So this is how the United States became the country that it is: the violently racist twins genocide & slavery. This book deals with the former of the pair.
This book may not be a pleasant one--the subject matter is grim, depressing, disturbing, upsetting. I was so horrified by some accounts in it. I was physically disgusted reading these stories. My center actually ached. And then there was the urgent anger, but so helpless--what chance do I have to alter the course of history now long past...
It's hard for me to think of a time in my life when I didn't know that the Native Americans had been wronged. I can never remember harboring any delusions about Columbus & company; when I was a child my parents spoke about the ills visited upon the Natives, leaving no doubt in my mind that they had been treated unfairly by the US government. I learned about the Ghost Dance and Wounded Knee in every US History class I've taken after leaving elementary school. So the events in this book weren't really very surprising to me, and yet it still had a way of bringing it home, hard. And some of the things the white people in this book did, said, or wrote actually did end up shocking me with their ignorance and hatred--way to go, assholes! (Please forgive the bitterness.)
The hardest part about reading this book is knowing that these problems haven't been resolved. Not even close. True, US soldiers have not been disarming bands of hundreds of peaceful Natives and then mowing them down lately, but Native communities and individuals still suffer greatly. Boehner holds up the Violence Against Women Act because it contains provisions that would hold white men accountable for raping Native women on reservations--because white rapists' freedom is more important than Native women's physical & mental safety & health. Or the Canadian government ignores their First Nations' land rights in order to get dirty oil, destroying the land in the process. Because it seems that with the dominant culture of patriarchal Western white people, money always comes before human rights. Satisfying greed is more important than human lives. It's absolutely sickening. It happens around us, all the time. Right here where I live, the Forest Service refused to close a portion of a river for one day
so that the future chief of a tribe could have her coming-of-age ceremony in peace (in past years they had been constantly harassed by white boaters on the river screaming insults, disrupting them, and sexually harassing them). After enough community members got upset and they issued the closure, the Forest Service then arrested the chief as she tried to cross the river to her own sacred site for being in violation of the closure that they had issued in order to help her in the first place
. I read that story in the paper this summer and I screamed!! Goddamn white people!!!!!!! I'm ashamed that so many people of my "race" are so destructive and hurtful. It their ignorance purposeful? Is it intentionally malicious? Or do they just not get it because we live in a society which condones and promotes it? Is it some combination? I don't know and it vexes me.
I believe that one of the reasons the US is such a violent country is that it is how we were founded--physical violence, as well as the violence of denying entire groups of people their personhood, is a bedrock of our culture, with us from the very beginning. And it has never been adequately addressed by us as a society. It poisons us. Occasionally the victims are white children (as in Sandy Hook Elementary), and following such violence there is an angry outcry and people rush to explain what happened: "The poor white male gunman was bullied at school." But when the victims are little brown kids in Pakistan, mowed down by our very own government in our name, the majority of Americans just. don't. care. Or make excuses for it--"terrorism." When an unarmed black teen is shot in his neighborhood as he walks home peacefully, aspertions are cast upon his
character: "He was a wannabe gangster," as if that, even IF true, excuses the killing an innocent kid. I'm just sick of it. I know other cultures are prone to racism and violence too, but the US currently holds the imperialist crown.
These tangents aren't really a review of this book's prose and style, or even what it really covers, but nonetheless these are the things I thought about as I was reading it--the many myraid ways that these policies of extermination and bigotry present themselves today. They seem intimately linked to my mind.
So, more on this book specifically: It covers a lot of ground with different events, "treaties," tribes, and yet it's still only a primer. You don't learn in depth about any one of these tribes--the point is rather that it was a systemic slaughter, it was policy, and these weren't just isolated incidents. However as other reviewers have said, this approach does mean that development of the people involved is somewhat shallow. This isn't a biography of Crazy Horse and General Chivington, it's the story of the purposeful extermination of a whole race of people. The prose wasn't as smooth as butter, but I'm willing to overlook that in light of the importance of this history, as well as the lack of alternative sources to go for such wide-ranging, well-researched and necessary information. I do plan to seek out more books on this topic, but I wonder if a more in-depth picture will be hard to gain in any case. After all, the point of all this killing was so the American Indians would no longer have a culture and a separate story to tell. So many couldn't speak, read, or write English, and so very few settlers would have been interested in preserving their words even if they could--the Army would burn their food supply and kill their horses, but preserve their writing? I think that's unlikely...