The American Indians and the shame of my culture

I have been meaning to write about the American Indian peoples and their clash with ‘Western’ civilisation almost from when I set up this blog.

Some visitors might have seen and perhaps clicked on some of the video links detailing some fragments of Indian history. Many of these are deeply moving, but they are only fragments.

I have recently read Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, an amazing book which approaches the clash between Indian and white people from the point of view of the various Indian tribes which were defeated by ‘white’ civilisation. I am now reading another book on the American Indian Wars.

However the more I have read, watched, and heard, the more this topic, with its tragedies and dreadful abuses, expands beyond my capacity to deal with it in a blogpost or website article. Like the Lakota (Sioux) man Albert White Hat said of his personal predicament in this video from the terrific PBS series The West, “it’s too much”.

There are a great many factors which led to the ultimate suppression of American Indian populations, from greed and capitalism backed up by legal strictures (which were antagonistic to the ways of native peoples and not understood by them), to the population explosion in 19th Century Europe. There were underlying ideologies which served to justify the breaking of treaties and the appropriation of land. Some of these resorted to simple racism clouded with mystical nonsense: for example that the white man’s ‘Manifest Destiny’ was to usurp the Indians and take their land, with all the resources on it. When the American Civil War secured notional citizenship rights for black people, Indians were excluded.

The culture which did this is my culture: it was largely born and fed from English or British laws and customs. The fate of Indian children under the British King and Queen’s sovereignty in Canada and that of the United States to the South was remarkably similar. Children were stripped from their Indian parents with view to “killing the Indian within the child” and assimilating them into the dominant culture.

Canada’s government and political parties apologised for this a few years ago [check out the link], but the pain and the suffering and other consequences of splitting up families remain. The abuses that have come to light for example on Vancouver Island as revealed by Reverend Kevin Annett are shocking and bring great shame to the Churches and the wider culture. The same happened in the United States, as evidenced by the tearful Chippewa Cree man Andrew Windyboy here. He says: "For the white man it's a terrible shame for him to treat people like this. Because we are a people. We just need to be accepted."

That is all for now though – except to say that the culture that gave birth to many of the practices and habits which conquered North America could be seen clearly in Danny Boyle’s London Olympic Opening Ceremony last year. [for me, best in Spanish] As the Pandemonium sequence illustrated, one of the first stages of a rapacious and confident new way of being was to conquer native land for exploitation and drive many of its people to submission, just as happened to the Indians progressively from the same period.

*I would recommend checking out some of the videos in the right-hand sidebar here, on American Indian culture and history. There is plenty of interest in all of them in my view.


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