Question for Discussion: What
are the major
arguments Indians used to defend
their land, culture, and way of life
Reading: Loewen, pp. 122-136;
Luther Standing Bear
(web); Chief Joseph's "The Takeover
of Indian Land:
An Indian's View" (web)"; Jackson's
message (web); "To the People of
the United States"
(web); Theodore Roosevelt argues against
Video: How the West was Lost
of Western Settlement
American Indians and Western
American Indian Policy and
American Indian History
American Indians Today
1. Moving West: The Anglo-American
Invasion of Indian Land
2. Show How the West was Lost
3. How do the Indians understand the
history of Anglo-American Settlement of the West?
4. How would Chief Joseph respond to
President Jackson's argument about
American's rights to conquer and settle
5. Is President Jackson correct when he
argues that he doesn't have the authority to
force the states to recognize and protect the rights of Indians?
6. How would Luther Standing Bear respond
to Frederick Jackson Turner's argument that settling
the West helped make America a democratic society?
7. How would the Indians in the reading
respond to President Theodore Roosevelt's
argument about the rights of Americans to
settle the West.
8. From an Indian point of view, who is an
and what kind of society is America?
9. Why didn't Anglo-Americans accept Indians
as a part of the larger American society, given
that the Indians were willing to accept Whites
as a part of their larger American society.
1. According to President Andrew Jackson, what
happened to the Indians in the Eastern States?
2. Do you think that President Jackson really cares
about the fate of the Indians?
3. Does President Jackson really not have the
power and authority to protect the Cherokee Indians
from Georgia state control and domination?
4. What are the major argument Chief John Ross
uses to defend the Cherokee's right to their land
5. Does Ross really believe that Congress and the
Federal Government will protect the rights of the
6. What are President Roosevelt' major arguments
justifying White American takeover of Indian land?
7. Do you think President Roosevelt really believes
in the arguments he is making?
8. What does President Roosevelt think is the
future of Indians in America?
9. According to Historian Frederick Jackson Turner
why did settling the West make America a more
10. Why doesn't Turner include Indians in his
history of Anglo-American settling of the West?
11. How would Chief Joseph respond to President
Roosevelt's and Turner's argument justifying
White Western settlement?
12. What does Chief Joseph want from the Federal
13. Does Chief Joseph believe that Whites and Indians
can peacefully live together in American society?
14. How does Luther Standing Bear define who
is an American and what are American values and principals?
15. How would Standing Bear respond to Turner's
argument that settling the West made America a
more democratic society?
15. Do you think Standing Bear is biased towards
Indians? Does he accept that American society
is also made up of Anglo-Americans?
"Our Great Father will forbear
no longer. He has tried to reclaim them, and they grow worse. He
is resolved to sweep them from the face of the earth....If they
cannot be made good they must be killed."
............Government Agent speaking to the Sac and Fox Indians
in the 1830s (Zinn, p. 130)
The Indian Removal
3. And be it further enacted, That in the making of any such exchange
or exchanges, it shall and may be lawful for the President solemnly
to assure the tribe or nation with which the exchange is made, that
the United States will forever secure and guaranty to them, and
their heirs or successors, the country so exchanged with them; and
if they prefer it, that the United States will cause a patent or
grant to be made and executed to them for the same: Provided
always, That such lands shall revert to the United States, if the
Indians become extinct, or abandon the same.
The larger question facing both Indians
and European setters from the very beginning of contact between
these two peoples was this: Can Indians and Europeans live together
in America despite their different cultures, religions, languages,
customs and traditions? This larger question quickly posed two very
different questions for American Indians:
1) Could Indians be a part of White
American society and culture, and under whose terms--Indians or
2) Was there a future for Indians as
part of White American society? That is, were White Americans willing
to share American society and resources with Indians?
To begin to see how both Indians and
White Americans answered these questions, we can look at Chief Joseph
and the Nez Perce Indians. In the "Chief Joseph's Story"
(1879) handout, Chief Joseph is speaking before Congress, pleading
on behalf of his defeated and imprisoned Indian people. For Joseph,
the so-called "Indian problem" was not caused by Indians,
but by Whites refusal to accept Indians as a part of their larger
In order to understand Joseph's argument,
we need to first understand the history of the Nez Perce Indian
people. The Nez Perce had lived in what is now the border between
Oregon and Washington state for hundreds of years. They hunted,
farmed and traded with nearby Indian tribes. Upon reaching the Nez
Perce Indian people on their journey to the Pacific, Lewis and Clark
were welcomed by them and given supplies. They made friends with
Lewis and Clark and the American expedition. However, this friendship
didn't last very long.
