Columbus Day has become an occasion to vent spleen against American Indians. And woe betide the deviationist who pens anything remotely fair or sympathetic about, say the genocide of the Indians, the trail of tears or the relegation of Indians to reservations. Berated he will be for daring to lament the wrongs visited on the original inhabitants of this continent on the grounds, mostly, that they were savages.
Come Columbus Day, the same hackneyed observations are disgorged – as though these repetitions cut through the left’s rhetoric of moral superiority, as if these shopworn shibboleths challenge a cultural script that upholds the myth of the purity of primitive life, juxtaposed to the savagery of Western culture. They don’t.
I mean, who doesn’t know that natives were hardly nature’s custodians? This fallacy was popularized by Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s panegyric on the noble savage. Pre-Columbian America was no pristine natural kingdom. Native tribes likely engaged in biannual forest burning to flush out the species the Indians most wanted to hunt. There was the stampeding, during a hunt, of herds of animals over a cliff. Used repeatedly, some buffalo jumps hold the remains of hundreds of thousands of animals, with patterns of local extinction being well documented. Where agriculture was practiced in the central and southern parts of America, evidence from sediment points to soil erosion, which was also likely ongoing before the arrival of Europeans.
It’s old hat that the Americas are scattered with archeological evidence of routine massacres, cannibalism, dismemberment, slavery, abuse of women and human sacrifice among native tribes. In no way can these facts mitigate or excuse the cruel treatment natives have endured. For is such exculpation not the crux of the neoconservative creed, against which President Trump ran? “The world is up to no good. As a superior nation, let American power remake it in its image.” By hook or by crook, if necessary.
Neoconservative Dinesh D’Souza likes to claim Native-Americans were decimated not by genocide or ethnocide, “but by diseases brought from Europe by the white man.” Not quite. In his magisterial “History of the American People,” historian Paul Johnson, a leading protagonist for America, details the rather energetic “destruction of the Indians” by Andrew Jackson.
Particularly poignant are Red Eagle’s words to Jackson, on April 14, 1814, after the president-to-be had rampaged through villages, burning them and destroying crops in a ruthless campaign against the Indians east of the Mississippi:
“I am in your power. My people are gone. I can do no more but weep over the misfortunes of my nation.” Jackson had just “imposed a Carthaginian peace on 35 frightened Indian chiefs,” forcing them to part with the lion’s share of their ancestral lands.
Equally moving is the account of another philo-American, philosopher and historian Alexis de Tocqueville. The Frenchman describes a crowd of displaced Choctaw warriors – having been subjected to ethnic cleansing (in today’s parlance):
“There was an air of ruin and destruction, something which gave the impression of a final farewell, with no going back; one couldn’t witness it without a heavy heart. … it is an odd coincidence that we should have arrived in Memphis to witness the expulsion, or perhaps the dissolution, of one of the last vestiges of one of the oldest American nations.”
As they heap contempt upon Native-American societies – establishment bobble heads, with admirable exceptions, are at the beck and call of African-American interests. Most conservatives agree about the legitimacy of African-Americans’ eternal grievances (“the fault of Democrats,” they intone). The same establishment offers incontinent exhilaration about the greatness of African-American heroes (MLK über alles). And the only argument mustered in these quarters for raising, rather than removing, statues for the South’s heroes is, “We need to preserve our history, horribly flawed with respect to African-Americans, mea culpa.” Or, “Who’s next? Jefferson?”
Here’s a theory as to why conservatives use American Indians as their perennial piñata, while generally acceding to the aggressive demands for permanent victim status levied by African-Americans.
Plainly put, among African-Americans, the extractive view of politics prevails. People seek and aggressively obtain an advantage from positions of power. Unlike African-Americans, Native-Americans have little political clout and even less of an extractive approach to politics.
In short, the First Peoples are politically powerless and proud, making them an easy target.