Vladimir Berkov

Clash of cultures

28 posts in this topic

This topic came up on the "You rate it" forum and I think it deserves further thought.

Were the actions taken by the US government and American settlers during the westward expansion during the 18th and 19th centuries justified and moral?

I think most people would agree that there was to be no peaceful coexistance of the American and Indian cultures so long as western expansion and development occurred as it did. Even so, could our relations with the Indians have been handled differently? Could we have avoided Wounded Knee, the Trail of Tears and the like?

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This topic came up on the "You rate it" forum and I think it deserves further thought.

Were the actions taken by the US government and American settlers during the westward expansion during the 18th and 19th centuries justified and moral?

I think most people would agree that there was to be no peaceful coexistance of the American and Indian cultures so long as western expansion and development occurred as it did.  Even so, could our relations with the Indians have been handled differently?  Could we have avoided Wounded Knee, the Trail of Tears and the like?

Yes, we should have recognized them as individuals, not as tribes (which in their nature have no right to exist). I don't know if it would have helped us avoid confrontations, but it's what we should have done.

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Yes, we should have recognized them as individuals, not as tribes (which in their nature have no right to exist). I don't know if it would have helped us avoid confrontations, but it's what we should have done.

I am not sure exactly what you mean here. We dealt with the tribes because that was their particular form of government. What do you mean "recognize them as individuals?"

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Were the actions taken by the US government and American settlers during the westward expansion during the 18th and 19th centuries justified and moral?
Which actions? Do you want a blanket answer that covers all actions over 200 years by all non-Indian people? If you have in mind something more specific, then what specific thing are you asking about?

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Which actions? Do you want a blanket answer that covers all actions over 200 years by all non-Indian people? If you have in mind something more specific, then what specific thing are you asking about?

I am specifically talking about the actions taken to eliminate indian culture (reservations, schools, etc) as well as duplicity (Trail of tears) and plain brutality (Wounded Knee)

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Hello,

For the most part, I don't think the rights of the Native Americans were violated at all during the "Manifest Destiny" period. The Indians thought that of all the land they hunted on was their tribe's property. They never had any sense of individual property rights until the white man came along. So, if a settler built a house and farm in "tribal territory," the Natives would often attack them. The US Government's response to this was to beat the crap out of the Indians. I really don't see a problem with this.

Also, since the Native American culture had zero appreciation for individual rights, it was morally permissable for the colonists to conquer them.

--Dan Edge

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I find it amazing that anyone could side with the Indians or express sympathy for them. The settlers of the 18th and 19th centuries went on to build a country out of the wilderness. They deserve our gratitude. I'm not going to lose any sleep over Wounded Knee or the Trail Of Tears.

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I am specifically talking about the actions taken to eliminate indian culture (reservations, schools, etc) as well as duplicity (Trail of tears) and plain brutality (Wounded Knee)
Are you saying that granting Indians specific land rights where they retained the political autonomy guaranteed them by the Constitution is an act designed to eliminate their culture? That's an interesting POV (and a counterfactual one), since the Indians themselves are currently trying to gain such land rights, as a way of preserving their culture.

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I find it amazing that anyone could side with the Indians or express sympathy for them. The settlers of the 18th and 19th centuries went on to build a country out of the wilderness. They deserve our gratitude. I'm not going to lose any sleep over Wounded Knee or the Trail Of Tears.

Do you know anything about the Trail of Tears? If so, while it is way too late to properly lose any sleep over it, you should at least be sympathetic and regard it as a gross injustice.

Here is a brief article about it http://ngeorgia.com/history/nghisttt.html

Here is the relevant excerpt from that article:

"The Cherokees in 1828 were not nomadic savages. In fact, they had assimilated many European-style customs, including the wearing of gowns by Cherokee women. They built roads, schools and churches, had a system of representational government, and were farmers and cattle ranchers. A Cherokee alphabet, the "Talking Leaves" was perfected by Sequoyah."

The Cherokees were the MODEL example of a formerly primitive people who looked at a more advanced civilization and chose to be open to it and to learn from it. For that, they are to be admired, not held in contempt. The Cherokees were the example that other tribes should have followed in response to being confronted with a more advanced culture. But look where it got them once gold was discovered on their land.