White settlers and missionaries began
swarming into Oregon and Washington in the 1840s and 1850s. Believing
that they were settling a "new land," many of these settlers
failed to recognize or accept the Indians rights to their land,
culture, and way of life. The settlers acted and believed that the
Indians were now a part of the larger American society. If the Indians
didn't accept the settlers right to settle on their land and develop
the wilderness, then the settlers would demand that the Federal
government push them aside to make room for progress and development.
The Indians were thus faced with a choice: They either allow white
settlement and the economic development of their lands, or they
be pushed aside onto reservations under the strict control of the
Federal government and the military. Whites did not accept the rights
of Indians to continue to own and control their land, to continue
their way of life and separate culture and societies, and practice
their religion and way of life. By the 1860s and 1870s White settlers'
demands to settle on the Nez Perce Indian land created a real dilemma
for both the Indians and the Federal Government.
In the early 1870s, the Federal government
decided that in order to appease the growing demands of White settlers
to settle on Indian land that it would remove the Nez Perce Indians
from the majority of their land and place them on a reservation,
separate and isolated from White society. It is here where Joseph's
story really begins. In the mid-1870s, the Federal government sent
General Howard to order the Nez Perce chiefs to prepare themselves
to be moved onto reservations. General Howard told the Nez Perce
that "the country belongs to the Government, and I intend to
make you go upon the reservation." But Joseph and the Nez Perce
were puzzled by this demand. How could the Federal government believe
it had the right to take the majority of Nez Perce tribal land and
put them on a small, isolated reservation? Where did the government
get the authority to remove them from the land that they believed
"the Great Spirit" gave them to live on. But General Howard
wasn't willing to argue this point with the Indians. Believing he
had the authority and right to remove the Indians, he warned them:
"If you are not here in that time, I shall consider that you
want to fight, and will send my soldiers to drive you on."
After trying to meet Howard's deadline
to move, and finding it impossible to do so, Chief Joseph and the
rest of the Nez Perce chiefs decided to attempt a daring escape
to Canada, trying to flee the control and domination of the Federal
government. But the government refused to allow the Indians to escape.
It send thousands of troops to prevent the Nez Perce from escaping
into Canada. Federal troops captured the Indians within 60 miles
of the Canadian border. The Federal government had decided not to
allow the Nez Perce to escape their control, fearing that other
Indians would follow the example they set. Upon surrendering, General
Miles promised Joseph that he and his people would be granted a
small reservation in Washington. But after they surrendered the
Secretary of War and other military leaders reneged on this promise
and ordered the Nez Perce to be sent to prisons in Oklahoma. Representing
his people, Chief Joseph asked to speak before Congress and be allowed
to plead his defeated peoples' case.
Chief Joseph begins his speech by declaring
his view of the larger conflict between Indians and Whites: "I
want the white people to understand my people. Some of you think
that an Indian is a wild animal. This is a great mistake. I will
tell you about our people, and then you can judge whether an Indian
is a man or not." For Joseph the central cause of this conflict
is that Whites do not recognize and respect the rights of Indians
a human beings and as Americans. Joseph gives a major example of
this when he observes that whites "stole a great many horses
from us, and we could not get them back because we were Indian."
Chief Joseph must know that the penalty for White Americans stealing
horses from other Whites is death. But Whites don't grant the same
enforcement of this law to Indians.
Recognizing their defeat and the loss
of their land, their horses and cattle, and the Nez Perce suffering
and loss of life during this conflict, Joseph pleads with Congress
to help his people: "I know that my race must change. We cannot
hold our own with the white men as we are. We only ask an even chance
to live as other men live. We ask to be recognized as men. We ask
that the same law shall work alike on all men." Joseph is asking
Congress to recognize Indians and men and as Americans with rights.
He says: "Let me be a free man--free to travel, free to stop,
free to work, free to trade where I choose, free to choose my own
teachers, freed to follow the religion of my fathers, free to think
and talk and act for myself...." Joseph concludes his speech
by promising that if White Americans "treat the Indian as they
treat each other, then we shall have no more wars. We shall all
be alike." But, tragically, White Americans refused to treat
Indians like Whites, to recognize Indians as equal member of a larger
We can see this same dilemma in President
Andrew Jackson's "Second Annual Message" in 1830. In the
1820 and 1830s, Southern States were pressuring the Federal government
to remove the remaining Indians tribe from their land in the South
and put them on reservations in Oklahoma, which the government called
"Indian Territory." The Southern states and white settlers
and slaveholders wanted the Indians' land and resources to expand
slavery and the Southern economy. They didn't recognize the right
of Indians to remain on their land, to hold onto their culture and
religion, and to live as Indians within the larger American society.
Facing this pressure from White Americans, President Jackson came
up with an policy supporting Indian removal that he thought was
best for Indians and White Americans.
