A column dedicated to historical truth and human rights activism of the American Indian
By Editor/Historical Activist: Terri Jean, Director of the Red Roots Educational Project
Indian Removal and the Trail of Tears
Making Way for the White Man
Prior to the European invasion of the southeastern United States, Native tribes such as the Cherokees, Choctaws, Creeks, Chickasaws, Miami's, Potawatomies, Seminoles, and others cultivated their ancestral lands. As the white settlers arrived and populated, their need for land and white societal supremacy grew also, and within a matter of years the invaders had determined that a piece of the east wasn't going to be enough. They wanted all the land to themselves. And it didn't matter how they would obtain it.
Between 1790 and 1830 the population for Georgia alone grew six-fold and the whites lust for acreage was empowered by federal and state laws. By early 1800's, Georgia settlers were dead-set on removing the Indians from Georgia soil and transplanting them out west to the unknown and unwanted frontier land that stretched past the mighty Mississippi River.
Until 1803 Georgia allotted each head of family 200 acres, and 50 additional acres for each individual family member. This was called the "headright" system because the land was considered a "right" of being a white settler in Georgia. In 1804 this system was replaced with a lottery which could be entered into by any white man for $4.00. The land won, and previously 'righted', was stolen Indian property or land 'yielded' - via treaties - to the states by the aboriginal people.
Little by little Indian property was ceded, settled or stolen and no legal recourse could be taken. Within a few years the settlers had decided they needed the entire use of the east and the Indians were to move out west whether they liked it or not.
Andrew Jackson's Land Lust Legacy When famed Indian-fighter, Andrew Jackson (known as "Sharp Knife" by the Native American Indians), was elected into the presidential office in 1829, he was committed to ethnic cleansing by way of complete removal of the Eastern Indians and made their evacuation a national issue. The citizens of Georgia felt that the inferior Indians were a nuisance, impeding their progress for a "civilized" community development. And when gold was discovered on Cherokee land in 1829, thousands of whites rushed onto indigenous tracts to stake claims and procure their fortune, without the consent and without any regards for the landowners.
In 1830 Congress passed the Indian Removal Act and Jackson immediately signed it. This disastrous Act was a federal permission slip for states to coerce various tribal communities of the north and eastern areas to extract themselves from their own properties, some of which had been in their families for thousands of years and included sacred spiritual and burial sites, and move out west to land that the white people admittedly did not want to occupy. Western land that was already inhabited by other Indians tribes and could prove to be hostile to the newcomers.
Those who voluntarily relinquished their grounds were promised a monetary sum; those who remained and protested the move often received harsh treatment. First the Georgia Legislature passed laws allowing the states to police the Cherokees and policies were ratified that forbid the Cherokees to mine for gold, purchase alcohol, to conduct tribal business or to testify against a white man.
In 1835 President Andrew Jackson gave the Seventh Annual Message to Congress. A portion on his speech is as follows:
"The plan of removing the aboriginal people who yet remain within the settled portions of the United States to the country west of the Mississippi River approaches its consummation. It was adopted on the most mature consideration of the condition of this race, and ought to be persisted in till the object is accomplished, and prosecuted with as much vigor as a just regard to their circumstances will permit, and as fast as their consent can be obtained. All preceding experiments for the improvement of the Indians have failed. It seems now to be an established fact they can not live in contact with a civilized community and prosper. Ages of fruitless endeavors have at length brought us to a knowledge of this principle of intercommunication with them. The past we can not recall, but the future we can provide for. Independently of the treaty stipulations into which we have entered with the various tribes for the usufructuary rights they have ceded to us, no one can doubt the moral duty of the Government of the United States to protect and if possible to preserve and perpetuate the scattered remnants of this race which are left within our borders. In the discharge of this duty an extensive region in the West has been assigned for their permanent residence. It has been divided into districts and allotted among them. Many have already removed and others are preparing to go, and with the exception of two small bands living in Ohio and Indiana, not exceeding 1,500 persons, and of the Cherokees, all the tribes on the east side of the Mississippi, and extending from Lake Michigan to Florida, have entered into engagements which will lead to their transplantation."
"The plan for their removal and reestablishment is founded upon the knowledge we have gained of their character and habits, and has been dictated by a spirit of enlarged liberality. A territory exceeding in extent that relinquished has been granted to each tribe. Of its climate, fertility, and capacity to support an Indian population the representations are highly favorable. To these districts the Indians are removed at the expense of the United States, and with certain supplies of clothing, arms, ammunition, and other indispensable articles; they are also furnished gratuitously with provisions for the period of a year after their arrival at their new homes. In that time, from the nature of the country and of the products raised by them, they can subsist themselves by agricultural labor, if they choose to resort to that mode of life; if they do not they are upon the skirts of the great prairies, where countless herds of buffalo roam, and a short time suffices to adapt their own habits to the changes which a change of the animals destined for their food may require. Ample arrangements have also been made for the support of schools; in some instances council houses and churches are to be erected, dwellings constructed for the chiefs, and mills for common use. Funds have been set apart for the maintenance of the poor; the most necessary mechanical arts have been introduced, and blacksmiths, gunsmiths, wheelwrights, millwrights, etc., are supported among them. Steel and iron, and sometimes salt, are purchased for them, and plows and other farming utensils, domestic animals, looms, spinning wheels, cards, etc., are presented to them. And besides these beneficial arrangements, annuities are in all cases paid, amounting in some instances to more than $30 for each individual of the tribe, and in all cases sufficiently great, if justly divided and prudently expended, to enable them, in addition to their own exertions, to live comfortably. And as a stimulus for exertion, it is now provided by law that "in all cases of the appointment of interpreters or other persons employed for the benefit of the Indians a preference shall be given to persons of Indian descent, if such can be found who are properly qualified for the discharge of the duties."
