The forgotten plight of Native Americans

A statue of St. Kateri Tekakwitha stands amid trees on the grounds of the shrine dedicated to her in Fonda, N.Y. The 17th-century Mohawk-Algonquin woman is the first member of a North American tribe to be declared a saint. (CNS/Nancy Phelan Wiechec)

When it comes to the harsh difficulties many Native Americans face every day, the saying "out of sight, out mind" hits home.

Many people have only a vague sense of the serious past and present injustices suffered by Native Americans.

From the very beginning, starting with Christopher Columbus' voyages to the Bahamas, we get a sad introduction of how Europeans, Americans and Canadians would steal from, enslave and kill Native Americans largely for their land and natural resources.

Columbus in his quest for gold and power, according to the late famous social justice historian Howard Zinn, enslaved and decimated the peaceful native Arawaks, who greeted him and his crew with food, water, and various gifts when he first landed in the Bahamas.

Later on, in the United States, the federal government would do much the same. In fact, within the Declaration of Independence, the founding fathers in a series of grievances against King George III of Great Britain included a "grievance" that would haunt Native Americans throughout much of U.S. history. The king, they wrote, "has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes, and conditions."

Laudato-Si_web.jpg
Explore Pope Francis' environmental encyclical with our complimentary readers' guide.

With an attitude that Native Americans were subhuman, "merciless Indian savages," the federal government, U.S. Army, and many white settlers forced countless Native Americans off their lands, away from ancient hunting grounds, and onto reservations.

The most infamous removal of Native Americans took place in 1838, when the Cherokee nation was strongly pressured to give up its lands east of the Mississippi River and to migrate to an area in present-day Oklahoma.

The Cherokee people called this military-forced journey the "Trail of Tears" because of its devastating effects. The migrants faced hunger, disease and exhaustion on the march. Historians estimated that over 4,000 out of 15,000 Cherokees died.

Another tragic example of U.S. injustices toward Native Americans came on Dec. 29, 1890, when the U.S. Army's 7th Cavalry surrounded a Lakota Sioux camp near Wounded Knee Creek on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota and massacred between 150 to 300 men, women and children.

The U.S. Civil Rights Commission in a report titled "A Quiet Crisis" states:

In exchange for land and in compensation for forced removal from their original homelands, the government promised through laws, treaties, and pledges to support and protect Native Americans. However, funding for programs associated with those promises has fallen short, and Native peoples continue to suffer the consequences of a discriminatory history. ...

Native Americans still suffer higher rates of poverty, poor educational achievement, substandard housing, and higher rates of disease and illness. Native Americans continue to rank at or near the bottom of nearly every social, health, and economic indicator. ...

Native Americans living on tribal lands do not have access to the same services and programs available to other Americans, even though the government has a binding trust obligation to provide them.

Please contact your congressional delegation urging them to finally fulfill this binding trust obligation.

Chief Joseph, leader of the Nez Perce tribal nation, eloquently said, "Treat all men alike. Give them the same laws. Give them all an even chance to live and grow. All men were made by the same Great Spirit Chief. They are all brothers. The earth is the mother of all people, and all people should have equal rights upon it."

Now that's the Gospel truth!

[Tony Magliano is an internationally syndicated social justice and peace columnist. He is available to speak at diocesan or parish gatherings about Catholic social teaching. His keynote address, "Advancing the Kingdom of God in the 21st Century," has been well received by diocesan gatherings from Salt Lake City to Baltimore. Tony can be reached at tmag@zoominternet.net.]

Editor's note: We can send you an email alert every time Tony Magliano's column, "Making a Difference," is posted. Go to this page and follow directions: Email alert sign-up.


Join the Conversation

Send your thoughts and reactions to Letters to the Editor. Learn more here

Advertisement