In his "Second Annual Message,"
President Jackson argues that removing the Indians in the Southern
states to reservations in Oklahoma is good for the Indians, White
settlers, and good for the Southern states. Jackson argues that
removing the Indians will "place a dense and civilized population
in large tracts of country now occupied by a few savage hunters"...."and
enable those States to advance rapidly in population, wealth, and
power." In addition to help the States and white settlers,
removal will separate "the Indians from immediate contact with
settlements of whites"...."which will retard the progress
of decay which is lessening their numbers." Jackson now argues
that Indians will survive only if they are removed out of the path
of white settlement. If Indians aren't isolated from whites, and
protected on reservations, Jackson warns, they will face the same
fate as the Indians in the Eastern states--they "were annihilated
or melted away." Isolated from whites, safe from annihilation
or extermination, the Federal government can help the Indians "cast
off their savage habits and become an interesting, civilized, and
Christian community." In addition to helping the Indians survive,
removing the Indians will help America create an "extensive
Republic, studded with cities, towns and prosperous farms, embellished
with all the improvements which art can devise or Industry can execute."
If the white settlers can leave the homes of their ancestors to
settle the wilderness, Jackson argues, then Indians should also
be able to leave their homes and go to reservations. Jackson seems
to think that sending Indians to reservations is comparable to white
settlers settling in the West. For President Jackson, just like
most Americans in the 1830s, the Indians as Indians could not live
and be a part of American society. Either the Indians gave up their
culture, religion, language, and way of life and disappeared into
White society or they would be annihilated. Jackson's policy mirrors
the larger Federal government's Indian policy from 1870 to 1920,
which can be summarized in a phrase: "Kill the Indian to save
the Man." If Indians did not give up their Indian ways and
disappear into White culture and society, they would die out, because
Indians as Indians could not survive in White American society in
In response to President Jackson's
argument for Indian removal, John Ross and the leaders of the Cherokee
Indian nation that was threatened with removal tried to argue their
case before Congress and the American people for Indian's rights
to their land, culture, and way of life. In "Memorial and Protest
of the Cherokee Nation," Cherokee leader John Ross argues that
Indians as a distinct people, deserving basic rights and freedoms,
should be allowed to remain on their land and practice their culture
and way of life, free from White American domination and control.
Like Chief Joseph, John Ross believes that the conflicts between
Indians and Whites is caused by the White's refusal to recognize
Indians as peoples with inalienable rights and freedoms. Ross argues
that the Indians are farmers, Christians, and are improving and
developing their lands and resources. In fact, the White settlers
and Southern state governments are stealing the Indian land that
has been improved and developed. Given the Cherokee's efforts to
become a part of the larger White American society, the United States
should and must recognize the rights, dignity, and equality of Indians
in American society. But the Federal government and most White Americans
refused to accept Ross's arguments. And the Cherokee were removed
from their ancestral land and march to a reservation in Oklahoma.
On this march, known as the "Trail of Tears" over one-third
of the Cherokee people dies due to cold, disease, and starvation.
This tragedy symbolizes the larger White American society's refusal
to accept Indians as part of their larger society.
In order to understand the White American
refusal to accept Indians as a part of their society, we must look
back at the assumptions made by the first European explorers and
settlers who came to America. For many Americans, Columbus has come
to symbolize the progress and good will that Europeans brought to
the Americas. But as, Loewen argues, Columbus was, in fact, one
of the models for the behavior of future explorers and settlers
in America. When Columbus first landed on the island of Hispanola,
present-day Haiti, he claimed all the land and resources for the
Spanish King and Queen. He even commented that the peoples would
make "good slaves." On his return to Spain, Columbus brought
a few of the Indians back to Spain as slaves. On his previous expeditions
to the Hispanola and the Bahamas, Columbus brutalized the Indians,
capturing them as slaves, forcing them to find gold for Spain, and
using violence and terrorism to control the Indians. As a result
of the massive violence Columbus and his men used against the Indians,
tens of thousands of Indians died. Loewen argues that "the
Spanish in Haiti is one of the primary instances of genocide in
all human history. But the wealth and power created by Columbus
and later Spanish expeditions convinced other European nations that
they, too, had to get in on the scramble for wealth in America.
If the Spanish could amass vast wealth by exploiting the Indians,
then the French, the English, the Portuguese, and the Dutch could
as well. Loewen argues that in the scramble for wealth in the Americas
"these other European nations were at least as brutal as Spain.
The British, for example, unlike the Spanish, did not colonize by
making use of Indian labor but simply forced the Indians out of
the way."(p. 66)
But our textbooks do not describe the
settling of the Americas as a scramble for wealth and the brutal
exploitation of Indians and Africans. Instead we celebrate Columbus,
as President Bush did in 1989, "as a role model for the nation."