Executing the Exile
The Choctaws, bribed and conned into signing the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek in late 1830, were the first group forced to leave their homeland, closely followed by the Creek. Having to face horrendous hardships such as disease, food and blanket shortages, a lack of horses and wagons, and bandits robbing the weak as they traveled the 6-month trek, the causalities and fatalities were in the thousands.
The Miamis and the Potawatomies were also forced to leave their native state of Alabama so the whites could cultivate an enlightened society without the bothersome savages living nearby. In 1832 the Governor of Alabama, Noah Noble, said, "It is universally admitted that the earth was designed for improvement and tillage, and the right of civilized communities to enter upon and appropriate to such purposes, any lands that may be occasionally occupied or claimed as hunting grounds by uncultivated savages, is sanctioned by the laws of nature and of nations". With this pompous attitude, the state forced the Creeks to sign a treaty rendering all their land in Alabama. Within 4 years the remaining 800+ Creeks were lead away, in chains, into Arkansas.
By the 1830's, the Chickasaws had already lost most of their land in what is now known as Kentucky and Tennessee, but then had to cede their remaining property (in parts of Mississippi and Arkansas) to the government. Their removal in 1837 was less abrasive then that of the Native groups before them, mostly because their journey was shorter than the Indians who resided in the far eastern part of the country. Nonetheless, the Chickasaws faced the same harsh reality as the other tribes who were constrained, coerced and conned into handing over the land that had been in their families for centuries and exiled to the other side of the country. An existence where only those with white skin could own property in the east, and those with red skin were not worthy of their own ancestral homeland.
The Struggle of the Seminoles
The Seminoles history with outsiders, including Andrew Jackson, is extensive. Expanding several centuries - with the Spanish and then with the "American" government - the Seminoles of Florida, Alabama and Georgia battled through three wars with U.S. soldiers (1816, 1835 and 1849), resisting removal and forfeiture of property more than any other Indian tribe. In the early 1800's the Seminoles were tending to livestock and crops on their own farmlands. By 1816 they were fighting off those who wanted to colonize their tribal territory. The First Seminole War ensured when the Indians and the settlers participated in fierce conflicts and several hundred troops were deployed to protect the settlers. Soldiers incinerated a Native American town, thus causing the retaliation of the Seminoles. In 1817, Andrew Jackson himself entered Seminole territory and took part in the destruction and burning of Indian settlements.
In 1821 Spain transferred Florida land title to the United States by way of the Adams-Onis Treaty. Once Florida was within the hands of the U.S., the government started procedures to remove the Native American Indians from the state and to acquire their homeland. In 1823 the Treaty of Moultrie Creek allowed the Seminoles to reserve about 4 million acres of their own land, when giving up 28 million to the U.S.
The 1832 Treaty of Paynes Landing required the Seminoles to relinquish their property and move out west within three years. Some Indians signed, and moved. Others refused and held their ground or fled into the Florida everglades. Three years later, the Second Seminole War began when troops arrived to enforce the Paynes Treaty. This war is considered one of the most brutal and fierce wars fought by and against the Seminole people. President Jackson invested well over $20 million dollars and hundreds of thousands of soldiers in the battle.
During the 1838 Trail of Tears, and in the midst of the Second Seminole War, troops were able to force nearly 3,000 Seminoles into Oklahoma. The War ended in 1842 with the majority of the Seminoles pressured and forced into moving into the designated 'Indian Territory' out west. The remaining Indians held their ground and fought in the Third Seminole War of 1849 - 1858. To this day, the Seminoles still prevail in parts of Florida.
The Cherokees' Challenge
Historically, the most notorious Indian removal of all time is that of the Cherokee's. Remembered not only for their long withstanding suffering and egregious personal loss, but also for their courageous legal battle fought against an unjust banishment from their homeland. Though they were successful in court, the President still denied the ruling and liquidated the Indians from their property, thus making their struggle all the more atrocious.
Prior to European colonization, the Cherokees occupied land in several southeastern states. By the 1820's they had adapted to the European customs such as establishing an agricultural economy, 'educating' themselves, adopting a formal governing system, developing a written language (and a printed newspaper), building roads and schools and some converted to Christianity and/or intermarried. The Cherokee's, known as one of the 'Five Civilized Tribes', had yielded (voluntarily and involuntarily) over 90% of their land to the settlers between 1721 and 1819.
