Native American Indians – A story of genocide and betrayal.
As a young boy I was brought up on Westerns. The red Indians were savages who attacked settlers and stage coaches with the intent of scalping everybody. We used to play cowboys ans Indians in the streets. The cowboys had rifles and the Indians had bows and arrows and whooped a lot.
It was a portrayal that bore only scant resemblance to the truth.
The Native American Indians were a disparate group of tribes. They, along with the entire indigenous population of South America, have, determined through DNA analysis, descended from just seventeen breeding males. At some point these intrepid individuals made the hazardous journey across the Bering Straits into Canada. They probably originated as a band of hunter/gatherers; a group of men, women and children who set out to follow the game and hunt. They were self-contained. It was once thought that they were able to pass through certain passes that opened up after the ice retreated but that theory has been replaced by the idea that they probably came down the coast and used canoes to leapfrog their way down. They made their way from Canada, along North, Central and South America right down to Tierra Del Fuego – some journey in flimsy canoes full of men, women, children and all their possessions.
Having settled in various parts of North, Central and South America they adjusted to the local conditions and developed their own varied life-styles accordingly.
In North America on the East Coast there were agriculturally based. These are the tribes that took in the Pilgrim Fathers and fed and sustained them through that first winter. Without their assistance none would have survived the winter. These were also the tribes that were wiped out by the disease the Europeans brought with them, diseases that the Native American Indians had no defence against – measles, influenza, common cold, syphilis, smallpox and chicken pox. Some reward for their compassion and altruism.
On the West Coast there were established villages with fishing as a major life-style – extending up through Oregon, Washington to Siberia and the Inuits.
In the South they established settlements with pueblos, farming and the planting of corn.
But it is the Plains Indians that captured the imagination and set the image. Their nomadic life was played out on horse-back (horses having been introduced by the Spanish) following the vast buffalo herds as they migrated across the oceans of prairie. It was this heroic life-style that set the tone. They were brave, strong and daring as they galloped bareback in the huge herds where to fall was death under the thundering hooves. They brought down the huge beasts with bow and arrow and their prowess and skill was legendary. Their clothes were made of buffalo hide, as were their tepees. They ate buffalo meat and preserved it as dried meat for the winter. They even used dry buffalo dung as fuel for the fires.
I wanted to be an American Indian. That was the life for me. Free under that vast sky, at one with my horse, hunting and laughing with my comrades. It was every male youth’s dream, wasn’t it?
Well perhaps not. In reality it was a hard life. The risk of injury and death was always present. It was a dangerous occupation. And if you were injured there were no hospitals. Food was plentiful at times and absent at others. There were periods of starvation. The winters were cruel and disease always prevalent. You had to defend your territory against other tribes in order to maintain sufficient land to support you. You usually died young.
But what a life!
As the Europeans set up their cities on the East Coast and started to expand they increasingly intruded on the Native American lands. There was a clash of cultures. The Europeans felt superior. They had technology. They farmed intensively. They built great buildings. The Indians lived a simpler life. They had their rituals and social codes but they were nomadic and did not leave much in the way of artefacts to show any great civilisation. Their civilisation was in their customs and practice.
The Europeans had gunpowder and guns. The Indians had bows and arrows.
What followed was an indictment of American European culture. The Indians were forcibly removed from their traditional lands on the pretext that they were not using them. The understanding the needs and practice of a hunter/gatherer society was lacking.
The white settlers intruded into Indian lands and set up home. Any resistance was met by force. When the Indians tried to repel the settlers the army was used. They used their artillery and rifles to decimate whole tribes, they used blankets infested with small-pox to remove tribes, and practiced genocide. Treaties were made promising the land for as long as the grass grew and then were torn up when it proved not convenient. The Indians were hounded, harried and destroyed.
One of the tactics used was to remove the buffalo that the Indians lifestyle depended on. It was a government policy. These buffalo roamed in herds of millions. Hunters went out to systematically destroy them, trains passed through vast herds with guns firing out of every window. The herds were devastated. The prairies were covered with rotting corpses of buffalo – all to bring the Indians to their knees.
The buffalo were almost extinct. The vast herds of millions reduced to a few stragglers. It is reminiscent of what is happening to the Africa elephant.
It destroyed the culture and lifestyle, removed the future, and brought the Native American Indians down. Their tale is one of tragedy. The American government’s policy of genocide is one of callous infamy.