By Madeline LaMee
What will the Future Hold?
The Past, Present and Future of Native American Reservations in the United States
When people from the Americas hear the term “Indian,” we often associate it with the Old West stereotype of medicine men and horseback warriors. This association however, is not so widespread as one might think. To the rest of the word, an Indian is someone from the Indian Subcontinent, halfway across the world from the arid plains of the Old West flicks.
Many do not know that the term “Indian” was coined by Columbus himself, who, upon his first voyage to the Americas, was convinced that he was correct about the earth’s circumference, and that, by sailing West from Spain, he had found an alternate route to India. Although the West Indies where soon discovered to be part of a new Continent entirely, the term Indian is still widely used despite it’s incorrect and somewhat offensive background.
This ironic historical detail resonates deeply in the light of current debates surrounding Native American rights. Although to an outsider, the use of the current politically correct term might seem like an inconvenient overreaction, to many, stopping the incorrect usage of the word Indian is an important step in the reputing of common stereotypes surrounding the Native American people.
Europeans, and later Americans, have an unfortunately long history of forcing their own image upon their subjugated cultures; one must only look at how the great Aztec civilization is portrayed by the Spanish, or how the Celtic tribespeople were detested by the Roman Catholic church to see this fact. In the present-day United States, the process of subjugation has been no different, though this part of history is only now beginning to surface in the eyes of the general public.
The conquest and colonization of the Americas, which began in 1492, did not end entirely until the mid 19th century, when the last of the European Colonies gained political independence. Europeans came for many different reasons: but most came in the name of the Crown, the Church, or personal escape from the poverty and religious persecution common in their home countries. This vast movement of European culture and people to the Americas was accompanied by the mass killing of Native Americans by European disease and violence. In some places, especially in new Spain, the population fell by as much as 90 percent.
At the time, the present day Eastern and Midwestern United States was claimed by the English, Dutch and French as the dregs of the New World (by which they meant that it had less natural resources than New Spain or Portugal). The present South-West was considered the northern corner of the Spanish conquests. Here, the lands were used primarily to support the excess population of the European countries, and not as major food sources as seen in South and Central America.
In the beginning, only a small amount of Europeans came to North America. Some lived in harmony with the natives, but most tried to impose their culture on them and convert them to Christianity. Many times, they would negotiate with the natives for lands and resources. Because many native tribes had not developed a system or concept of land ownership, they were often exploited by the Europeans. One example of this is Peter Minuit, who is said to have purchased Long Island for only 60 Dutch guilders, the equivalent of 24 dollars. Today, it is some of the most expensive real estate in the world.
After the United States fought for it’s independence, it quickly expanded to many times it’s original size. As the colonists pushed out from the east coast, the Native Americans were forced to migrate into the lands to the west, a change in tribal boundaries that caused many ongoing conflicts. Americans soon developed an ideal called Manifest Destiny, the idea that it was their god-given right and duty to spread democracy (and their European culture) from “sea to shining sea.”
By 1853, most of the continental US was part of the new American empire; there was no longer any land for the Natives to escape to. Instead, they lived in small pockets between the growing American settlements. In such close proximity, the tribes and settlers fought constantly, though the settlers won more often than the natives. In one well known example, officially called the Battle at Wounded Knee, American troops shot down Lakota civilians with little to no provocation. Needless to say, they call it the Wounded Knee Massacre.
Around this time, it was a federal goal to assimilate Native Americans into our society. At the time, Native Americans were viewed with the same racist assumptions as African Americans. It was commonly held that they were uncivilized and dangerous.
In 1851, the first Indian Reservation was made in Oklahoma. Soon, there were over 300 pieces of land allotted to various tribes. Instead of being able to stay in their own lands, most tribes were relocated to lands that were unwanted by the US government. Many were relocated forcibly, and had to walk to their new homes under the drilling of US troops. The relocation of the Eastern Tribes is often termed the Trail of Tears because the Cherokee, Muskogee, Seminole, Chickasaw and Choctaw people who participated in the walks died in huge numbers, living in conditions comparable to the Death Walks during WWII.
Although the borders have changed, these reservations have remained intact into the 21st century. Since then, various laws have been passed to ensure the security of the reservations. For instance, tribal governments or “Indian Nations” began forming early on in reservations, but it wasn’t until the Self- Determination act in 1970, that they were acknowledged officially by the US government. Native Americans achieved sovereignty in US elections in 1925. Nowadays, Native Americans enjoy dual citizenship and public education.
I saw the effects -good and bad- of these past centuries of history firsthand when I visited Crownpoint, New Mexico with my church youth group. Crownpoint, a small town in the North-East corner of the Navajo Nation, is to my knowledge, a fairly typical example of what life is like today on a reservation. The people there wear Western cloths and speak English. Most live on a plot of desert were they raise horses or sheep and sleep in a small house or trailer. They were incredibly grateful for the help that our church gave to them, but I wondered often if any of the old men and women remembered the years not so long ago in which missionaries came not to rebuild their houses, but to force their religion onto them.
Still, thanks to the National Indian Education Association, the town has an elementary school, middle school, high school and even a community college. Children all over the area attend school in Crownpoint, but only 60 percent make it all the way through high school. The pastor of the church we stayed at said that the low graduation rate was mostly due to a broad disillusionment in the value of education. There were so little jobs available around the reservation, he said, that even high school graduates could scarcely find jobs. He was also worried about the number of kids that were turning to gang membership and drug abuse.