The Cherokee's resisted the Removal Act and appealed to Washington for help, only to be turned away. Then that the Indians challenged the Removal policy in the Supreme Court. At first the Court refused to hear their case because they were not a sovereign nation -ruling that: "Their (the Cherokee's) relation to the United States resembles that of a ward to his guardian." Then, in 1832, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in FAVOR of the Cherokees, claiming that they were indeed a sovereign nation and therefore the removal laws were not applicable. The only way the Cherokee Nation would be extracted from their land was if they agreed to leave on their own.
The Cherokee people thought they had won the right to stay on what was left of their ancestral homeland, but the whites managed to lodge a campaign of cruelty and injustice to FORCE the Native people to flee from their homes. Though gold was abundant on Cherokee turf, they were not allowed to mine it. Under no circumstance could an Indian testify against a white, even if the Indian's home was picked clean and all cattle or horses were taken. Whites could trespass and mine for gold - without permission - on Native property and nothing would be done to discourage either theft.
President Jackson refused to abide by the Supreme Court ruling and still insisted on the evacuation of the Cherokees, just as he had done to the other members of the Five Civilized Tribes. To a Georgia senator, regarding the Cherokee's reluctance to relocate out west, Jackson said, "Build a fire under them. When it gets hot enough, they'll move."
Again, the Indians resisted and remained steadfast on protecting their land. The Georgia military, with the help of United States Army soldiers and with the encouragement of President Jackson, were called in to destroy the Cherokee Phoenix, the newspaper of the Cherokee Nation, and by 1835 the Cherokee's were frustrated and confused. The people were divided between Principal Chief John Ross, who fought against the relocation, and Major Ridge who advocated the removal and with his small band of Indians signed the Treaty of New Enchota, the legal permission needed by the President to kick the Cherokee's off their land. The Senate approved the treaty and the Natives had no choice but to give up all that they had.
The Georgia militia were instructed to procure the Cherokee capital, Echota, and transform it into a holding facility for Indians who resisted the westward transplantation. In May 1838, thousands of troops arrived and the Cherokees were rounded up at bayonet and gunpoint with little to no time to collect their treasured belongings, gather food for the trip, or to say goodbye to family member they may never see again. White looters awaited the Indians parting so they could steal what remained of the Cherokees possessions.
Held in stockades that resembled German Concentration Camps without adequate medical services, water, food, sanitation, or housing, three groups (consisting of up to 5-10 thousand Indians each) were moved out in shifts to travel westward primarily by boat, but also by rail and wagon. The conditions were treacherous and the casualties were extreme. Daily- people were starving, exhausted, weak and near dying, especially the infants and elderly who suffered high fatality rates. Most groups were slowly traveling via water and encountered droughts that made the water route impassable. The Cherokees asked if they could delay their move until the fall, and in return they would travel voluntarily. This temporary postponement was granted.
In November of 1838 the groups totaling over 14,000 Natives had to trudge forward. Roads were obstructed, and the weather was unforgiving. Extreme hot in the summer, freezing temperatures in the winter. Traveling the near-1000 miles during the winter, they traveled from state to state without proper clothing, food, water or supplies. Army commanders were generally uncaring to their horrid plight and refused to allow a short halt so the dead could be buried. Disease took the lives of many, and thieves looted the exhausted and ailing Indians, especially those who could not keep up with the grueling pace that continued for 6 straight months.
Yet, during this time nearly 1,000 Cherokees escaped the removal and hid in the mountains of North Carolina. In 1866 they received recognition, as a tribe and today are known as the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.
Over 4,000 Cherokees died due to the narcissistic desires of an apathetic president and his greedy constituents who deemed only themselves suitable for the land of the east, and the gold that lay beneath that land. This torturous path taken is now known as, The Trail of Tears.
Note: In 1829 the Cherokee National Council met in Georgia to discuss the selling of tribal lands to the whites. Though the Georgia law that forbid such meetings at that time, the Council secretly decided that anyone whom sold their property to the government would be killed. In 1835 nearly 100 pro-removal Cherokees signed the Treaty of New Echota. This treaty relinquished all the lands east of the Mississippi River in exchange for "Indian Territory" land, money, livestock, and other provisions. The treaty was all Congress needed to gain consent for the removal of the Cherokees to the west. Those who signed the Treaty were sought out and killed.
Results of the removal
By the mid 1800's, an estimated 360,000+ American Indians tried to make do with what they had in their new 'homeland', then called 'Indian Territory'. Over 100,000 were pushed there from the east - areas much different than what they found on land west of the Mississippi River. Tribal peoples from Michigan, Ohio, Louisiana, the Carolina's, Indiana, Georgia, Florida and Illinois were all forced to live within one large region with those Natives who had called the west their home for centuries.
Note: Tribes such as the Ottawas, Sauks, Delewares, Fox's, Miami's, and Shawnees were also pushed out west.
The newly western inhabitants had endured hardships equal to those of prisoners of wars and hardened criminals. Some had walked the Trail of Tears without food or water in icy weather, watching their loved ones die before their very eyes.. while others wore chains and felt the wrath of those soldiers who refused to take pity on a man with red skin.
In 1841 the federal government ordered an investigation into how the Indians were treated during their forced evacuation of their homes. Major Ethan Allen Hitchcock reported that during the removal process, and after the relocation, "bribery, perjury, and forgery, short weights, issues of spoiled meat and grain, and every conceivable subterfuge was employed by designing white men." This report was never released to the public.
