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The Brutal Battle for Equality Amongst Native Indians

Updated April 22, 2022
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The Brutal Battle for Equality Amongst Native Indians essay

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How did people who lacked equality in the United States speak out and/or act out in attempts to achieve equal rights? Consider the documents from the Trail of Tears assignment, Black Hawk, lecture and film on African Americans, and/or the Seneca Falls Declaration of Sentiments. You may also use class lecture material and the textbook.

“All men are created equal,” a phrase that has nestled itself into the hollow belly of our great nation and rung in the ears of those who have come to call the United States home. Yet the expression, scrawled across a page within the Declaration of Independence, by none other than Thomas Jefferson, has long failed one group of individuals.

As Columbus first found himself setting foot on the wild and unknown soil of pre-colonial America in 1492, he unknowingly sparked a flame that would bring about brutal suffrage and ultimately decimate the Native Indian inhabitants and forever alter the land in which they resided. The phrase which encompasses this notion that each individual holds innate, inalienable rights and ultimately stems from the idea of born natural rights, is profoundly skewed. The oppression felt by the native populations continued on for centuries to come, and was ultimately intentional and merciless. The fight for equality for those who lacked it in the United States was exactly that, a long, drawn out fight. Despite the relentless tyranny and turmoil felt by these indigenous people, they strove to find alternative ways to speak out and take action in order to reclaim the equality that had been ripped away by the hands of early European settlers so long ago.

From the time before colonization of the New World, the two sides were drastically polar from one another. As author, Daniel Richter casts an extensive portrait of life as early Native Indians in the second chapter of his book, Facing East from Indian Country, he focuses on these differences by emphasising the three driving forces, economic demand, environmental impact and disease, all of which led to the reconstruction of these native people’s culture and ways of life.

European settlers were met by unfamiliar people that strayed far from the traits held by those in their society. This included everything from differing dialect, attire, and a complex relationship with the land. To one another, they were alien, unalike which lead to immediate conflict. The colonists came with greed in their eye and a hunger for exotic riches offered by this foreign land, in their bellies. As this ravenous appetite grew and the swarm of colonists spread out, the demand for material items resulted in the scarring of a rich and plentiful land. Diseases brought over from Europe decimated the Natives, who had no natural immunity to foreign viruses. The settlers and the indigenous people battled ferociously over territory and resources as the expansion of the european settlers, known as “Manifest Destiny” extended over the land. The combination of disease, lack of resources, homogenizing of cultural practices and violence was the first wave dealt, and it was a brutal blow to the indigenous populations.

As time progressed, the agony endured failed to cease, instead propagating to a greater extent. The Treaty of 1804 resulted in a secession of land. However, upon its confirmation, several tribes including Chief Black Hawk, challenged the validity of the agreement. Despite the outcry, it was still considered a legal action and resulted in the beginnings of migration of the Native Indians.

By the early 18th century, hundreds of thousands of people were forced off their ancestral lands and onto designated reservations that were desolate, barren wastelands by the Federal Government. Andrew Jackson’s Indian removal policy provoked the Cherokee nation on a treacherous journey from Georgia to Oklahoma infamously known as the Trail of Tears. The migrants faced vicious conditions including famine, disease, and exhaustion during the march that would lead thousands to their death. The court case that set this involuntary march into place, referred to as the Cherokee Nation v. Georgia, sought the action of the Supreme Court to determine whether or not a state had the right to impose its laws on Native Americans and their territory. Georgia legislature had passed laws designed to force the Cherokee people off their rightful land and annihilate the Cherokee nation as a political society. They petitioned an injunction in an attempt to prevent these proceedings, which would take away the lands that have been assured to them by the United States in solemn treaties repeatedly in the past.

The bill called into question the rights Cherokee tribes possess to sue due to the lack of knowledge surrounding the notion of whether or not they are a foreign state. This is a requirement within the Constitution that dictates the involvement via acts of government but not through the Constitution. The ruling dictated that the nation was in fact a foreign state and therefore had no legal right to pursue cases in court. Additionally, the court declared it would be extending far to much political power to prevent Georgia from stealing the land of the Cherokee, resulting in their migration. Despite the deafening loss that occurred, this case highlights a crucial moment in the complex history of these indigenous people. Their action in an attempt to gain the freedom, equality and ultimately resist through legal action illuminated the strength, triumph and spirit these people possessed in a time of great suffering.

Across the Mississippi, another form of resistance was taking place. In 1832, a war led by Sioux leader Black Hawk between the United States and the Native American tribes sought to reclaim the Iowan land that had been unrightfully taken from them. The esteemed warrior led his people back into the disputed territory after reluctantly migrating in the past, believing that other tribe forces and the British to the north would offer support upon confrontation. This was not the case.

The bloodshed that ensued did not last long despite a victory prior to surrender. U.S. soldiers obliterated Black Hawk’s warriors as they were escaping across the Mississippi, and they surrendered. The defeat discouraged further Native tribes to resist and retaliate against western expansion because of the harrowing forces of the U.S. The captives, which included Black Hawk were toured around the east in order to show the strength and power of the United States militia as well as shame and degrade the natives. Ironically, this act sparked an almost celebrity-like reaction.

People flocked to witness the stoic chief who was not dis-likened to the attention.“We saw an immense number of people; all of whom treated us with great friendship, and many with great generosity (93).” This had significant impact on how colonists viewed and understood the indigenous people of the Americas. They began to think of the Native Indians less as savages and more of heroic warriors with similar values to their own. This interaction between them led to an intermingling of cultures and sparked a fascination with the disappearing native culture. Through his acts of standing up to the United States and fighting for his people and their land, he exhibited the passion and drive to end the oppression and lack of equality that had long-been rooted in the bones of his people for centuries. By offering kindness and curiosity rather than an expected furious hatred for a people that had decimated his own, he single handedly revolutionized the way in which white settlers interpreted Native Indian populations. It is evident through the actions of these native tribes, there are alternative ways to stand up for one’s rights of equality and discrimination in the face of tyranny.

Bibliography

  1. ‘Cherokee Nation vs. the State of Georgia.’ Our History. Accessed December 08, 2018. http://webtest2.cherokee.org/About-The-Nation/History/Trail-of-Tears/Cherokee-Nation-v-State-of-Georgia.
  2. Hawk, Black, and J. Gerald. Kennedy. Life of Black Hawk, or Ma-ka-tai-me-she-kia-kiak. New York: Penguin Books, 2008.
  3. Foner, Eric. Give Me Liberty! An American History, 5th ed. Vol. 1. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, 2004.
  4. Richter, Daniel K. Facing East from Indian Country a Native History of Early America. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003.
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