Many years ago as a teenager, I read about the Cherokee Trail of Tears and used that as impetus to read further Native American history. I know about the Iroquois Confederacy composed of the Mohawk, Onondaga, Oneida, Cayuga, Seneca, and Tuscarora peoples. And I admire both the tribes who fought against the European invaders and those who sought compromise. However, the tribes I’m most familiar with are those of the Great Plains and Canadian Prairies (divided into nomadic horse cultures and agricultural villages) who depended on the buffalo. And, of course, I romanticized them as any teenage girl would. Later, I appreciated them as cultures with mores and customs as varied as any “civilized” people.
As I continued to explore alternate religion and spirituality, I became aware of tribal medicine (holy) men and women. Reading their biographies led me to the American Indian Movement (AIM) and writers like Vine Deloria Jr. I discovered just how thoroughly we (European immigrants) duped and decimated the actual citizens of North and South America. While I admit that the South American tribes don’t interest and intrigue me as much, they arguably suffered the most and continue to be marginalized and exploited by South American governments and businesses.
The Lakota, Dakota (Eastern and Western) and Nakota (splintered tribes who moved north) compose the branches of the Great Sioux Nation. These tribes were largely composed of decentralized family bands and the government sought to loosen even those ties with the intent of destroying the tribes and absorbing their members into “white” society. There’s a long history of broken treaties and military atrocities in both the United States and (to a lesser degree) Canada. I am amazed, however, at how little I knew/know about the tribes of the Pacific Northwest after growing up here and returning to live here again in 1999.
I knew indigenous people in the Pacific NW fished and tribes further up the coast hunted whales and seals. I knew about the controversy over the Makah returning to whale hunting and even read the coverage and subsequent book. I argued with some co-workers when the Puyallup Tribe came into conflict with the Port of Tacoma, about the legitimacy of tribal casinos, and about fees and taxes charged on tribal lands or to tribally owned businesses. Even though I’d consider myself aware of past misdeeds and current events, I didn’t really understand how well Pacific NW tribes adapted to European settlement prior to Washington Territory becoming Washington State when state government, land speculators, and biased courts subsequently dispossessed them of lands and treaty rights. I am happy to say that despite loosing most of their treaty lands, they’ve largely won the court battles to maintain and regain their fishing and subsistence rights. (Vine Deloria Jr.’s book,Indians of the Pacific Northwest, is an excellent reference.)
While Native Americans may be no better nor worse than any other group of humanity, they are the only “real” Americans. Anyone not descended from the indigenous tribes (and I don’t mean a single ancestor who married into a tribe generations ago), is an “illegal” immigrant. None of us were “invited” to this country. Some of us were later accepted, but that was a pretty select minority. Maybe President Trump and the Republicans should consult actual Americans about immigration and refugee policy!