TheTrail of Tears has become the symbol in American history that shows the insensitivityof American politicians towards the Native American people.
Native Americanlands were taken by the States and the Federal government, and the NativeAmericans had to agree to move and lose their uniqueness as tribes. Everythingfrom native plants and animals to housing to and the weather became a part ofthe culture in Native American life. In the early 1800’s Native Americans livedon millions of acres of land throughout the United States. White settlers oftenfeared the Native Americans because they were different and could not understandtheir languages and cultures. After the American Revolution, Native Americanswere thought of as a separate nation within a sovereign country. According toDavid E.
Wilkins author of DismemberingNatives, The Violence Done by Citizenship Fights, “(…) many states werelong reluctant to act kind towards the Indians, only when Utah (1962) allowedIndians to vote were they considered citizens in some of the states.”.1 To the settlers NativeAmericans were unfamiliar people who took up the lands that the settlers wantedto use. The white settlers wanted this land and would do anything to get it.State governments joined together in efforts to push the Native Americans offthe lands. In 1830 under President Andrew Jackson withthe discovery of gold at hand, congress passed the Indian Removal Act to freeland for the nation’s expanding white population. A recent study done byPBS.
org shows that an estimated 46,000 Native American people made the journeywest following one of the several routes that collectively became known as theTrail of Tears. Along the way many Native American people died from disease,malnutrition and exposure. A lot of these people did not have horses or cartsto be pulled by cattle, so they had to walk, heavy with exhaustion.
Even asthey were being pushed away from their homes, the Native Americans had pride.Many Native Americans left nearly naked, and without shoes or refusedgovernment clothing because they felt it would be taken as an acceptance ofbeing removed from their homes. Some refused government food, others were givenfood that were not normally part of their diet such as wheat flour, which theydid not know how to use or that they would react badly to it. Weakened byhunger, the Native Americans became easy victims of disease, particularlycholera, smallpox and dysentery.
As if fatigue, starvation, and disease weren’tenough, these people also had to endure horrendous weather conditions. Fallingtemperatures caused the roads to freeze. The ice prevented both wagons andhorses from moving. Two thirds of the Native American people that were trappedbeside the frozen Mississippi River had only a blanket provided by thegovernment to each individual for shelter from cold wind. Stated by PrivateJohn G. Burnett, “They had to sleep in the wagons and on the ground withoutfire. And I have known as many as twenty- two of them to die in one night ofpneumonia due to ill treatment and cold exposure.
“.2 Heavy rains turned theprimitive roads to mud, and the Native Americans were often forced to manuallydrag the wagons out of the mud, and the intense exposure to sunlight and heatcaused dehydration. In his published writings on the mistreatment of the NativeAmericans The Never-Ending Trail authorAbel Del Jones stated, “Some were prodded with Bayonets, when they were deemedto move too slow, to where the sky was their blanket, and the cold earth theirpillow.”3 The Trail of Tears should have never happened. People atthe time knew that it was morally and ethically wrong, but did it anyways. “(…)we have done so much to destroy the Indians, and so little to save and that,before another step is taken, lest we act in such a manner as to expose ourselvesto the judgement of heaven.
“4 It is a story about agroup that had power, gained at the expense of a minority unable to defend themselves.The Trail of Tears was a forced migration of the Native American populationsfrom the southeastern part of the United States onto reservations. Let’s forgetthe unconstitutional part for a moment and talk about how morally this was abad mistake made. These people were on this land years upon years before any “Americans”arrived. The Native Americans called this land home before anyone else. What madeit acceptable for a bill to be signed and push these people to almostextinction? Forcing these people to move off their land was about equivalent toslapping them in their faces.
The Native Americans helped the settlers whenthey first colonized and taught them how to plant, graze, and hunt. Manycolonists survived the harsh winters because of what the Native Americanstaught them. How could Americans be okay knowing they were repaying those whohelped them in such an awful manner. Some tribes did voluntary give up their landsunder the Indian Removal Act, only to find that when they relocated to the West,the land they received in exchange was of poor quality. It was in no way comparableto the rich, fertile land they had been living on for centuries, once again theNative Americans were receiving the short end of the stick.
This wouldn’t bethe last time the United States tried to take control of the Native Americanpeople, the cultural assimilation of Native Americans was an effort by theUnited States government to transform Native American cultures intoEuropean–American “civilized” culture. The United States government realizedthat good relations with bordering Native American tribes was important forpolitical and trading reasons, and continued to use the Native Americans asallies during the American Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. As timeprogressed, the need for these relations started to decline, and the tribesstarted to become an obstacle in the expansion of the United States. Accordingto the U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Indian Affairs “The policy ofassimilation was an attempt to destroy traditional Indian cultural identities.
“5. There was an idea that ifNative American people learned United States (American) customs and values,they would be able to combine their traditions with American culture and join theAmerican society. The federal government began sending Native American childrento boarding schools in the 1870’s. As the schools continued to grow, so did theenforcement of teaching these children to be “civilized”.
