October 20, 2005
Sociology 3365-001: Ethnic Minorities in America
Systematic Racism of Native Americans
One of the darkest subject matters in United States history is the government's policy toward Native Americans. When European settlers first landed in North America they depended on Native Americans to give them food, trade for skins, and teach them how to gather food. Without the help of friendly Native Americans the possibility of any colony surviving, much less thriving, would be virtually impossible. However, once the colonies were self-dependent the colonists felt like they had a God given right to the land that the very people who helped them survive lived upon. Since that time Native Americans have been pushed off their land, had vast majorities of their population wiped out by disease and warfare, are discriminated against and stereotyped, and now live in extreme poverty with high rates of unemployment, alcoholism, and suicide. To add insult to injury, even though our government participated in the shoddy treatment of Native Americans people don't realize this is what happened. In schools today children are taught that North America was "discovered" by Christopher Columbus, rather than teaching them Native Americans lived in North America for perhaps thousands of years. They are taught about Thanksgiving and told that Native Americans and pilgrims have always been friendly with each other, and then draw turkey hands to celebrate.
Today the thought of Native Americans seems far from most people's minds. A lot of people would like to believe that Native Americans got what they wanted, that they ended up with a piece of land to live on, and should now be able to assimilate and live like other Americans. This isn't the case. Native Americans currently reside on only 2.5% of the land they once lived freely on. Most of this land is barren and unproductive, unless there are minerals discovered that the United States didn't know about when it set aside the land. Everything they had or now need has been taken from them, which as a result, ends in high unemployment and poverty. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, by Dee Brown, and From a Native Son, by Ward Churchill are good sources to understand the true history of Native Americans, and to learn how they are treated today.
To understand how it was possible for anybody to be treated so cruelly by a government founded on such idyllic policies the reasons behind the treatment need to be examined. Michael Hechter's Theory of Ideology shows how Native Americans were de-humanized through such treatment. Also, Michael Omi and Howard Winant's Theory of Racial Formation is a good illustrations how the government played a crucial role in instituting and maintaining racism. In these two books there are numerous examples of these three theories, and it can be understood how the Native Americans were nearly wiped out by genocide for the past 513 years because racist ideologies and cruel treatment became the norm.
Michael Hechter's Theory of Ideology states that a dominant group in a culture will create racist ideologies of a subordinate group. These ideologies are created by stereotyping and discriminating against that subordinate group. Over time as these practices are continued it then becomes a racist system, and the subordinate group is exploited. Both books contain numerous examples of this specific treatment. Nathan Meeker was one of countless men who thought that the Native Americans were savages, or barbarians. Native Americans have a belief in a God, but it is not the same God that Christians worship, and therefore they were considered barbaric. Because Nathan Meeker thought he was such a good Christian he found it his duty to try and "civilize" the Ute tribe. He went to their land and tried to force them to abandon their way of living off the land. He wanted them to farm and raise cattle, develop habits of hard work, and most of all become good...