By Vickie Wilcher
Some sources calculate that United States Government has entered into well over 500 treaties with the First Nations of America. That’s not unusual, but the fact that every one of those treaties has been amended or broken is, or should be, more than unusual. That fact should be cause for all of us to question the fabric this country is truly made off—the foundation upon which this nation is truly built.
In recent days President Obama has, as he has made his pitch to allow millions of immigrants the opportunity to “come out of the shadows,” spoken highly of the kind of country we are. He has said vehemently, though often in rhetorical question form, that we are not the kind who would “strip babies from their parents” or deny a person the right to work and to contribute to this great country. Perhaps the President has forgotten or simply willfully and conveniently put aside the darker, but equally true history of this America.
Many would argue that this is the America that lorded over the most atrocious and inhumane cruelties against man in the history of man with its form of Slavery. There are also those who will dare to honestly acknowledge the inhumanity with which the first settlers treated the indigenous people of these lands. Babies were indeed stripped from their mothers’ arms. Wives and their husbands were sold separately as their love, nor were their marriages were acknowledged. Native people who refused to assimilate were forced to leave their land and their families. Husbands were forced to watch as their wives were brutally raped. Thousands of Native people died from starvation, disease and exposure as they were forced from their homelands by the United States Government—the Indian Removal Act of 1830. And this list of atrocities that speaks so clearly to the America that no one wants to confess, not even the President, was, and worse, is very real, even today.
While it would not be wise or healthy to dwell on those evils past, it would also not be wise to ignore our past indiscretions and inhumanities, lest we be doomed to repeat them. Equally important, and as a place to start a real repair of a nation whose collective soul has to be in excruciating pain, we might stop trying to paint a picture of some sort of utopia where all the people are of loving spirits and good character. This is hypocrisy at best and a flat out lie at worst. To borrow President Obama’s rhetorical approach to making a point: How can we/America be of good moral character, even today, when poor people are being starved to death (one in five children go to bed hungry every night); when Black people in urban areas across the country are being displaced (entire communities being gentrified); and when yet another treaty is on the brink of being broken with the First Nations (the proposed Keystone XL pipeline will cross—illegally, according to several interpretations of various treaties—tribal lands).
It is not for the President nor any other human being on this planet to paint over these realities with a broad stroke of whimsical rhetoric; for to do so is to suggest that the plight of the victims of these crimes against humanity does not matter at all, and that the victims themselves are not even worthy of being granted the dignity of having their stories told honestly when we are discussing the character of the nation. Moreover, it presents an opportunity for yet another level of inequality to take shape and further divide the country. To explain: when “leaders” take actions that will benefit a select few–in the case of the President’s recent actions for instance, some members of the immigrant population—without balancing those actions with work that will also serve others, they create imbalance and inequality.
Specific examples can be found when examining the issues referenced above. First, and again to ask the rhetorical question, “Can it be that it’s somehow more important that certain immigrants are allowed to stay in this country than it is to protect the Lakota, Cree and other First Nation Tribes who will suffer grave and perhaps deadly impacts as a result of the building of the Keystone pipeline? In fact, the consequences of the pipeline could lead to another forced removal of a people who have been herded like mere cattle from one location to another at the whim of and because of the greed of the more powerful—some say the pipeline will yield the Koch brothers alone roughly 100 billion dollars.
Secondly, and again to ask the rhetorical question: “With respect to gentrification, are poor Black people so unimportant that even when they have lived for generations in a given neighborhood, any given developer with the aid of a local government can carelessly and with impunity force them out of the only homes they’ve ever known?” This is, and has been the case in several neighborhoods across DC and in urban neighborhoods across the country. And it’s clear that past projects that promised “mixed income” housing in which current residents could return after redevelopment was complete have not yielded diverse neighborhoods where rich, poor and middle class people live side by side. Rather, poor Black families simply have been forced out, unable, for any number of reasons, to return.
What’s also clear in both of these scenarios is that there are no plans in the immediate future for the President or the Congress of the United States to take any action to protect the First Nations or the poor Black people of this country. The reality seems now to be that these are peoples of little, if any, significance—perhaps because they are not considered a huge voting block; and if at any point they need to be moved, again, herded like mere cattle to an inferior place (geographically and emotionally) in order to accommodate the desires of the more powerful, then so be it. Make them move and watch carelessly as they cry another trail of tears; leaving in the path of their forced journey the corpses of innocents whose greatest misfortune was to have been born Black or Native American and poor.
No, it doesn’t appear that the President will be drafting any Executive Orders for these people, and that, don’t you think, raises the question: What kind of country are we really?