The natives were notallowed to speak in the language of their tribes and would forget how to speaktheir language. Additionally, the schools enforced a strict dress code and thechildren were to put in the clothes of the white man. The Native Americantribes suffered a great lost due to the boarding schools. Their culture wasdestroyed, and the generations that were supposed to carry on the traditionswere forced to follow other rules.
The amount of Native American children thatwere required to go to the boarding schools caused the generations to becomeseparated. The population numbers were already dwindling from the relocationonto reservations, and many of the tribal nations began to crumble. The NativeAmerican children lost their sense of tribe connectivity and spirituality, theywere forced to focus on a religion that was different from the practices oftheir tribes.Thelimitations of these schools were yet another way the United States attemptedto break and control the pride and identity of the Native Americans. For theNative Americans leaving their sacred lands and starting over was heartbreakingand very difficult. Native Americans believe they are closely connected withthe land and everything that grows on the land or lives on the land eventually dieson the land and is reincarnated back into the earth. Because of this belief,owning land did not exist among the Native Americans.
Meanwhile the people whohad marched the Trail of Tears were stuck with the challenge of creating newfarms on new ground, with new weather conditions, and new soils. The NativeAmericans had to rebuild their society, once re-settled, the Native Americans attemptedto reestablish elected officials, schools, and legal systems. Many NativeAmericans found themselves in urban slums with a lack of basic needs.Theeffects of the Trail of Tears can still be felt today. Many of the youngergenerations have forgotten their native languages, and traditions have died outwithin the reservations. The Trail of Tears has rooted a deep distrust ofoutsiders and government in particular.
Issues like suicide and poverty areaffecting over a million Native Americans at this very moment – a direct resultof decades of failed policies and generations of mistreatment toward the tribes.The theory of historical trauma was developed to explain the problems manyNative Americans are facing. In her research at the University of South DakotaDivision of Counseling and Psychology Professor Kathleen Brown Rice studies howNative Americans still experiencing historical loss are correlated withdepression, substance and alcohol abuse, dysfunctional parenting, andunemployment, as a result of the generational trauma. She writes “Suicide ratesfor Native American adults and youth are higher than the national average, withsuicide being the second leading cause of death for Native Americans from 10–34years of age.”.6Compared to whites, Native Americans lack health insurance – 33% compared to11%( University of South Dakota, Kathleen Brown Rice). Native Americans use andabuse alcohol and other drugs at younger ages, and at higher rates, than allother ethnic groups. Access to mental health services is severely limited dueto the mistrust and isolation locations of many Native American communities.
She also states that ” Trauma exposure has long-term effects on the brain andbehavior in individuals, experiencing trauma can impact a person’s neurologicalfunctioning.”7The Huffington Post (2015) released a study showing that Native Americans use and abuse alcoholand other drugs at higher rates than all other ethnic groups, Native Americansexperience serious psychological distress 1.5 times more than the generalpopulation, and that due to high levels of poverty, many Native Americans faceeconomic barriers that prevent them from receiving treatment.
Two of the fivepoorest of the United States’ counties are located on Indian Reservations.(U.S. Census Bureau, 2012). Existingjobs are found mainly within the tribe way of life or tribal government. TheUnited States Bureau of Indian Affairs also reports that the majority of jobson the reservation are underdeveloped.
State social services, the schoolsystems, and the Indian Health Service Hospitals are struggling to stay open,funded by the United States government. Additionally, years of failedgovernment policies have left reservations with limited economic opportunity. The government placed many of thereservations in areas away from fertile lands, shopping centers, and watersupplies intensifying geographic isolation. Takefor example the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The Pine Ridge IndianReservation is a Native American reservation located in the southwest corner ofSouth Dakota near the Nebraska border.
The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is thesecond largest reservation in the United States, and suffers from extremepoverty, in fact it is the poorest county in the United States. (U.S. CensusBureau) The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation has attempted to bring up its economythrough the gambling-casino industry, however their attempts have failed. Thecasino created a a struggling of 80 jobs, which did absolutely nothing giventhat the unemployment rate on the reservation is up to 95%. (Stevens, Jr.,Ernest L.
Indian Gaming Association. 2006.) According to the Pine Ridge CDPProfile of Selected Economic Characteristics U.S. Census Bureau, the reservationhas higher unemployment, diabetes, infant mortality, teen suicide, dropout, andalcoholism rates than any other Native American reservation as a whole. Manyhomes are overcrowded and without water, plumbing, and electricity.
It isincredible that The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation has failed and lacked inthese basic necessities and casino tourism given that the closest major city DenverColorado, is roughly about 350 miles away. The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation isalso experiencing a dangerously alarming conflict with the youth gettinginvolved in gang violence, and gang activity. Many of the gangs on the PineRidge Indian Reservation were started by tribal members who encountered gangactivity in prison or while living off the reservation, others started right onthe reservation.
