Native Americans, Manifest Destiny, and the Irony of Immigration Policy

Chris Rock once said that however bad Black-people have it in this country, Native Americans have it worse—when was the last time you saw 2 Natives … at the same time?

It works as a joke because it’s true. Huge numbers of the once abundant Native American tribes and languages have gone extinct, and those that are left have been disenfranchised, marginalized, and left with little of the institutional frame work from which to succeed in the modern world. It’s ugly.

The Willamette Weeks’ article “Urban Indian: A tight-focus lens on Portland’s invisible minority” is a look at a particular case of this in my hometown, Portland, Oregon. But, the cause is a national one. And in every local community, Native Americans are on the brink.

In a time when immigration policy is under the microscope, and anti-Latino sentiment is high, it is ironic that the one group of people who didn’t immigrate are being largely ignored by the largest group of people that did.

Here in Portland, Native Americans make up around 10% of the homeless population. For a city infamous for it’s large numbers of homeless, laying around all over brickwork at Pionere Square and panhandling on Hawthorne, 10% is a significant number. But, that isn’t the bulk of it. Natives have double the rates of sexual assaults of other races. They have the lowest average income. And their suicide rate, rate of binge drinking and poverty, are the highest in the nation. Clearly something has gone wrong. And to shy away from the problem with only make it worse.

In school, Native American studies is an afterthought at best or flat out ignored. Worse, is the study of Manifest Destiny—the idea that white men were destined by God himself to the land of the Americas—as though it was a actually true (I remember this well from my own school experience). Not scrutiny, no analysis. Just declaration.

When I was in the 5th grade, I did a large report on the Aztecs. To a young kid, let’s face it, Aztecs were cool: Human sacrifice, war, a monstrously large city build upon the water, serpent Gods. In researching, I discovered that there were far more Native American tribes than just Aztecs and that they were remarkably varied as a people in what they believed and how they saw themselves in the world, in the universe. I succumbed, quite naturally to what would become a perpetual life-long problem—I sat in the library reading anything I could get my hands on about Natives generally, and because of that, took 5 times as long to get the report done than was necessary.

I found myself entranced, and looked forward to learning much more about Native America as my schooling continued (I was after all only in the 5th grade). But, that didn’t happen. Instead I got trite snippets, and watered down bull-shit analysis about what Native culture was like, and what had happened to them.

But, it was when the Manifest Destiny “discussions” appeared in middle-school and High-school that I finally began to understand what kind of crap was being passed off as history in school. It is little wonder why the voting populace doesn’t have Native American issues on their mind—they’ve never even been exposed to them, outside of the child-hood games of cowboys and Indians, or through the remarkably misleading fuck-off 6th-grade play about the Thanksgiving Story. Sure, we read about the Trail of Tears, and a bit about Geronimo. We had a sexy Pocahontas, and a small section on the reservation system. But, these read like fairy tails, removed from the harshness of their reality.

There was a definite theme in the classroom that the westward migration of white people was not only OK, but destined. Most of our history discussions never took seriously the impact of the Gold Rush, or of the Rail Roads, the Oregon Trail, or industrialization on the original inhabitants of the land. At every step, Whites were stepping on Natives.

It is ironic that much of the current immigration debate centers on how best to assimilate Latinos into our preexisting culture, to teach them English, to Americanize them. And yet, White people didn’t assimilate into the preexisting culture of the Americas when they immigrated. We imposed. We didn’t learn a Navajo language. We didn’t start living in Long-Houses. We certainly didn’t respect the Buffalo. And instead of learning to live with the current inhabitants, we did everything we could to completely exterminate them.

Here in Oregon we have 9 different Native-owned casinos. But, not all Native Americans in the state are entitled to even a dime of that money. It is a common misconception that Casinos are there to help the native populations. But, in fact they are there for the same reasons all business are: to increase the profits for those who own the business. If casinos are our model for how best to aid a group of people we nearly wiped out, it’s not working.

I’m not sure what would work. But, bringing up the issue must be step one. Native Americans are not all gone. They’re still here. And they were here long before we were. 400 years ago, White Europeans began immigrating to a land that was not their own. They came like Latinos are coming now, to start a new life, and to leave a world that was preventing them from moving ahead, that was keeping them down institutionally, and was full of a myriad of subtle and not-so-subtle oppressions. But, they took over, and left the Native Americans with little to nothing.

What are we gonna do about it?


8 responses to “Native Americans, Manifest Destiny, and the Irony of Immigration Policy

  1. Ok, first of all go to North Dakota and its about half and half; native to white population. Secondly, manifest destiney is mocked when discussed in history class or atleast in all of mine here in ND. Third; The immigration of whites to the Americas and how and why the United States is watered down bullshit too. I hjad to find out in a COLLEGE American history class how only a small percentage of Puritans came to the Americas from England to find religious solice and they went to Amsterdamn first. Not only that; also finding out that the puritans would never form a country because the more people to govern means the less control they would have on their followers. Also, everyone in this country today; white, black, native, etc.. who has been born here have been born after the U.S.A. became the U.S.A. WE’ve all had to assimulate wether we like it or not and not all of us get free money to help us do so. I think natives have had plenty of time to assimulate like the rest of us already born here. Oh, and by the way-Latino descent is a mix of native and spanish origin. So they were not fully born here either. Another thing; do natives today ignore their white ancestory just because they are 1/4th native? How about honoring the fact you have 2 sides ofd your ancestory and not just the one.

