The Thinking 

A History Lesson for Children on Vacation

August 17, 2012


SJF writes:

As I’ve mentioned before, we homeschool our six children. One of the subjects we emphasize is history, especially American history. Whenever we travel, we prepare the children ahead of time for historical sites. So, for example, last spring, I took my 12- and 10-year-old to Washington, D.C. so they could visit the sites they had studied over the past year, such as Mt. Vernon.

We are about to leave on summer vacation, and will head into the Colorado Rockies. We intend to visit the small town of Ouray, Colorado, and so I obtained the visitors’ guide. Now, my understanding is that people want to visit Ouray because it is nestled in an exquisitely beautiful part of the Rockies, features well-preserved Victorian buildings and has easy access to other beautiful areas, such as Telluride.

The section of the guide on history and heritage entitled, “Utes and Miners,” has a good description of Chief Ouray, for whom the town was named. In addition, the visitors’ guide understandably describes the interactions between the Indians and the “whites,” and how the Ute’s were eventually pushed off their land. But this sentence struck me:

Naturally, resentment began to arise and Ouray’s life was often in danger. A massacre in the northern reaches of Colorado occurred and the entire Ute nation was threatened by whites.

How does a massacre just “occur?” Who committed the massacre? Why? Did so-called whites commit the massacre or did the Indians? It’s unclear. Moreover, if it were the Indians, then the preceding sentence of the guide seems to justify the Indians’ actions – they resented the “whites'” actions. In fact, a quick Google search suggests that it WAS the Indians who massacred settlers in what has been called the “Meeker Massacre.”

Now, I will in no way excuse how Indians were treated in this country. It was shameful. But I also will not subject my children to this one-sided treatment of history, which is why we homeschool. Moreover, it struck me that people, including liberals, go to Ouray specifically to enjoy things created by these evil white people: Victorian architecture, restaurants, technology, such as jeep and dirt bikes and hot air balloons, that enable one to easily reach beautiful areas of the mountains. And yet, there remains this guilt associated with what Americans have accomplished there – carving a beautiful town out of a harsh corner of the Rockies.

—- Comments —-

Clem writes:

I appreciate what SJF’s is saying and fully understand and agree with the point. Official history has become a lopsided anti-white, anti-Western diatribe. So much so that only through home school and certain other venues do you get any kind of balance. However I must address this statement:

“Now, I will in no way excuse how Indians were treated in this country. It was shameful.”

What was shameful exactly? The way Indians treated each other? The way Indians treated whites? When Indians raided, robbed and pilfered, was that shameful? What about how some tribes treated other tribes? When one tribe attacked other tribes and then pushed them out of certain territories was that shameful? How about when Indians killed women and children or had slaves was that shameful? No doubt there were some ‘shameful’ atrocities committed by whites and other settlers against some Indians but is that a blanket condemnation for all whites, this country and the West in general such as that statement implies? I guess my point really is that while on the one hand SJF rightfully recognizes the anti-white hyperbole and propaganda, he seems to accept it on the other. Indians, generally speaking, were not the peaceful, mother earth, shameless pre-1960’s hippies they are so often presented to be.

Natalie writes:

One doesn’t have to buy into the “the peaceful, mother earth, shameless pre-1960′s hippies” portrayal of Native Americans in order to see the very real ways in which European settlers and the U.S. government abused (and continue) to abuse their power. When you break treaties, forcibly reeducate, and relegate a group to the most wasted, barren corners of the nation, stick them on welfare, and order them to be peaceable it doesn’t take above average intelligence to realize you’re doing it wrong. This doesn’t negate the violent pagan aspects of Native American culture that have no place in a civilized nation, but it calls into question how we’ve dealt with this issue in the past and how we should continue thinking about it in the future.

And to SJF: I’m the oldest of five children who were all homeschooled and grew up vacationing all over the country in our RV. Now my husband and I travel, and we still stop at all those history museums and national parks that I grew up visiting as a child. Two favorites of mine are the Eisenhower Museum in Abilene, Kansas and the Columbia River/Coast Guard Museum in Astoria, Oregon. You’re giving your children something they’ll (hopefully) never grow out of.

 Laura writes:

Natalie writes:

 This doesn’t negate the violent pagan aspects of Native American culture that have no place in a civilized nation…

But it seems that it does. How could Americans have integrated hostile tribes that practiced child sacrifice, human torture and cannibalism into the new country?

Natalie writes:

And yet the book Cadillac Desert tells the story of a peaceful Indian tribe in South Dakota that had always been friendly to American settlers and were self supporting, industrious people who were forced off their (valuable) land to make way for a new (and rather unnecessary) lake. In a final act of vindictiveness, the Indians were not allowed to sell any of the valuable timber before leaving and were given a desolate piece of land in repayment.

I’ll cite another example for you. In many states Indians nations are the only ones allowed by the government to run casinos. Sure, the Indians could forbid such a use of their land, but why is that sort of land development explicitly available to them? Do perhaps “civilized” people want to patronize such places without having the social problems associated with having such in their own communities? How much of the money invested in those casinos come from white businessmen and how much comes from the Indian Nations on which they are built?

As my husband pointed out here, there are two problems. 1. American Indian culture is by and large incompatible with post-industrialized Christianity and must change if it’s ever to survive in such a world (and become a God fearing people). 2. Some (this is not a blanket statement) of the ways in which America has implemented her hegemony have been vicious, unfair, and unlikely to foster integration and positive cultural movement among the Native American peoples. These are separate but not unrelated problems.