According to Christopher M. Grant, head of the Anti-gangpolice unit in Rapid City South Dakota, the threat of Native American gangviolence on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation isn’t really about crooks and criminalsdisrupting the minds of the youth and tribal people, this violence and anger ishomebred. “It’s about how historical trauma, federal policy and tribal pridehave created a new Indian problem: organized crime.”8 These people are tired andfrustrated, there’s a lot of negative influence within the community, and theNative American reservations lack of resources is causing a lot of damage toits own people. On a reservation where approximately 95% of residents areunemployed, 49% live below the federal poverty line, and the per capita incomeis a little less than $6,000, Grant says the lack of opportunity is the reasonso many Native youth turn to gang activities and gang violence. Gangs offer asense of belonging or family. Where there is a lack of cultural identity and knowledge,gangs fill in the role.
This is a society where most Native Americans werepushed off of their tribal lands and strategically cut off from any sort ofcultural identity, Grant says reservation life today creates a perfectenvironment for gangs to thrive. Thereality is, that there is nothing on the Reservation for the youth to do. The NativeAmerican youth hasn’t been taught any cultural traditions, they don’t knowtheir native languages, there isn’t any money or much jobs, and there reallyisn’t much after school activities for the youth to engage in.
There are nine operatingpublic elementary schools and four public high schools on the reservation. Yet theschool drop-out rate on the reservation is over 60% and many students have anattendance record that is well below 90%. (U.S. News and World Reports 2015) Much of the youth lack inspiration to finishhigh school because many of those around them have not and an education doesnot ensure getting off of the reservation.
Not only the lack of inspiration,but often the Native American people may see schooling as a tool ofassimilation into a non-Native American way of life. What’seven more astonishing about Native American history is the fact how the UnitedStates continues take advantage of sacred Native American soils, its incredibleto think that Native Americans are still having to fight to protect lands thatbelong to them. The Dakota Access Pipeline protests are movements that began inearly April 2016 in reaction to the rapidly approved construction of EnergyTransfer Partners’ Dakota Access Pipeline. The pipeline was said to run fromoil fields in western North Dakota to southern Illinois, crossing beneath theMissouri and Mississippi Rivers, as well as under part of Lake Oahe near theStanding Rock Indian Reservation.( BBC News 2016) Many of the Native Americansin the Standing Rock tribe considered the pipeline and its intended crossing ofthe Missouri River to be a threat to the region’s clean water, the pipeline wasto be built within a half mile of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation,traveling across treaty-guaranteed lands, under the tribe’s main source ofdrinking water and ancient burialgrounds. “The U.S.
government is wiping out our most important cultural andspiritual areas. And as it erases our footprint from the world, it erases us asa people. These sites must be protected, or our world will end, it is thatsimple. Our young people have a right to know who they are. They have a rightto language, to culture, to tradition. The way they learn these things isthrough connection to our lands and our history.
“9. For many Native Americans,stopping the Dakota Access Pipeline has become yet another fight to protectNative American manifestations. The United States was supposed to hold theirword accountable both legally and morally. The reservation established by theTreaty of Fort Laramie of 1851 protected these lands that would have been interruptedby the pipeline.
The Treaty of Fort Laramie was an agreement between the UnitedStates and the many different tribes of Native American peoples, guaranteeingthe Native Americans ownership of the Black Hills, and the further lands in theDakotas, Wyoming, and Montana. (Archives of the West: Fort Laramie Treaty,1851) According to BBC News 2016 the federal consultation process requiresmutual consent between both the federal and tribal governments regarding theconstruction, and being of a pipeline that could impact tribal resources.Social media has helped fuel the tribe’s fight, the Native American peoplerecorded and shared videos of the company bulldozing ancient stone prayer sitesnear the pipeline. These protests were ignored and on January 24th,2017 history repeated itself, President Donald Trump signed the Executive orderto advance the construction of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines.
(BBC World News 2016) ” if there is one thing that characterizes NativeAmerican life today, it is poverty of the spirit (…)because we are notfree—free in the most basic sense of the world, our choices were made forus(…)”10. Even though yet again the Native American people’srights were violated, the protests around the Dakota pipeline did achievesomething historic. The protests have inspired Native Americans across the statesto unite in efforts to preserve natural, religious, and resources important forthe survival of the Native American culture. The Native Americans have sufferedand are still suffering from the mistreat and abuse of the United Statesgovernment. The fight is not over yet. 1David E. Wilkins: Dismembering Natives, The ViolenceDone by Citizenship Fights2Private John G. Burnett 2nd Regiment, Mounted Infantry3The Never-Ending Trail, Abe Del Jones4Jeremiah Evarts, Essays on the present crisis in the condition of the AmericanIndians, 18295 U.
S.Department of the Interior Bureau of Indian Affairs, paragraph one6 Kathleen Brown Rice, University of South Dakota, Theory ofHistorical Trauma Among Native Americans7 KathleenBrown Rice, University of South Dakota, Theory of Historical Trauma AmongNative Americans8Christopher M. Grant Antigang police unit, Rapid City South Dakota9 BravebullAllard, LaDonna 2016 “Why the Founder of Standing Rock Sioux Camp Can’tForget the Whitestone Massacre”.10Klaus P. Fischer: America in White, Black, and Gray