    • WARGHOST2012

      I am from the Spirit Lake Dakotah Sioux Tribe in North Dakota – The most powerful Native group in the World today – and Billy I would just like to point out that you are a moron. Think for a second, then look at your post. Then look in a mirror and tell yourself, “I am a moron.”

      1st – White population in ND is 92.4% of 636,677 (1995 U.S. Census) while the Native American population estimate is 4.9% or 31,329! About half to half my ass, moron.

      2nd – Manifest Deastiny is alive and well in the 21st Century.

      3rd – Over 100 million Native American people were systematically annihilated in a 500 year period from North America all the way down to the tip of Chile. Only 6 million Jews were murdered by the Nazis (supposedly) and we will never hear the end of it. Today I never hear of the butchered men women and children this country is built on top of – I never hear of the American Holocaust – and I probably never will. How much free money do I get? ZERO DOLLARS.

      4th – Latinos ARE Native Americans. They are descendants of the raped populace the Conquistadores encountered during their onslaught of death. So I would say that they are born here.

      I am 1/4 Norweigian and I have never disavowed that fact. But I will never betray the truth of America and who truly sacrificed to see this Luciferian Destiny manifest.

      You sad pathetic moron.

      It is a stereotype that who ignorant buffoons have crafted of the plight of the Native American and there are in actuality very few poor indians that require your pity. Every race has their drunks and in this World needs their drunks. My Nation and many like it are stronger in ways that you people could never possibly imagine.

      When the fires take this World away from you – We will remain as We always have.

      • So are you going to bitch about how awful native americans have had it in the past, or are you telling us you don\’t need your pity. The original Native Americans (who, by the way, were not native to America, they immigrated there from somewhere else many, many years ago) suffered many hardships, yes, but that was more than a hundred years ago. Do you know anybody who was forced to go on the trail of tears? No. You have no more relation to the Native Americans of those days then the fact that you have the same ethnicity, so don\’t act like you understand them any more than anyone else does just beccause of your race. You know why the Jewish people get sympathy? Because thwy lost their relatives in the holocaust, relatives they actually knew, not unnamed non-descript ancestors who they were vaguely related too and decided this made them the worst off person ever. Also, I like how you just state \”Manifest Deastiny is alive and well in the 21st Century. \” I mean, if you say it it must be true right? No, I can just as easily say \”Manifest destiny was never true.\” with just as much evidence as you had.

        Nice article by the way.

  2. What is America and what does it mean to be an American? The United States is a nation of immigrants and it is ironic that such a strong anti-immigrant atmosphere has been strategically created and is embraced by so many people. It seems that some citizens of the United States have always been threatened by new and different people coming to live in this great land, that we call America, and these citizens have crafted a sense of ownership of the nation and feel that they have a right to say who can and cannot live here in the United States. Immigrants are being denied access to this country and are being denied the opportunity to build a better life for themselves in the United States. The “new” immigrants are immigrating just like the ancestors of the “citizens” and ironically, “immigrants” are being demonized and criminalized by less recent immigrants.
    I also want to discuss the absence of “Native American” voice in the modern Immigration “Debate”(not much of a debate just scapegoating), and how their absence in this “debate” is being avoided because of our exploitative colonial history as a country. This history of settler colonialism and all the atrocities inflicted on Native America people is something that the United States does not want to address and continues to exclude Native American voice from many important discussions. Viva La Voz, Viva La Gente!!! Viva Las Semillas!!!

  3. There are certain truths in life that one can ignore and suffer the consequences or be somewhat intelligent and recognize those truths and deal with them. The truth is, the white man (mostly Europeans) came to America , Mexico, and South America and conquered the “New World”. In all of man-kinds history, when one nation conquers another, the loser either assimilates or is destroyed.
    Russia is still in South Ossetia after being told to leave. The South Ossetians have decided to live with the Russians rather than fight – smart choice. In Jerusalem, the Muslims have decided to live under the Israel state rather than fight and be killed – smart choice. In the US, the Indians continue to have a choice to make – either keep resisting assimilating into the “white man’s” culture by getting educated and getting a decent paying job, or continue to stay on the reservation, maintain their culture, and belly-ach about how unfairly they have been treated and live their lives in poor conditions. The thousands who have gotten their education and assimilated are proof that it can be done.
    If the poor Indians (I am excluding the lucky thousands who are benefiting from gambling revenues) show little ambition in trying to better themselves, there is not much else we can do for them other than continue giving them welfare. “You can take a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink.”

  4. Pingback: Arizona, Illegal Immigration & Manifest Destiny | Probable Cause

  5. wow! Native Americans still hold it down, despite rude white people we’ve learned how to adjust to todays society and we respect our ancestors and the history…except Christopher Columbus (Dumbass) thought what is now America was India!!!! We respect all ethnicity, except white people because if you think about it wat ever happen to them??? Jews had the holocaust, Blacks had slavery, natives were takn away from their lands and had to live like christians, chinese..ummm idk what they had..but do you get the point!!

  6. America has always been a country of immigrants. It would be great if we could all accept each other as we are and build on our common values and beliefs, rather than our differences.

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