 Laura writes:

Regarding your first point, the first two commenters both acknowledged that whites had not always treated Indians fairly. But you nevertheless objected to their comments and called for much stronger blanket condemnation of the actions of whites, which the example of the peaceful tribe you mention does not alone support.

As for casinos, the reason Indians are permitted to operate casinos is because their land belongs to them and they are not subject to federal or state regulations regarding gambling. No one forced Indians to open casinos and the tribes have profited financially from these ventures. Would you rather they not have the right of governance over their own reservations?

Natalie responds:

If you could explain how I’ve called for blanket condemnation of whites on this issue I’d appreciate it. I’ve cited two issues with this sort of conversation – there’s the pagan nature of most Native American cultures against which we should strive in all staunchness and goodwill for their sakes and our own, and the issue of whether or not the American government has acted justly (in the most Godly and least pc sense of the word) towards these people and how it (we) should try and do so in the future.

As for the gambling situation, I believe you’ve pointed out one of the problems. After the government tells the Native Americans where to live and how they should live and in general involves itself deeply in the general situation of Native Americans it takes the question of casinos and says “Well, do whatever you’d like.” If it’s just for them to relocate massive numbers of people and put them on welfare how is it unjust for them to forbid gambling? You can apply the converse as well. Notice I’m not saying that American Indians should go along with this program. They most definitely should not. However, if you’re justifying the kind of paternal system that established the reservations I’m not sure how you can suddenly say “Oh, gambling, that’s really an /Indian/ issue.” If the federal government could relocate thousands of people they could have forbidden gambling on these new lands. If you can see a clear line between exercising power in the first case and not in the latter I’d love to see it as well.

Laura writes:

Natalie views Native Americans as infantile. It is whites who are responsible for all of their problems. I consider this a blanket condemnation of whites with regard to Indians. She writes:

 I’ve cited two issues with this sort of conversation – there’s the pagan nature of most Native American cultures against which we should strive in all staunchness and goodwill for their sakes and our own, and the issue of whether or not the American government has acted justly (in the most Godly and least PC sense of the word) towards these people and how it (we) should try and do so in the future. [emphasis added]

Even the choice to open casinos is the fault of whites.

Then shouldn’t by the same logic Native Americans strive in good will to correct gently all of white moral failings? Also, I would be curious to know what should be done by the U.S. government, which never forced anyone to go on welfare and does not now require Indians to remain on reservations, to act more justly now?

Natalie responds:

I’ll admit this is somewhat of a trick question because I think it’s extremely unlikely (given the government’s inability to act justly towards whites, blacks, the unborn, etc). However, I do think there’s much that /can/ be done. For starters, given the way the federal government has acted in Indian affairs in the past I think a sort of benevolent paternalism is still in order. If you’re going to disrupt the entire way of life of a group in the name of higher civilization or manifest destiny or just bigger guns then I believe you owe that group of people your time and attention until such time as they prove able to resume governing their own affairs. Some of this I’m taking from Froude and his book English in the West Indies which provides some excellent insights into colonialism and paternalism. Also, as my husband just pointed out – if the perspective of the government was “how do we foster an industrious people who will provide tax revenue for decades to come?” we might get something more than the current welfare/reservation system. However, as in the case of casinos, this should be done with attention to the long term social and economic welfare of these people and not as a backdoor way of whites getting their entertainment without having to pay the price for having that sort of business in their backyard.

As for individuals and organizations – the highest need is of course for the Gospel to take root and grow within Native American communities. I believe that every culture is able to adorn the Gospel in particular ways – the early German tribes embraced a warrior like Christ, the American South has it’s traditions of hospitality and fellowship, and I believe that Native Americans, in the service of Christ, could teach us about seeing Christ in Creation. (Very few Christian songwriters in my experience actually see and write about the world around them – considering how often God refers to trees, mountains, rivers, bird, and rainbows I think this is a mistake.)

This might perhaps focus more on integration than just in the strictest sense, but I rather like the idea of encouraging Indians to work in forest management, land development, farming, recreation, and other occupations that respect their commitments to the land while bringing them into the modern workforce. I think of the native people who lived near the Columbia River bar (around Astoria, Or). When Louis and Clark got there they were amazed at the ease with which the Indians navigated the turbulent river. Nowadays river and river bar pilots are some of the most skilled in the US (just as the bar is one of the most treacherous stretches of water in the US). What are the Indians doing? Talking about making some dugouts and getting back on the river. But why can’t they take their affinity for this area and the Columbia River and set a goal that in 15 years twenty five percent of river and bar pilots will be Native American? I’m not talking about affirmative action. I’m talking about a tribe setting a goal to reclaim (as it were) supremacy over an area they traditionally owned. But why aren’t Indians taking steps like that? What can the government and private individuals do to encourage enterprise of that nature? I don’t know the answers to all those questions, but I think they’re worth asking all the same.

Reading over the above I realize that it might sound as though I’ve switched over from considering how we/the government can act justly to asking the Indians themselves should be doing. The Indians certainly have personal responsibility and authority to set tribal goals. However, I believe that groups and individuals seeking to help Native Americans would do well to provide access to job training in the sorts of fields that might be more naturally aligned with Native American interests and for the government (through its powers as welfare distributor) to encourage participation in same. Basically, Native Americans need to find a way to keep the valuable parts of their culture – those things which can be redeemed and used by God- and to discard those parts which hold them back. In today’s politically correct environment they are encouraged to do the opposite.

Share:Email this to someoneShare on Facebook0Tweet about this on TwitterPin on Pinterest0Share on Google+0