Tribal communities were guaranteed their own sovereign nation, free the encroachment of whites. They were to establish their own economy, educational systems, religious establishments and government procedures and laws. But once again, the American guarantee meant nothing to those who gave it when the west was sought out for settlement and gold. What was not lost in the Civil War was taken away during Dawes days, when land was allotted out and what remained was sold or given to the whites.
In 1907 - the 'Indian Territory' "joined" the Union. The Native people had lost their right to a free and separate sovereign country. Many now reside in Oklahoma (and the Caolina's),official regions of the United States of America, whether they liked it or not.
The 1835 Message to the Seminoles by President Andrew Jackson
My Children---I am sorry to have heard that you have been listening to bad counsel. You know me, and you know that I would not deceive, nor advise you to do anything that was unjust or injurious. Open your ears and attend to what I shall now say to you. They are the words of a friend, and the words of truth.
The white people are settling around you. The game has disappeared from your country. Your people are poor and hungry. All this you have perceived for some time. . . .
My Children, I have never deceived, nor will I ever deceive any of the red people. I tell you that you must go, and that you will go. Even if you had a right to stay, how could you live where you are now? You have sold all your country. You have not a piece as large as a blanket to sit down upon. What is to support yourselves, your women, and children? The tract you have ceded will soon be surveyed and sold, and immediately afterwards will be occupied by a white population. You will soon be in a state of starvation. You will commit depredations upon the property of our citizens. You will be resisted, punished, perhaps killed. Now is it not better peaceably to remove to a fine, fertile country, occupied by your own kindred, and where game is yet abundant? The annuities payable to you, and the other stipulations made in your favor, will make your situation comfortable, and will enable you to increase and improve. If, therefore, you had a right to stay where you now are, still every true friend would advise you to remove. But you have no right to stay, and you must go. I am desirous that you should go peaceably and voluntarily. You shall be comfortably taken care of, and kindly treated on the road, and when you arrive in your new country, provisions will be issued to you for a year, so that you can have ample time to provide for your future support.
But lest some of your rash young men should forcibly oppose your arrangements for removal, I have ordered a large military force to be sent among you. I have directed the commanding officer, and likewise the agent, your friend, Gen. Thompson, that every reasonable indulgence be held out to you. But I have also directed that one third of your people, as provided for in the treaty, be removedduring the present season. If you listen to the voice of friendship and truth, you will go quietly and voluntarily. But should you listen to the bad birds that are always flying about you, and refuse to move, I have then directed the commanding officer to remove you by force. This will be done. I pray the Great Spirit, therefore, to incline you to do what is right.
Washington, February 16, 1835.
by Terri Jean
Editor/Historical Activist, Director of The Red Roots Educational Project
"Christopher Columbus is a symbol, not of a man, but of imperialism... Imperialism and colonialism are not something that happened decades ago or generations ago, but they are still happening now with the exploitation of people. ... The kind of thing that took place long ago in which people were dispossessed from their land and forced out of subsistence economies and into market economies --those processes are still happening today." ~ John Mohawk ~ Seneca, 1992
More often than not, when I involve myself in a conversation pertaining to eradicating Columbus Day, I must generally endure a grand share of verbal punches and defensive slaps from those who feel the need to defend a man they believe to be heroic. Though most rattle off the same weary myth of the first explorer to "discover" a New World, others defend him as a pioneer of the waters who should be commended for his bravery,tenacity and courage. And once a woman went so far as to inform me that if it were not for Christopher Columbus, today's residents of the Western Hemisphere would be absent of paper, computers, airplanes, telephones and literature because Columbus "brought civilization to people who lived like cavemen."
For over five hundred years the tale of Christopher Columbus has sailed through history books as a romanticized metaphor for discovery, bravery, adventure and perseverance. After all, claims a pro-Columbus website, "he set in motion a series of historical events that resulted in an entirely new world."
Few of us would deny the lasting effects of Christopher Columbus and his "New World" ideology in the western hemisphere. But what some would see as a hero, others view as a cruel, cold tyrant who murdered and enslaved thousands of innocent people he unexpectedly happened to encounter and on land he was never looking for in the first place.
The Man Behind the Myth
Christopher Columbus (Cristoforo Colombo in Italian) was born in Genoa, Italy in 1451. His father, a weaver and wool merchant, expected his son to follow in his footsteps, though from an early age Columbus had a keen interest in sailing. At the age of 14 he was hired as a captain boy, and in his own diary he wrote, "As a man and boy, I sailed up and down the Guinea Cost for twenty-three years." What this passage does not tell us is that during this time span in Guinea, the Portuguese slave African trade was initiated. Many historians believe that Columbus was involved in the African slave trade and African Holocaust of that time.
Columbus became captain of his own ship at the age of 30 and after much failure at enlisting support for his "Enterprise of the Indies" project from Portugal, he moved to Spain and eventually gained the support of Catholic monarchs, Isabel and Fernando who funded his endeavor in 1492.
