november 20: opinion piece (my opinion, that is)
Quite rightly, attention has been turned towards racism and African-Americans. Systemic racism; police shootings; reparations for slavery; lack of representation; dispropionate affects of covid; status as essential workers are all issues which need to be addressed.
In the 2010 census, about 14% of Americans identified as African-American (this does not include those who identified as African-American plus); about 1.3 (or 1/10 as many) identified as American Indian or Alaska Native alone.
When discussions of oppression, racism, genocide (a term used to describe African-American historical experience, too), reparations for wrongs done in the past, representation, (equal) access to resources, more attention should be paid to the remaining indigenous peoples of North America.
Scholars debate the exact total of indigenous peoples living in North, Central and South America at the point of contact with Europeans. What should not be open to debate is devastating impact of disease, war, rape, torture, enslavement, relocation, the reservation and boarding school systems enacted by Europeans/Americans upon the indigenous population from first contact until the present:
Wikipedia, “genocide of indigenous peoples” posits:
By 1900, the indigenous population in the Americas declined by more than 80%, and by as much as 98% in some areas. The effects of diseases such as smallpox, measles and cholera during the first century of colonialism contributed greatly to the death toll, while violence, displacement and warfare by colonizers against the Indians contributed to the death toll in subsequent centuries. As detailed in American Philosophy: From Wounded Knee to the Present (2015):
It is also apparent that the shared history of the hemisphere is one framed by the dual tragedies of genocide and slavery, both of which are part of the legacy of the European invasions of the past 500 years. Indigenous people north and south were displaced, died of disease, and were killed by Europeans through slavery, rape, and war. In 1491, about 145 million people lived in the western hemisphere. By 1691, the population of indigenous Americans had declined by 90–95 percent, or by around 130 million people. McKenna, Erin, and Scott L. Pratt. 2015. American Philosophy: From Wounded Knee to the Present. Bloomsbury. p. 375.
Native communities are also disproportionally affected by COVID. For example, the Navajo Nation, (in context of the lower 48 states, are one of the largest numerically, and possess a large amount of tribal lands) are back in lockdown due to the effects of the corona virus. This community is struggling with the effects of the virus due to lack of health care and other resources.
The “new world” was only new to the Europeans, it had been inhabited for centuries/millennia prior to their arrival. When efforts to enslave the indigenous population often failed due to disease, Europeans turned to another source: Africa.
I am by no means a scholar of Native American history; nor do I set up myself up as someone able to speak on African-American history and experience. But I always tried to incorporate those narratives into my teaching and my students’ learning experiences. Hopefully presenting these “othered” voices in a fair, truthful, and equitable way.
When speaking of “first contact,” I asked my students to imagine that suddenly half of the class “disappeared” without warning. That is one of the facts of the early genocide period: indigenous populations who had never encountered a European succumbed, nonetheless, as disease followed the native trade routes.
Broken treaties, broken promises, the “winning” of the west, the decimation of the buffalo, Trail of Tears, the residential school system and countless injustices have not broken the spirit of the indigenous peoples. From fighting pipelines and other environmental issues, to efforts to get justice for the disappeared and on to the reclamation of land, language, culture and cultural artifacts, Native Americans are “still here.” They deserve our attention, be included in calls for social justice, the dismantling of systematic racism, return of the stolen traditional lands, acknowledgements of pass injustices and wrongs by the dominant culture/society, and acts of contrition and compensation on our part.
They tried to exterminate us. We still rise. They tried to silence us. We still sing. They tried to honor our killers. We took a stand. They tried to erase our ancestral memory. We remember. Maulian Dana, Penobscot Nation, quoted in Abby Zimet, “we are still here,” Common Dreams, Oct 12, 2020
For more on native american activism, see for example:
Jillian Abel, “10 native american activists you should know,” The Medium, online Nov 15, 2019
Carla Herreria Russo, “5 indigenous and native activists who made an impact in 2019,” the huff post, November 28, 2019
Jennifer Lui, “meet Allie Young [native american activist getting out the vote] . . .,” CNBC, October 28, 2020
“Native American Activism: 1960s to the present,” the Zinn Education Project