While attending HSU a few years ago, I took Native American studies classes. I read and heard about the colonization of North America by the people of the United States from a different perspective than anything I got in grade school through high school. I knew about the wars, but now I could see it from the side of the Native Americans. As with any history, the truth probably lies somewhere in-between, because we all have standpoints, even when we try to be neutral. But when you get enough people saying the same thing, from both sides, you’re probably close to what happened.
In preparation for my work on the Office of Violence against Women (OVW) grant, I’ve been reading more about what various Indigenous Nations have been doing regarding programs dealing with domestic violence and sexual assault. Part of my reading includes history, to understand how Native Americans used to react to such violence before colonization, and how that has changed. Though different Nations had different values, many were similar. Women were regarded with respect and honor, because they insured the continuation of the Nation and taught the People the values essential for survival. Domestic violence and sexual assault were uncommon, and when it occurred the methods to restore balance ranged from an exchange of goods to banishment or death of the culprit. The Sitka Nation (western North American, coastal) tied a perpetrator to stakes at low tide and justice was left to “greater powers;” if the perpetrator survived, then he survived; if he did not . . .
I knew the forced relocation to reservations had something to do with the trauma that has led to the devaluation of Native American women. The forced relocation to boarding schools had even more to do with it — stripping people of their values, beating them, sexually assaulting them (males and females) — generations of Native Americans were warped by that experience. And then people wonder why so many Native American people have problems with alcohol and drugs. But today I learned the destroying of Native American people first became systematic during the wars themselves, wars fought in a way that has nothing to do with honor and everything to do with genocide. I learned the federal policy of termination targeted Native American women and children for wholesale killing in order to destroy Indian nations (D. Stannard, American Holocaust, 1992). Colonizers such as Andrew Jackson recommended that troops systematically kill Indian women and children after massacres in order to complete extermination (A. Smith, Christian Conquest and the Sexual Colonization of Native Women, 1996). I had read accounts of massacres in reports made by the U. S. Cavalry, but somehow assumed it had more to do with the officers on the scene than as part of a presidential recommendation. [In another blog I will write about the genocide waged against the Tolowa in the 1800s.]
With such historic trauma, no wonder so many Native Americans are still dealing with the fall out. And if you don’t think trauma can affect generations after an event, consider people whose parents lived through the Great Depression, World Wars, or the Vietnam War. What amazes me is that the U. S. government, which always takes such a “superior” stance on human rights violations, still has not apologized for the genocide it waged against Native Americans.
Postscript For a more scholarly take on Native American genocide, please see “California’s Yuki Indians: Defining Genocide in Native American History,” by Benjamin Madley, printed in Western Historical Quarterly 39 (Autumn 2008), pages 303-332.