On October 12, 1492, Columbus and his three ships came upon a little island in the Caribbean Sea. Though the land was already well inhabited by the Tainos community, he promptly claimed the land for Spain and renamed the island, San Salvador. Initial response to the Spaniards was warm and friendly, as is with most Native welcoming traditions. The following day Columbus wrote of his admiration of the people he encountered, "At daybreak great multitudes of men came to the shore, all young and of fine shapes, and very handsome." He later compliments them and their culture, "They are the best people in the world and above all the gentlest without knowledge of what is evil nor do they murder or steal...they love their neighbors as themselves and they have the sweetest talk in the world always laughing." It wasn't long after this entry did Columbus admit that he was not necessarily admiring the Tainos, he was looking for their weaknesses. "They would make fine servants." He wrote. "I could conquer the whole of them with fifty men and govern them as I pleased."
Columbus departed on January 16, 1493 with two ships and less thirty men left behind to establish a town and gather gold. Columbus also kidnaps 1-2 dozen Taino members and establishes them as his own property - as slaves and exhibit pieces to show Spain. Only a handful survive the trip and most of the dead are discarded into the sea.
The Second Voyage
Though the association between the Spaniards and the Tainos remained "friendly" during Columbus' first landing, the second invasion (November, 1493) saw a repeal of this relationship and the eventual death of an estimated 50,000 Tainos by 1494. When the Spanish were hungry, they ransacked homes - and entire villages - and took what they wanted, leaving little or nothing for the Taino people. Columbus and his men also demanded gold, spun cotton, the growth and care of vegetable gardens, sexual relations and servitude and ensured the communities cooperation by issuing severe physical punishment and torture to those who did not comply. Minor infractions would result in a hand or nose being cut off, and the disfigured person was returned to his/her village to serve as an example. The population was devastated by starvation, disease, and murder. When the Taino people fought back, Charles V of Spain declared that all Indians were enemies of the government and were to be eliminated. This open invitation to corruption enabled Columbus and his men to ravage, rape and brutalize all inhabitants of the islands as they pleased. War was declared by Spain and the horrific acts of the invaders escalated to the point where hunting dogs were released on Native men, women, children and even the sick and elderly. Tiny infants hung from trees while hungry dogs ate at them, people were burnt alive, had swords lunged through their bodies, they were used as target practice and many were tortured to death.
According to Ferdinand Columbus's biography of his father, "The soldiers mowed down dozens with point-blank volleys, loosed the dogs to rip open limbs and bellies, chased felling Indians into the bush to skewer them on sword and pike, and 'with God's aid soon gained a complete victory, killing many Indians and capturing others who were also killed." Naming himself governor and raiding other islands for slaves, Columbus established a tribute system - the encomienda - that included forced labor, and a payment tax schedule that, if not kept, meant death or dismemberment. Ferdinand Columbus described how the tribute system worked: (The Indians) "all promised to pay a tribute to the Catholic Sovereigns every three months, as follows: In the Cabino, where the gold mines were, every person of 14 years of age and upward was to pay a large hawk's bell of gold dust; all others were each to pay 25 pounds of cotton. Whenever an Indian delivered his tribute, he was to receive a brass or copper token which he must wear about his neck as proof that he made his payment." Without such token the individual would be severely punished.
The Taino's were homeless, imprisoned, hungry, battered and raped. Many could tolerate no more and choose suicide as their only recourse. Some communities committed mass suicides and women gave themselves abortions so their children would not be born into such cruel and inhumane slavery.
Columbus returned to Spain in March, 1496, after capturing 500 "Indians" with him to sell into slavery. An eyewitness described the slave raid, "Among them were many women who had infants at the breast. They, in order the better to escape us, since they were afraid we would turn to catch them again, left their infants anywhere on the ground and would flee like desperate people..." The "slaves," held in bondage and jammed into a boat, were packed below deck with all doorways/airways closed to prevent their escape. Death was commonplace and bodies were thrown overboard at a constant pace.
Columbus made his third and final voyage in 1498 after legal and financial obstacles kept him in Spain for several years. There he was responsible for exporting hundreds.. thousands.. more slaves to Spain. He died in 1506 in Valladolid, Spain at the age of 55.
"A hundred castellanoes are easily obtained for a woman as for a farm, and it is very general and there are plenty of dealers who go about looking for girls; those from (ages) nine to ten are now in demand.” ~ Columbus in a letter to a friend, describing the value of young girls ~ 1500
Hero or Barbarian?
"The proletariat and oppressed peoples have nothing to celebrate on October 12. The Columbus anniversary is a celebration of mass murder, slavery, and conquest. More: it exalts the continuing oppression of billions of people today. Columbus is something only oppressors (or fools) could celebrate." ~ Dr. John Henrik Clarke ~ Christopher Columbus & the African Holocaust
500 years after the initial invasion, Columbus is celebrated in the United States via statues, roads, cities, highways and a national holiday (established 1971). But with all that is known about Columbus, why is he still regarded as a national - and international - hero by mainstream America?
