This post is an appeal on behalf of all the missing American Indians, particularly the women.
Before I explain in more detail, let’s have a brief summary of why the plight of American Indians, or Native Americans if you prefer, deserves special attention.
In Europe, it’s often said that Jews are the canaries in the coal mine, meaning of course that if Jews are once again subjected to suspicion, discrimination, and abuse then it’s a sign that our collective moral integrity has declined to the point where we have to take urgent action to restore basic standards of decency.
You could say the same about Jews in the USA but I think a more accurate measure is the way in which American Indians are treated.
The Indian Wars
The history of the United States of America is widely known, but what is less well known is the fate American Indians after the massacre at Wounded Knee in the winter of 1890 which marked the end of the Indian Wars. The events that occurred between the arrival of Columbus in 1492 and Wounded Knee in 1890 (and 1973) are long and complex, involving hundreds of tribes, many of whom have been wiped out completely.
You might have seen films like Dances With Wolves and while saddened by the story and its outcomes you might assume that there is nothing more to be said. You may have heard of broken treaties, like the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868. This was drafted after an alliance of Lakota, Northern Cheyenne, and Northern Arapaho under the leadership of the Oglala Lakota leader Red Cloud, successfully forced the US Army to abandon its forts along the Bozeman Trail.
The forts had been built illegally on Lakota, Cheyenne, and Arapaho land to protect settlers travelling through Indian territory to the gold fields of Montana. Eventually, through sheer weight of numbers and pressure to protect settlers as opposed to treaty rights, more land was seized by force.
The Indian Wars continued, and eight years later a certain general by the name of George Armstrong Custer discovered that the Lakota, Cheyenne, and Arapaho were as strong as ever. He met his fate at the Battle of the Greasy Grass, more commonly known as the Battle of the Little Bighorn, or simply Custer’s Last Stand, in June of 1876.
This military defeat and humiliation of the US Army was the catalyst for a chain of events that ultimately lead to the abandonment of all treaties and the total, and merciless subjugation of all native tribes. The wars came to an end but the genocide turned into ethnocide.
For example, in the early 20th Century children on reservations were forcibly taken from their parents and put through a brutal boarding school system in which they were beaten for speaking their own language, wearing any sign of traditional clothing, or showing any sign of the culture of their ancestors and relations.
How ironic then that the Navajo language saved the lives of so many U.S service personnel in World War II by virtue of its complexity and code.
Reservation Life in the 20th Century
During the 20th Century, on the reservations, poverty, unemployment, and the inevitable consequences of social deprivation set in and took root. The Indian days of long ago are gone and the few indigenous tribes that exist today are those whose ancestors survived the wars, introduced diseases, murder, and deliberate starvation.
Today, many American Indians exist in a state of limbo on reservations that are a small percentage of the land they were promised in perpetuity by treaties signed and subsequently dishonoured by those who saw themselves as the upholders of civilised Christian values.
As if all this injustice and ongoing suffering was not enough American Indians, both men and women, are subjected to an alarmingly disproportionate amount of kidnapping and murder.
Native women are subjected to far higher instances of sexual assault and rape than non-native women. So many young Native American women have disappeared in Canada and the USA that it has been described as an epidemic, with the title: MMIW – Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women.
This has resulted in the launch in 2016 of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls by the Canadian government.
In November 2019, President Trump signed an executive order to establish a task force to investigate the plight of all these women and men who have disappeared.
While these may be signs of hope, critics have pointed out that they are inadequately funded to make any significant difference.
When will things improve?
So when then?
The first duty of any government is to protect its citizens from harm, both from foreign invaders but also from internal violence and crime.
When can we expect to see American Indian women able to live in safety, with the respect and cooperation of their fellow citizens?
When will the self-styled Leader of the Free World ensure justice is done in his own backyard?
When will the USA honour human and treaty rights?
When will Thanksgiving become a real celebration of the people who kept the early settlers alive, demonstrated by not building pipelines through reservations, and contaminating or simply stealing the water supply?
How you can help Native Americans
Please visit these sites for more information:
Ways to help include;
- Donating money to supporting charities and programs.
- Visiting, or volunteering to help on a reservation.
- Learn about the history of the American Indian Tribes.
- Talking about Native American issues and helping to spread awareness.
- Lobbying your local politicians to make positive changes on their behalf.
We can’t change the past, but we can create a future in which Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness are the fundamental rights of all Americans, Native or otherwise.
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