February 12, 2019-
It is human nature to approach, and evaluate, other people by the same standards one holds to oneself. It takes a lot of open-mindedness, and patience, for the average person to view people of different cultures as those of different cultures view themselves. When homogenization of cultural viewpoint takes deep root in a nation’s dominant culture, there is the appearance, if not the reality, of racism.
From thence, has risen the persistent assessment of people not of the dominant culture as being somehow inferior to those assimilated to said culture. President Abraham Lincoln, on several occasions, hosted First Nations delegations, at the White House, during various points during his Presidency. His purpose was to encourage them to assimilate into “the Christian culture of the majority of American citizens.” , as he regarded traditional ways of the nomadic among the indigenous peoples, and their non-Christian traditional Faith Communities, to be just shy of barbaric.
Not addressing the more than 200 years of atrocities committed by Europeans against both First Nations people and African-Americans, in the contiguous territory of the United States, and the nearly 200 earlier years of brutality against people of colour in other parts of the Americas, Mr. Lincoln, perhaps pre-occupied with the Civil War, found time to carefully evaluate, and dismiss all but 38 of the cases against 302 Lakota fighters, for alleged atrocities against the settlers of European descent, in the newly admitted State of Minnesota, during the six-week Dakota War of 1862. Those 38 men were executed, in the largest non-combat execution act in U.S. History.
His record is far murkier, and less circumspect, with regard to the Sand Creek Massacre, in Colorado 1864 and the Long Walk, of Dineh and Inde (Navajo and Apache) people, from their traditional lands to Boque Redondo, in eastern New Mexico, beginning in 1863. The Homestead Act and Pacific Railway Act of 1862 made settlement by European-Americans easier, and movement of goods far more efficient, but made no consideration, at all, of the needs of First Nations residents.
In fairness, Lincoln sincerely believed in the importance of “civilizing” the First Nations people, which the leaders of those Nations, far from being ignorant or savage, viewed as both ironic and ludicrous, given the “brother against brother” reality of much of the “War Between the States”. Cochise and, later, Geronimo, saw the propensity for fighting among all groups in the Southwest as being pandemic: Whites against whites, whites and Mexicans against each other, both groups against First Nations-and vice versa,
Lincoln espoused forward-looking policies towards southern slaves, primarily to ruin the economy of the Confederacy, whilst viewing people of African descent as being “legally” 3/5 of a free white man and viewing indigenous people as only worth the price of the land from which they might be removed-unless they became Christian. Abraham Lincoln was a man of his times, and can’t really be judged solely by the standards of our own imperfect era, however much more enlightened we might like to view ourselves. He does not, however, deserve to be regarded as a universal emancipator of all those who were being persecuted during his tenure.
My own view is that people of various groups are more alike than different and that we, of each group, have more to learn from one another than we have to impart on others. This, I have learned, consistently, from visiting many areas of this country-and some parts of other countries.