Perhaps it is because most Americans do not want to admit that Christopher Columbus was a vile man who not only invaded a group of people he himself said to be the "best people in the world" but he also set up an organized crime initiative where he controlled and manipulated an entire group of innocent people with barbaric, cruel and deadly methods that brought about the death of thousands of people and set in motion a dominant philosophy aiding the demise of millions. Some say Columbus brought forth a "New World" - though the world had been populated for 14,000-40,000 years prior to his invasion and was in no way "new" to those who already discovered and settled it. Others claim that judging Columbus, a man "of his times" by today's standards is unfair, yet research into this subject shows that his fellow countrymen even thought his actions were brutal and extreme. Few people admit, even when presented with the truth, that Columbus was a slave trader, a racist, a murderer and a tyrant.They hold tight to tales of discovery, exploration, bravery and courage, disregarding all facts that dispute his gallant status.
Killing the Columbus Myth
"When I tell the truth, it is not for the sake of convincing those who do not know it, but for the sake of defending those that do." ~ William Blake ~
The one-dimensional views of Christopher Columbus as a heroic explorer need to be put to death. Half a millennium of historical amnesia and patriotic coverups is more than any nation should endure. For those of us who know the truth, the continuance of the dauntless myth is embarrassing, frustrating and unjustifiable. Parades, holidays and the omission of truth in books read by children in our country's schools systems is more than intolerable - it's a disgrace to our children and to our nation as a whole.
Columbus Day promotes myths and historical lies that dehumanize indigenous cultures living upon these continents for thousands of years prior to their invasion. Columbus Day justifies horrific acts of genocide and gives Americans a distorted patriotic view of history. Indians were then victimized by prejudicial propaganda, and it continues today in this nations educational, social and political system.
Name another slave-trader in American history who has his own national holiday. Name another man who initiated the slaughter of people, the Mafia--style organized crime corruption, and the disfigurement of those who did not give him enough payoffs - who has statues in his honor and highways in his name.
Why Christopher Columbus? Why is this greedy man who committed such violent, racist acts honored in the United States? He initiated slavery in the Americas, he participated in the sexual slavery of young girls, he was involved in the torturing and slaughtering of innocent people, he allowed his men to rape and pillage as they pleased, he operated a forced labor system, forced the Taino's to convert to his religion, he mutilated people who did not submit and he allowed his men to hunt Native people like wild animals, using their bodies to test swords (cutting them in half) and as dog food - including tiny, newborn babies!
It does cause a rational person to ask if the admiration of such a man is an act of political racism. After all, the truth has been told time and time again, yet we still filll our children with the same lies year after year. Don't believe me? My 14-year-old son, Alex, brought home a handout from his Social Studies class. It defined "encomienda" as "A large estate where groups of Native Americans lived under Spanish care." I told my son that by "care" they meant slavery, imprisonment, rape, torture, dismemberment and death. He looked at me with curiosity and confusion, asking if we should tell the textbook authors the whole truth so they can revise their information. Sadly, I had to admit to Alex that the authors and publishers already know the truth - but still opted to omit it from his education.
And still this year, Christopher Columbus was alive in America. Truth and righteous, again, were not.
For more information, I recommend the following books:
The American Holocaust by David E. Stannard
A Little Matter of Genocide, by Ward Churchill Stolen Continents, by Ronald Wright
Lies My Teacher Told Me, by James W. Loewen
The American Indian and the Problem of History, by Calvin Martin
Textbooks and the American Indian, by Costo and Henry
Confronting Columbus by Yewell, Dodge, and DeSirey
American Indian Holocaust and Survival, by Russell Thorton
A different ‘Thanksgiving’ Perspective
by Terri Jean
Editor/Historical Activist, Director of The Red Roots Educational Project
Please Note: November is American Indian Heritage Month!! & This year marks the 33nd National Day of Mourning in Plymouth, Mass. It will be held, as it has been for three decades, at the top of Coles Hill overlooking Plymouth Rock and at the foot of the Massasiot statue. It commences at 12:00 noon on November 28. If you are interested in attending, you can call UAINE at (781) 331-3690 or email firstname.lastname@example.org Their website is //home.earthlink.net/~uainendom
“Brothers, we must be one as the English are, or we shall soon all be destroyed!” -- Miantinomo (Narraganset) 1642. He was executed by the colonists and their Indian government allies in 1643.
It’s that time of year. The holiday originated by poor Pilgrims and their neighborly Indian friends is about to be set again on Americas’ kitchen table. With televised parades and football games, families gather together to give thanks for the previous year, and to inject heartfelt hope into the year to follow.
All the while a growing number of protesters gather yearly in Plymouth, Massachusetts to mourn the traditional feast. Well, not the feast itself or even the thankfulness it is meant to instill; they grieve the fictional foundation the national holiday sits upon, and with each passing year those protesters continue to feel the incessant societal slap dispensed to this continents first people.
Myth verses Fact
Like most American schoolchildren, my curriculum included learning the traditional Pilgrim/Indian tale. You know the story: Chastised Pilgrims seeking religious freedom settle Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1620 and after a harsh, starving winter the neighboring Indians rally to their side and demonstrate how to cultivate food and live off the land. In celebration of harvest, the two groups rejoice in feast and fun in 1621. Since then, and officially in 1898, this country has reenacted that moment by sharing food and drink with neighbors and loved ones.