Despite these worrisome realities, the Navajo are actually relatively lucky in terms of history; unlike many tribes, they retained their ancestral lands, which they consider sacred to their people. Still, they are among the many tribes of Native Americans that are still struggling to reconcile their tribal heritage and modern influences, negotiate with the United States Government for greater autonomy, and ultimately provide a more stable future out of a troubled past. When people make judgements about the modern issues regarding Native Americans, whether it is about Native American Civil Rights or something as seemingly trivial as the newest PC term, I hope that they will take into account not only the present conditions, but the past and future of the Tribal Nations. Nothing in history happens in a vacuum, so it’s up to us to use history to aid our understanding of the world around us.
“Next Step: Your Mission Starts Here” packet Ways of the World by Robert Strayer
Guns, Germs, and Steal by Jared Diamond Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown Encyclopedia Britannica http://www.navajo-nsn.gov
by Angel Wright
The new school year is about to start, for me its my senior year and my fourth high school. I am currently preparing for Link Crew where I will be working with freshmen on their first day of school. My goal while working with these freshmen is to try and provide a safe and fun introduction into a new environment. New environments differ from wherever you go and from my own personal experience high schools can have major differences, even though it is set with the same outcome of graduating and gaining a post secondary education.
Freshman year at my first high school in Tuscon was unique in the sense that I had roots there. This was due to my brothers own educational journey. At that time he had his own truck and drove us. He had helped me figure out where my first class was but then he left me to rejoice with his friends. There was no Link crew and I stumbled through the school clueless until I ran into someone familiar who had the same class that I did. As the year went on I became used to the system of hearing a faint voice talk about our school news. I paid no attention because school spirit was only relevant one day a year when we played football against our rival school. The only clubs that were offered were during lunch, and I decided not to leave my friends to join a club that often times lasted only a month. There were options for clubs and sports but you had to search for them and at that point I just didn’t know about them. I wish I had as I might have wanted to stay when I left for my second high school.
At my second high school in Colorado the grades went from tenth to twelfth so I was subjected to being a freshman yet again. Mostly everyone had known each other because they went to the middle school just a few hundred feet away from the high school. This time around I had no older brother to guide me to class but I had to maneuver through a small school with hidden classrooms and filled hallways. I remember being surrounded by students who lacked diversity and who had lived a small town kind of life. This small town life seemed to be fun and have perks if you lived there all your life or if you had a sibling that once attended the school then someone was going to greet you with excitement. The first semester I did join a couple of clubs that were also held during lunch because one of my eager friend’s urged me to. I’m glad I had someone to help push me into doing things at school that really benefitted me. One thing that shocked me was that the teacher here cared about all of their students and even invited conversation on a regular basis about grades and tutoring. I did have good teachers at my first school but it wasn’t the same. They were there for the day not the student. Although I was more involved, I was unhappy. I am sure now had I stayed I might have gotten on board and befriended many of the students who would be in my small graduating class.
My father was the reason we moved to Colorado in the first place but after we moved he was given a delayed promotion in Denver which was four hours away. I would have to move mid second semester of sophomore year. So there I was landing back in Tucson planning to stay with my grandmother and attend my first high school once again. I had enrolled there and hated it within a week. The material was completely different in every class I took and the teachers only directed their attention for a moment saying I would catch up in no time. I wound up enrolling in an alternative high school just down the street from my house. My cousin had been going there and I thought I would give it a try. This was the kind of school where you sit at a computer for five hours a day and do your classes online with a teacher on site for that subject. I truly believe this is a good alternative for those motivated to get through their schooling faster, but I happened to be unmotivated and this led me to slack in areas I would normally try my hardest in. When it was time to be reunited with my parents I was ready to go somewhere new.
Now my fourth high school for my junior year was different; it was the biggest I had ever been to as the halls were jam packed and difficult to get through. On the first day you only go to your first two classes then to a school wide assembly. I made two friends within those first couple hours who I am very close with now and I was also introduced to the school's tradition of introducing the freshmen and celebrating the seniors. I have never seen school spirit so vibrant at nine o’clock in the morning and from there on everything started to click. When I had met my counselor a few days earlier I would have never expected to be so involved in the club she ran or be waking up at four in the morning so we could go help facilitate for a marathon. The teachers here had so much passion and even more dedication to their students and this truly made me feel welcome. One more semester at my fourth and favorite school will be the longest I have ever attended throughout my high school education. Graduating from this school is going to be my happy ever after for my high school education and I am grabbing every opportunity it offers.
The thing about new environments is that they can be uncomfortable or have an unforeseen great welcoming. Either way the best you’re gonna get from it is what you pull from it and it may sound cheesy but its true. It took me a long time to get used to the change of new high schools, but now that I have I appreciate everything that they were able to give me. Without change and meeting new people almost on a constant basis I probably wouldn't be as comfortable as I am now being myself. Being in a new environment only means having more options.
By Heaven James
A book I read this summer was called Stardust by Neil Gaiman. Stardust is a magical and adventurous story I most definitely enjoyed! I loved the mixture of magic and reality that captures the readers’ imaginations. I recommend this book to anyone who likes some fantasy. The plot of Stardust is a young man named Tristan Thorn promises Victoria Forester, his “true love” that if he passed “The Wall” and bring back the star they both just saw fall from the sky, that Victoria would accept Tristan’s hand in marriage or whatever he desired. Tristan goes on this journey to fetch the star not knowing the star is a girl in the flesh. Tristan conquers and goes through the unimaginable to get back to Victoria, but by the end of the journey he realizes that he practically forgot about Victoria and maybe even his love for her. The story is filled with witches and pirates too! I recommend seeing the movie as well, but like a lot of stories that are transferred on film, the movie leaves out adventures that you would only find in the book. This is one of my favorite stories.
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