How did the Indigenous Population become marginalized in contemporary US society?

To begin with, the United States has broken every single one of the 375 treaties it wrote in regards to its relation with Indigenous tribes³. The treaties were written to enforce land changes between Indigenous and the United States, and denote the behavior that should be exhibited between the two parties.

These treaties were broken promises. Two parties — call them A and B — coming into an agreement for a land arrangement at B’s instigation, where B breaks the agreement and takes A’s land — is the robbery and displacement of A. But if B sets up another agreement with A over and over again and breaks their agreements over and over again, taking A’s land and killing A — a treaty is a grave offense more than because it doesn’t stand for what it says it stands for, rather comes to mean the threat of the extinction of A. Indigenous could either sign, refuse, or rebel against signing treaties with the United States. But as the massacres and forced removal have shown, those second two options were not viable.

How are the treaties ever valid in the first place? What law could be fairly developed for the benefit of A and B, if B alone conceived and executed the law, making it up as they went?

Slate published a time-lapse map that shows the decrease of Indigenous land from 1776 to present.

Slate June 17, 2014

Most of us may be unaware of the racist details in our social infrastructure targeting the Indigenous population — but we are still affected by it. Historically, there have been many types of violence directed at Indigenous People: direct, structural, cultural, and sexual.

There is a twofold invisibility covering up the hatred against Indigenous groups in the United States. It is first invisible because there is no one alive responsible for having created it. We have all inherited the hatred; those who suffer the offense, and those who offend whether or not they know they offend. It is secondly invisible because cultural violence is all throughout our society, from elementary schools to the military.

Indigenous Americans are the only US group who may find racist depictions of themselves throughout our nation. They are still subjugated to cultural violence in a way that surpasses any normative violence seen in our country. Indigenous American hatred is a ubiquitous part of everyday life in the United States. The striking problem with this cultural violence is how deeply it is embedded in our culture while remaining invisible — because those not targeted for the offense can be estranged from the offense.

Racism is found in every aspect of our civilization — exhibited in plain sight and in multiple forms that we’re exposed to daily, though we may not realize it. Racism is subtly, cleverly, and perniciously insinuated into our culture — but it’s not beyond us to remove it.

The insinuation of racism in our culture isn’t hard to grasp, it just has the power of being invisible in plain site. We see it, but we don’t recognize it when we do. It’s one of the wins of brainwashing that makes us not realize we’re brainwashed.

Derogatory representations of Indigenous can be found in the emblems of sports teams, mascots, common phrasing, lyrics, beer, cigarettes, and until February 2020, butter.

The terms “Indian,” and “Injun,” are still commonly used throughout our society to characterize Indigenous People. The United States Military still uses the term “Indian territory” to denote enemy soil.

Saturating our culture with the use of the term is unlikely to make the pain it causes Indigenous People hearing the capricious way it’s used to go away.

Somehow Indigenous Peoples are also missing from mainstream culture — though that’s changing — with Molly of Denali, Rutherford Falls, and other shows featuring Indigenous People coming out. At this bizarrely late date it’s interesting to see that not all groups of US society are equally represented. It seems that adding television shows to the canon is fitting — but what good will this do Indigenous People other than make a small number of them wealthy? It’s not courageous or surprising that streaming entertainment developers are optioning Indigenous centric scripts.

Indigenous enter into contemporary representation while they continue to be portrayed as “Indians” in US society.

When we admit that we live within a racist construct and may do things to uphold that construct, we’re then able to do our part to erase it from our culture. This is not to say it should be forgotten or overlooked. History should be promoted and common, as it is the source for propagating action against our problem.

The racist construct is our problem because it shapes the world we live in. It affects us — codifying our speech — while not necessarily representing our worldview, allowing it to exist is tantamount to condoning it to function to reinforce the construct that we live in.

The team formerly known as “Redskins.”

But changes are being made. Racist mascots, logos, and team names have been changed in college and professional sports. Washington D.C.’s football club discarded their offensive “brave” logo of 88 years last year, and renamed themselves Washington Football Team — finally heeding almost five decades of requests from Indigenous to change their name. In baseball, Cleveland’s pro club became the Guardians at the end of this year’s season, and many college teams have altered their logos.

The Kansas City Chiefs and Atlanta Braves retain their offensive names.

The Florida State University still use the “Seminole head” logo, which is the image of a “Indian brave” in profile, donning war paint and a feather earring. His mouth is open in a call — a war cry or song. The school changed the Seminole logo from the previous design in 2014 amidst requests from the Seminole tribe for it’s removal. The university, however, didn’t make the emblem change for the benefit of the Seminoles, but rather to make the logo easier to replicate on clothing.

It is noteworthy that the university chose to represent an Indigenous People who went to war with the United States three times, as the latter sought to remove them from their land, tried to exterminate them, then bribed the survivors to leave, and deported those who didn’t accept bribes, until there were a mere 100 Seminoles remaining in Florida marshlands the government decided to leave alone because it was too difficult and or expensive to locate them.

The “brave” or “chief” imagery is ubiquitous in the United States. You can see it in Dogfish Indian Brown Ale, a “dark IPA” or Indian Pale Ale, which is a beer with a reddish hue. But its presence is dwindling. Land O Lakes Butter removed their depiction of an “Indian woman” from their containers in February 2020. The ethnic characterization “Mia” was removed in the wake of the new sensitivity rising to abolish hateful representation from our culture — though the company chose not to issue a statement on the logo’s removal, which could have been a valuable contribution to dialogues on this theme. The damage has been done — it will take decades before the descendants of those targeted with genocide will feel some distance from the hatred that persisted after it.

Consider that many of us have grown up with a negative idea of Indigenous People. The “injun” characterization persists in nursery rhymes — therefore contributes to shaping children’s views of Indigenous People. I grew up with this song, maybe you did too. Have a look at the lyrics and you can see that the spirit of genocide is imbued within them. Imagine Indigenous People hearing, maybe even singing that song as a child, and growing up trying to shrug off the song’s influence in discrimination they may have experienced as adults.

The United States owes more than a proper apology to Indigenous Peoples. Restitution should honor the wishes of Indigenous People, and be the result of a free and uncoerced agreement between Indigenous and the United States — hopefully bestowing billions of tax-free dollars and millions of acres of prime real estate from coast to coast into Indigenous hands — nothing too challenging.

¹ No Country For Old Men.
² The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
³ Scholarship varies on the number of treaties.

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Matt Peterson

Matt Peterson

I write at the intersection of interest and pressing need.