So how much of the Pilgrim/Indian tale is true? Most of what is known of this time is based on first-hand accounts of Governor William Bradford and another colony leader, Edward Winslow. Some information from the New England first people has been orally passed down from generation to generation, and the rest is a blend of English record-keeping and European patriotic fiction.
Who were the Pilgrims and the Indians?
The Pilgrims were not simple refugees from England fighting against oppression and religious discrimination. They were political revolutionaries and part of the Puritan movement considered objectionable and unorthodox by the King of the Church of England. Outcasts and fugitives in their own homeland, they plotted to take over the government. When unsuccessful, they had to relocate or face prosecution. After several attempts at finding a suitable new home, they elected to try their luck in the New World. Here they thought they could build their own promised land.
The Pilgrims also thought themselves as `chosen’ Biblical people and saw America’s first inhabitants as heathens; products of the devil. In a written text from a sermon in 1623, Mather the Elder praised God for the plagues racing through Native villages. He cheered the death of “chiefly young men and children, the very seeds of increase, thus clearing the forests to make way for a better growth.” The “better growth” was, of course, the Pilgrims themselves.
It should also be noted that these same Pilgrims who today are admired for their religious convictions and devotion to religious freedom - would not allow the Native Americans to have that same privilege. They looked at the Natives as savages without a religion. The Reverend John Elliot said his intent was to “wynn [win] the natives of the country to the knowledge and obedience of the onlie [only] true God and Savior and mankinde.”
Just as the Pilgrims were not the wholesome people portrayed today, the hospitable, helpful Indian characterization is also incorrect. In actuality, the New England Natives were untrusting of Europeans due to their hostile contact with outsiders since 1497. Still remembering the expedition of Captain Thomas Hunt in 1614, who captured 27 people (including Squanto) to sell into slavery, the aboriginal people had good reason to suspect the Pilgrims of ominous deceit.
The ‘first’ Thanksgiving wasn’t a Thanksgiving at all
In December of 1620 a splinter group of England’s Puritan movement set anchor on American soil, a land already inhabited by the Wampanoag Indians. Having been unprepared for the bitter cold weather, and arriving too late to grow an adequate food supply, nearly half of the 100 settlers did not survive the winter.
On March 16th, 1621, a Native Indian named Samoset met the Englishmen for the first time. Samoset spoke English, as did Squanto, another bilingual Patuxet who would later serve as interpreter between the colonist and the Wampanoag Indians, lead by Chief Massasoit. A peace treaty was agreed upon between Governor John Carver and Chief Massasoit, and 12,000 acres of land was granted to the colonists.
As for the infamous 1621 feast we Americans refer to as `The First Thanksgiving’ - the reasons and events are speculative. Some say, as we’ve been taught, that the meal was a feast of appreciation between two different groups of people celebrating a successful harvest and friendship. Others say it was a meeting over land title and treaty matters - an `official conference’ between two nations ... and nothing more. And yet there are authors who claim the dinner was a sympathetic gesture from the Natives who took pity on the Pilgrims.
When examining the reality of that time, the probable explanation was the land and peace treaty meeting. Personally, I doubt if there were actual profound kinships between the two. History had already set in place feelings of distrust. The English probably knew of the French who were killed on the eastern shore before them, and the Indians knew of English, Spanish and French who had come to their lands to kidnap their people. With that history it is doubtful that either community opened their arms to their neighbor, especially the Native people who originally held the land and may of looked to the Pilgrims as invaders. It is probable, though, that the two nations were hospitable and eagerly agreed upon peace between them. Neither, I would assume, would invite conflict into their communities; an amicable relationship would of been desired by all parties involved.
In 1622 propaganda started to circulate about what would LATER be referred to as the `First Thanksgiving’.”Mourts Relation”, a book written to publicize the so-called wonderfulness of Plymouth, told of the meeting as a friendly feast with the Natives. The Pilgrims glamorized the situation, possibly in an effort to encourage more Puritans to settle in their area. By stating that the Native community was warm and open-armed, the newcomers would be more likely to feel secure in their journey to New England.
An End to Peace
Though Massasoit agreed to peace with the English, other Native Indian’s did not. As their land was seized and occupied from Maine to Connecticut, various tribal communities fought back. When one group would raid a village, the other would retaliate. Often times the English, who eventually greatly outnumbered the aboriginal people, would massacre entire villages.
In 1637 700-800 Pequot Indian women, men and children gathered in their village for an annual celebration. Unbeknownst to them, they were surrounded by English who burned them alive while in their homes and buildings. Those who tried to escape were killed.
When Massasoit died in 1656 it would be the end to peace established between the colony and the Wampanoag. Massasoit’s son, known as Alexander, inherited his father’s duty but when Alexander died under mysterious circumstances following a meeting with the Pilgrims, conflicts would erupt. Massasoit’s youngest son, Metacoment (called King Philip by the English) became chief at the young age of 24. Always leery of the settlers, and with the death of his brother, which he blamed on poison from the Pilgrims, his father’s dedication to peace dissipated.
As the colonies grew in size, so did the need for more land. The Pilgrims, once few in number, swelled to well over 40,000. The Wampanoag strength weaken to a few thousand - mostly due to disease and warfare. The atmosphere between the two cultures was aggressive and in 1675 King Philip called for reinforcements from neighboring tribes.
