Honest Abe and the First Nations

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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.

Unblocked

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April 8, 2018, Prescott-

I dreamed, last night, that two of my students were on a planet where people looked like us, but were not able to communicate verbally.  The boys watched people talking to them, and to one another, but noticed that there was no sound coming.   Photos were taken and sound waves were visible on the pictures,  looking almost like bubbles.

I wonder if this is how the students feel, sometimes, given their own speech difficulties.  We are usually able to determine what a student wants, based on body language, requests made in basic language or, in one case, apraxic compensation.

There is another takeaway from this dream.  People have been talking past one another, for nearly twenty years.  It’s almost as if they are afraid of “catching” a disease, just from hearing a contrary opinion, similar to the way some white folks would wash their hands after contact with a person of colour, or some Native Americans would shake their hands in the air, after a handshake with a white man.

Society is constipated, to put it indelicately.  How else can we be in a situation, where anyone can see racism as the reason behind  “Black Lives Matter” or fascism as the reason for expanded background checks for gun owners, or for denying a firearms purchase by someone who is known to be mentally ill?  How else can a woman be seen as the perpetrator of her own rape, or sexual abuse that stops short of rape?  How else can teenagers, on both sides of a debate, be viewed as mere pawns of the same adults who have punted the school safety can down the road, since 1990?

My students, in real life, are loved and well-understood, even with speech impediments or non-verbality.   Those around us, regardless of viewpoint, have the right to speak and be heard- as well as hopefully being understood.

Let’s start thinking outside the bubble.

The Others

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Later this evening, I will post about the Prescott Historic House Tour, part of our city’s Sesquicentennial Celebration, and Chalk It Up, an annual chalk-art festival.  Both took place this past weekend, as did a Cinco de Mayo Block Party, in Courthouse Square.

First, though, a bit of seriousness.  Let me go further with what I wrote yesterday about the journeys on which each of us is embarked.

Human beings, alone among species, sort those they see as strangers into categories of “race”, skin tone, ethnicity, Faith, gender and sexual orientation( of course, we are the only species which experiences the latter as a life condition).  To be sure, other animals, from ants to prairie dogs to wolves and dolphins, sort by family group and/or territory.  This is all part of territoriality and population control.

Our extra selection processes, really, don’t make much sense.  There is no qualitative difference between me and any of my friends who happen to be Black, but in the 1960’s, there was no way any of them would have been able to live in a family home in the town where I came of age, outside of a small designated area on the south side of town.  That’s changed now, of course, and it was with great personal satisfaction that I learned, in 1996, that my maternal grandmother’s house was purchased by an accomplished attorney of African-American descent.

I thought of all this, while taking in the various events of Cinco de Mayo weekend, in downtown Prescott.   People of all backgrounds are welcome here.  Although Prescott has a tendency towards political conservatism, there seems little bigotry.  Those of us who indulge in politics at all, tend to be of Libertarian bent.

I’ve always had a hard time understanding prejudice, and while working to rid myself of my own pre-conceived notions, which I found confusing, the whole concept of “Other” had to be allowed to surface, and float away.  Young Black men, when I was in my twenties, did me the honour of challenging me to show that I was recognizing, and casting aside, the subtleties which I had picked up in childhood.  I was hurt and angered by my white peers’ callous reaction to the killing of  Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1968.  He hurt no one, and helped as many of us as would listen to what he had to say.

Still and all, I have had to recognize my own sense of  “Other”.  This separation is a worldwide thing, though.   Many East Asians have trouble with Whites and Blacks being in their midst.  Africans separate by tribe; West Asians, by Faith; Russians, by language.  Some of this “otherness” is rooted in hurt; some of it stems from fear.

The fact remains, however, that we are all connected.  I see this sense of connectedness increasing, incrementally, among Millennials and the current generation of children.  It’s definitely a process, not an event.  Racist teens and twenty-somethings, though, are regarded by the majority of their peers as having mental problems.  This cuts across all racial and ethnic groups, and political affiliations.

The kids are onto something.  “Otherness” is a learned paradigm.  Then again, so is helplessness.