The Blame For Taking The Indians Lands Belongs To More Than One Nation.

by Daniel Russ on February 8, 2014

Atsina Indians

 

You can tell a lot about America by watching car commercials. In fact, the very essential nature of the New World is revealed in them.  In the automotive marketing category, there is an entire cottage industry of companies that create the film for cars. Helicopters and drone borne cameras and camera cars shoot the new automobile in the most romantic and appealing way possible. Obviously no one wants to feature a new luxury sports car sitting on the 405 on a smoggy day.  Instead the cars are toted to New Mexico, and the Baja and the verdant hills surrounding the Pacific Coastal Highway and filmed dynamically and majestically. Cameras swirl around the new crossover as it climbs a hill with a 45 degree angle. For more urban environments it is more often than not an LA or a SF shoot. More often than not there is not another car on the empty western highway. Watching running footage you can’t help but get the idea that it is the vast and beautiful west that lavishes value upon the car itself. It is the promise that from time to time a driver will get to take advantage of the enormous open skies in the United States and have one of those moment when you are corkscrewing though roads cut into mountains in the most beautiful place on Earth.

 

When White men came to the West there was not a deluge of settlement at first. The Western Indians in communities that stretched from northern Canada through California to the Gulf Coast occupied land that was not empty. It wasn’t densely populated but indigenous people laid claim to the pristine and beautiful landscapes for millennium without much interaction with newcomers. They must have felt that the creator meant it for them. This is not to imply that the diverse Indian bands were monolithic. They were not. There were Indian tribes as different from each other as they were from Europeans. But the white strangers felt like mythological beings amongst Indian traders. There were some Polynesians who made it to the southern California Coast and there is ample evidence that these Polynesians stayed and made fiends with local tribes. There is evidence that before Portuguese and the Spanish showed up in North America Scandinavians made it to Newfoundland and travelled down the St. Lawrence River Valley and some through the Mississippi. Then there were the Spanish Conquistadores that began a slow maddening ruination of millennium old Central American cultures. Grimly determined to find lands of gold for the Spanish monarchy, and glory for their own aggrandizement and to deliver their heathen souls to the Church, the Spanish appeared in the 15th century. The earliest Conquistadores and their Friars took slaves from Spain, from local tribes and from expeditions in other venues around the globe. Moving in their formidable Galleons, these evangelicals were able to establish a long chain of missions from Central America to northern California. Many thousands of Indians were converted to Catholicism.

 

Of course when the conversion of the heathens in the new world began Cabesa De Vaca and Coronado both learned that the Indians were for the most part just adding Mary and Jesus to their already full panoply of gods. The Friars would have none of that, and armed with guilt and money and determination convinced many Indians to forgo their identity and supplant it with a new one. The Indians did not fare well under the Spanish. Their culture fared even worse.

 

Of course the Pueblo Indians accepted the Spanish into their homes and communities with open arms at first. After seeing their own act as slaves to the Spanish, the Pueblos revolted. They actually overthrew the armored Spaniards and they took their horses, and they defeated the bearers of Toledo Steel.

 

The white Europeans who settled the west came too quickly for the Indians to react. No Indian tribe really had a sense of how big the North American continent is. It was the primary mission of settlers and the US government to map this country. And as settlers and the US army pushed inexorably Westward, we were shaped by the beauty and the bounty and re-interpreted this then as a divine birthright. This was Manifest Destiny, a way to purloin lands from people who could not stop it because of their lack of resources, and technology.

 

The ways in which the Americans screwed the Indians out of their lands are too numerous to list. And despite our collective guilt, the fact of the matter is that this was how the world was settled from the very beginning. We would not have a Europe if competing people’s didn’t invade each others territories. We wouldn’t have any country because they all began with conflict. The point here is that the Indians weren’t harmed by just white settlers. All new comers ended up taking Indian land. The guilt is shared by more than one empire.

 

The allure was the west itself, that pristine space where the cars skeined through the hills and vistas. The last accessible and pristine wilderness on Earth. No settlers were going to recognize anything there but their new home.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Rick Johnson February 10, 2014 at 1:55 pm

The “law” of peoples and culture throughout history has been develop your resources and culture, or others will displace you and do it. The Amerindians did NOT develop, or create a civilizing culture, therefore they were for the most part displaced. See REDOUBTS: Paleopopulism at Twilight (amazon.com).

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