illegal immigration issues stir brilliant debates or cries of fear and
intolerance, one historical fact is always overlooked: America's own
holocaust, carried out by (guess who?) illegal immigrants from (guess
where?) Europe -- uninvited foreigners who came to these shores and took
everything they could.
That's not getting much mainstream attention. I'm
taking off my reader advocate hat to offer some personal thoughts about
this matter out of love for my mixed Cherokee/Scots-Irish heritage.
Somehow the deaths of a guesstimated 11 million Native
Americans at the hands of attacking, manipulative immigrants during a
400-year span seems worth bearing in mind as Americans respond to alarms
about porous borders, jeopardized healthcare and threats to justice and
quality of life posed by "illegals."
Americans can say, surely not with pride, that our
country knows from centuries of personal experience how unchecked
immigration devastates life and why it's an issue that deserves the best
of our thinking and empathy.
Our history brims over with examples -- brutal, bloody
instances of inhuman immigrant actions that are far removed from the
basic aspirations so often associated these days with "illegals."
Most "illegals" might dream of a better life, but it's
doubtful that, like the earlier immigrants and the perpetual forces they
set into motion, they're plotting to seize others' property, kill babies
and earn bounties based on body parts brought back from raids.
Consider that, in the late 1630s, the British wiped out every
man, woman and child of the powerful Pequot tribe of southern New
England in retaliation related to conflicts arising out of fur-trade
struggles. A few years later, Dutch authorities in charge of the
settlement of "New Netherland" on the island of Manhattan carried out
unspeakable actions against a local tribe they feared.
Russell Shorto's national bestseller, The Island at the
Center of the World, examines Dutch Manhattan and includes a pamphlet
account of one nighttime raid by Dutch soldiers against that local
tribe: "Infants were torn from their mothers' breasts, and hacked to
pieces in the presence of their parents."
More graphic detail is included, and as Shorto noted, the
account probably involved some exaggeration, but there's no reason to
doubt that the bloody raid occurred and that soldiers were as lavishly
praised as documentation says.
Immigrant authorities were just beginning in their
efforts to obliterate "the savages," as American history chronicles. One
tiny detail includes legislation approved in Massachusetts and elsewhere
in New England in the 1700s that authorized bounty payment for scalps or
heads of Indians, young and old.
This is not to detract from the good -- friendships,
sympathies, exchanges of knowledge and philosophies -- that flowed
between Indians and foreigners, but the relationship's bottom line is
what we have today: a shameful record of attempted extermination, abuse
and destruction that accompanied virtually every aspect of the
immigrants' taking of North America.
Some of the best-known names in American history are
soiled with prejudice and arrogance aimed at Native Americans.
As lovely a patriot as Thomas Jefferson, who spent
months with the Iroquois learning about their Great Law of Peace and
later writing their philosophy into his draft of the Constitution, was
convinced that the best solution in dealing with Native Americans was to
drive all of them west of the Mississippi.
That earthy war hero-president, Andrew "Old Hickory"
Jackson, is one of the most despicable Indian-haters on record -- and
not just because he made no bones about his racism and championed the
Indian Removal Act of 1830. Even today, some Native Americans hate the
sight of a $20 bill because it bears Jackson's image.
The 19th century in particular was dark with accounts
of foreign intruders' invasions of Indian country, especially in the
Southeast and West, and the carnage that resulted.
Among the overwhelming number of accounts of that
horrible period are the killings of legendary Oglala warrior Crazy Horse
and famed Hunkpapa Lakota chief and spiritual leader Sitting Bull.
To make long stories short:
In 1877, Crazy Horse was fatally bayoneted from behind
while struggling in custody at Fort Robinson, Neb.
In 1890, Sitting Bull was dragged from his cabin on the
Standing Rock reservation in South Dakota by Lakota policemen appointed
by white authorities. One of the officers killed the defenseless chief
with a shot to the head.
A few weeks later, the St. Louis Republic in Missouri
"So when Sitting Bull was surprised and overpowered by
the agents of the Great Father, he set his greasy, stolid face into the
expression it always took when he was most overcome by the delusion that
he was born a native American from native American ancestry. Disarmed
and defenseless [sic] he sat in the saddle in which he had been put as a
preliminary to taking him to prison, and without a change of countenance
urged his handful of greasy followers to die free. This idiotic
proceeding he kept up until he was shot out of the saddle.
"So died Sitting Bull. So was removed one of the last
obstacles in the path of progress. He will now make excellent manure for
the crops, which will grow over him when his reservation is civilized."
Sitting Bull might have been one of the last obstacles
to Anglo settlement of the West, but his killing wasn't the last abuse
of Native Americans by any means.
Abuses of property and rights continue to this day, and
they spring from the same destructive immigrant practices such as greed
and elitism that were brought here by foreigners long ago, which help to
explain why illegal immigration is of special, if grim, interest among
JoKay Dowell, a media consultant and Quapaw-Peoria-Cherokee
activist based in Park Hill, Okla., has been closely following
developments related to illegal immigration. She views the matter from a
Native American perspective.
"The immigrant nation that is the U.S. has a short
memory," she said, "and is in denial of their own historical facts: they
are descendants of immigrants who came here and took, either by force,
coercion or dishonesty, lands and resources and banned the religions,
languages and cultures of the original indigenous peoples of this
"Now those descendants of Uncle Sam's immigrant
children fear the karma of their ancestor's actions. But those they fear
do not come to take, destroy and claim. They have always been here and
always will be."
These are thoughts that cross some of our minds when we
hear rhetoric about the so-called invasion of illegal immigrants (many
of whom are -- gasp -- Indians) and calls to protect "our" land. If we
smile in response, it's not so much out of agreement. We see a payback
coming home to roost.
David House is senior
editor/reader advocate for the Star-Telegram.
He is a member of the
Native American Journalists Association.