When word reached the English that King Philip was gathering forces, they took militant action and soon a war broke out between the two. What would later be known as King Philips War began in 1675. That same year the Plymouth Pilgrims captured 112 Indians and sold them into slavery. King Philip fought with joining tribes but to no avail. They were outnumbered and in 1676 the war was over. On July 22, 1676 the English rounded up what was left of Philips people and sold every male over the age of 14 into slavery. All others would be servants to the Pilgrims. Philips wife and 9 year old son were also sold, and Philip - who was then thought to be a demon - was killed, quartered and his head would be displayed in Plymouth for nearly 30 years.
“The English disarmed my people. They tried them by their own laws, and assessed damages my people could not pay.” King Philip, 1676
The REAL Thanksgiving
The 1621 feast between the Pilgrims and the Indians was not the official first Thanksgiving. That title goes to a 1637 celebration, proclaimed `Thanksgiving’ by Governor Winthrop, an event honoring those who participated in the massacre of the 700-800 Pequot Indians in Connecticut.
On June 20, 1676 - following the victory over King Philip and his people - the council of Charlestown, Massachusetts unanimously voted to proclaim June 29 as a day of celebration and Thanksgiving. The following statement was read:
“The Holy God having by a long and Continual Series of his Afflictive dispensations in and by the present Warr with the Heathen Natives of this land, written and brought to pass bitter things against his own Covenant people in this wilderness, yet so that we evidently discern that in the midst of his judgments he hath remembered mercy, having remembered his Footstool in the day of his sore displeasure against us for our sins, with many singular Intimations of his Fatherly Compassion, and regard; reserving many of our Towns from Desolation Threatened, and attempted by the Enemy, and giving us especially of late with many of our Confederates many signal Advantages against them, without such Disadvantage to ourselves as formerly we have been sensible of, if it be the Lord’s mercy that we are not consumed, It certainly bespeaks our positive Thankfulness, when our Enemies are in any measure disappointed or destroyed; and fearing the Lord should take notice under so many Intimations of his returning mercy, we should be found an Insensible people, as not standing before Him with Thanksgiving, as well as lading him with our Complaints in the time of pressing Afflictions.
The National Day of Mourning
The first National Day of Mourning was held on “Thanksgiving Day” in 1970. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts invited Wampanoag leader, Wamsutta, to the towns 350th anniversary of the pilgrims landing in hope he’d represent the indigenous component of the national holiday and deliver a speech to the townspeople. When the event organizers read a copy of Wamsutta’s speech, he was uninvited for the following reason: “...the theme of the anniversary celebration is brotherhood and anything inflammatory would have been out of place.” What was so frightening about Wamsuttas speech? It told the TRUTH about the pilgrims, their slave-trading, their discretion of the dead, theft of Wampanoag food and of their true relationship with the Native people. When the Massachusetts Commonwealth attempted to silence his position, he took his speech outside and spoke to hundreds of supporters and initiated what would later be a yearly tradition of protest and historical truth.
Since 1970, the National Day of Mourning protest has met with resistance and opposition from Plymouth residents, Pilgrim fans, and from the media. In 1997, mourners walking through Plymouth were met by more than 50 officers. After the crowd was “dispersed,” 25 protesters were arrested (many of which went on to file charges against the police for brutality.) In 1998, a settlement was reached between Plymouth and the protesters, with town officials agreeing to pay $100,000 to the Metacom Education Fund, $15,000 for the erection of two historical plaques, and to provide support and public education for United American Indians of New England (UAINE) and the National Day of Mourning demonstration.
In 1999, on the 30th anniversary of Wamsutta’s “uninvite,” two plaques were dedicated to crimes against the American Indians. Over 800 people attended the National Day of Mourning Rally. Within house, Plymouth then paraded down the street in their annual “Pilgrim’s Progress” - dressed as Pilgrims and carrying muskets and Bibles -to commemorate the survivor’s of the Pilgrim’s first winter.
“Today, as we have done each year since 1970, United American Indians of New England and our supporters have gathered here to protest and to speak out against the oppression of all people. It is hard to believe that today marks the 30th time that we have gathered on this hill, in all kinds of weather, to speak the truth. I wish I could say that we have always been welcomed here because we speak the truth. Over the years, those who do not want the truth to come out have tried many times and in many ways to silence us. Each and every year we have returned stronger and more determined than the year before.” ~ Moonanum James ~ Co-Leader of UAINE, National Day of Mourning, 1999
The true reason those Pilgrims gave thanks was because the heathens were dead, dying or enslaved. I find this no reason to be thankful and as long as this country commemorates a historical lie, I will spend this day in mourning. After all, I can gather my family together in feast and fun any day of the year (we have a feast about 8 times a year.) But remembering those who gave their lives is much more important. For those souls who lived and died protecting their land, their family, their rights, and their spirituality - I give my thanks. And for a nation unable to face the truth of their own history - I will spend the day in mourning. As most of America sits at her supper table honoring a lie, many of Americas’ First People will be honoring the bravery of King Philip and his people... and mourning their massacre.
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