BASIC BOOKS, 2010
New Books on Native American Studies MARCH 19, 2011
[Crossposted from New Books in History] Of all the events in American history, two are far and away the most troubling: slavery and the near-genocidal war against native Americans. In truth, we’ve dealt much better with the former than the latter. The slaves were emancipated. After a long and painful struggle, their descendants won their full civil rights. Though that struggle is not yet finished, near equality has been reached in many areas of American life. And almost all Americans understand that slavery was wrong. None of this can be said about the campaign against native Americans. Instead of emancipation, the Indians–or rather those left after the slaughter–were “removed” to reservations where their way of life was destroyed. After a long and painful struggle, many of their descendants are still in those reservations and living in poverty. They struggle still, but are not equal to other Americans by most measures. And many Americans refuse to believe that the U.S. was wrong in killing, sequestering, and impoverishing the native Americans.
They are wrong to do so, for we know what happened and why thanks to historians such as Heather Cox Richardson. In her eye-opening new book Wounded Knee: Party Politics and the Road to an American Massacre(Basic Books, 2010) she shows just how calculated, self-serving, and even spiteful the White assault on the Plains Indians was. Despite what they said (mostly to the Indians themselves), the Whites never had any real intention of allowing the Sioux and others to keep their land, maintain their way of life, or even to continue to exist. It was clear to them that the Indians would either become White (meaning would take up farming) or would go. The Whites weren’t exactly cynics; rather they were self-deceiving fatalists. They came to believe that destiny itself compelled them to assimilate or annihilate the Indians.
But destiny didn’t destroy the Plains Indians. The government of the United States of America did.