(p. 69) High school textbooks do not describe the refusal of Europeans
to recognize and respect the rights of Indians who had already settled
and lived in America, who were themselves the First Americans. There
is thus a major contradiction between our history of European settlement
and the reality of the brutal dispossession of Indian land and culture
from 1492 to the present. Loewen argues that in order to avoid this
contradiction, Americans forget the brutal reality of Indian-White
conflict and accept the myth of the "empty continent"
peopled by a few wandering savages, who were very quickly pushed
aside by the progress of civilization across the American continent.
Loewen refers to this process of denial as cognitive dissonance.
Because humans can't hold two mutually incompatible beliefs at the
same time, we tend to deny or forget one of those beliefs in order
to make one of them reasonable and acceptable. Thus, in order to
celebrate the victory of progress, the movement of white settlers
across the continent, and the triumph of American democracy and
civilization, Americans forget that in order to settle the continent
that they had to brutally deny Indians their rights and culture.
The basic contradiction is this: Can America celebrate itself as
a democratic society based the recognition of individual rights
and freedoms while at the same recognizing that very democratic
society denied the basic rights and freedoms of Indian peoples.
This is the basic contradiction is Chief Joseph examines in his
speech before Congress.
The best example of what Loewen means
by cognitive dissonance in Indian-White relations can be seen in
Frederick Jackson Turner's famous 1893 history, "The Significance
of the Frontier in American History." This speech and Turner's
larger argument is one of the most influential arguments in American
history. Turner's point of view about Western settlement dominated
the way American understood the history of American settlement up
until the 1960s.
Turner argues that the best way to
understand American history is to study the settlement of the continent:
"Up to our own day American history has been in a large degree
the history of the colonization of the Great West." He argues
that American democratic institutions and values such as individualism,
independence, self-reliance, and mistrust of government can be traced
to the American settlement of the West. By facing and conquering
the challenge of settling the frontier, Americans became who and
what they are--they became Americans. For Turner, settlers contact
with "free land" and the struggle to conquer the wilderness
transformed them into Americans. But Turner does not mention anywhere
the role of the Indians, who had lived and settled in the West.
If settling the West made Americans who they are, why weren't Indians
transformed and made into Americans already. The only time Turner
mentions Indians is when he notes that the settler "fits himself
into the Indian clearings and follows the Indian trails." But
what happened to the Indians who made these trails and clearings?
If Turner recognized the existence and prior settlement of America
by Indians, his entire argument would fall apart. White settlers
can't be celebrated as democratic heroes, settling and developing
a continent, and in the process creating a democratic society, while
at the same time denying Indians the very democratic rights America
celebrates. As Loewen argues, Americans would rather have the myth
than face the complex realities created by the massive contradictions
between American democratic ideals and the reality of the brutal
denial of Indians rights and place in American society.
Recognizing the larger contradictions
in Indian-White relations and in American history, Luther Standing
Bear argues that the Indian is America, that because Indians lived
and settled in America for hundreds of years that they came to know
and understand the land and America. Standing Bear argues that "the
white man does not understand the Indian for the reason that he
does not understand America." White's refusal to recognize
and respect Indian rights, Standing Bear argues, only hurt the larger
American society. When Whites come to "look upon the Indian
world as a human world; then let him see to it that human rights
be accorded to the Indians. And this for the purpose of retaining
for his own order of society a measure of humanity." For Standing
Bear, Chief Joseph, and John Ross, White America's refusal to accept
Indians as human beings and as Americans has hurt both Indians and
White Americans. Unlike Columbus and later White settlers, these
American Indians believe that America can be and is a society that
can include both Whites and Indians, that can allow both Whites
and Indians to hold onto and celebrate their own culture, religion,
and way of life. The refusal to accept such a larger multiracial
and multicultural society has created racial divisions and tensions
that have dominated American history and still threaten American
Is Loewen's and the Indians' argument
simply Columbus- and White American-bashing? Are we suppose to now
recognize the goodness of Indians and the brutality and greed of
Whites? No, not al all. Loewen argues:
"I am not proposing the breast-beating
alternative: that Columbus was bad and so are we. On the contrary,
textbooks should show that neither morality nor immorality can simply
be conferred upon us by history. Merely being part of the United
States, without regard to our own acts and ideas, does not make
us moral or immoral beings. History is more complicated than that."
I agree with Loewen that just because
White Americans acted badly and selfishly toward the Indians does
not mean that we today are directly responsible for their actions.
One of my colleagues, an American Indian, argued that "she
doesn't blame White Americans today, or hold them responsible, for
what Whites did to Indians in the part. She does, however, hold
White Americans responsible for how they treat Indians and people
of color today. She believes that our knowledge of the past can
help us overcome racial division and wounds created by our past.
We aren't responsible directly for our past, but we are responsible
for how we use our knowledge of that past and our actual history
to shape the present and the future. Because we can't go back and
undo history we can't be directly responsible for the past, but
we can and are responsible for how the past and our own lives shape
and affect American society and its future.