Unlike nomads, by farming and creating ranches and roads and such - i.e. the same sort of things that the white settlers did in order to earn their right to ownership of land which was once wilderness - the Cherokees properly had a valid RIGHT to the land that they occupied, ranched and farmed. But that right was not respected because a bunch of racist mentalities wanted the gold that was on Cherokee land - and since the Cherokees, as Indians, were "inferior," they felt justified in seizing it. Remember, this took place in Georgia - a place where it was considered perfectly acceptable to own black people as slaves.

I am not a multi-culturalist and I do not side with savagery over civilization. But the Cherokees were NOT savages at the time of the Trail of Tears - and what happened to them was horrible and, like slavery, was a sad an tragic chapter in our country's history and a profound contradiction of its founding principles.

I find it amazing that anyone could side with the Indians or express sympathy for them.

I am not for sure Vladimir has sided with the Indians. As far as I can tell, he is asking honest questions in order to get people to present an alternative view to that which is normally taught in our schools today. And if Vladimir indeed has sided with the Indians, I can think of several reasons why he might have done so - including making a judgement based on what he was taught in school history classes. Regardless - the fact of the matter is the response given does not answer any of his questions and I doubt that the reply given is sufficient to cause him to no longer have those questions.

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the fact of the matter is the response given does not answer any of his questions and I doubt that the reply given is sufficient to cause him to no longer have those questions.
The first step towards getting an answer to questions is to pose a valid question. Let's see if we can get him to do that first.

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The first step towards getting an answer to questions is to pose a valid question.

What are your criteria for asking a valid question? I would suggest:

1. The question as a whole addresses some purported fact of reality.

2. Every concept in the question is a validly formed concept.

3. The question is appropriately specific, that is, in this case, it deals with particular individuals or particular organizations who were responsible for their own behavior as a group. (In other words, in this case, it doesn't deal with morally irrelevant generalizations such as "Indians" or "whites," but with particular individuals or "corporations" of one sort or another.)

Anything else?

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I am specifically talking about the actions taken to eliminate indian culture (reservations, schools, etc).

Missionary Christianity was a major driving force behind the elimination of Indian culture. For example, missionary teachers forbade Indian children to speak their native language at school. It is an interesting question whether Christianity was any better than the native pagan religion, but it certainly was not any worse.

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For example, missionary teachers forbade Indian children to speak their native language at school.

I have not made a study of the conflicts (or, for that matter, the cooperation) between Amerinds and European settlers. In the cases you point to here, what was the ethical and political situation?

For example: Did all "Indian" children go to missionary schools? If so, why? Did government at some level force them to do so? Or, on the other hand, were Amerinds prohibited from forming their own schools? Did one situation fit all?

Debating history is different from debating philosophy. Debating history requires a presentation of verifiable facts about particular individuals doing particular actions at particular times. Of course, one can generalize from those particulars, but the particulars must be established first. Dismuke has made a step in that direction by offering a link to the Trail of Tears, apparently a particular event that happened at a particular time and place. If the account offered is accurate, it does raise the question of injustice -- racist injustice in particular.

Having seen first hand some of the long history of corruption in U. S. culture -- in the form of the use of government to empower racists -- I try not to react to criticisms of U. S. culture in a knee-jerk manner. I love America, but not U. S. culture as a whole, just as I love Western Civilization but not European culture as a package. But when I hear the criticisms, I want to see evidence.

So, what is the evidence about the moral and political situation behind missionary schools for Amerinds?

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I am not sure exactly what you mean here.  We dealt with the tribes because that was their particular form of government.  What do you mean "recognize them as individuals?"

Vladimir -

It is true that tribes did function as a sort of de-facto form of government for the Indians and for pretty much all people in a stone age sort of context. I also agree that the Europeans had no choice but to deal with the tribes in terms of negotiations and such because the Indians had no comprehension of individualism and did not fully regard themselves as individuals. Discussing matters on a tribal level was pretty much the ONLY way, at least at first, that the Europeans could deal with them.

On the other hand - a tribe is NOT a government in the sense of the term that we in the West use it. And I don't think it is correct for Westerners to regard a tribe as some sort of sovereign form of government any more than it is correct to regard the mafia or a youth gang as a sovereign form of government. (No - I am not equating the mafia or gangs with Indian tribes. The former are comprised of criminals while the latter were comprised of people unfortunate enough to be born into a stone age culture and were simply unaware of any alternative social structure)

In the context of how a proper society should deal with the existence of tribes, I think the best approach would be to regard them as voluntary private associations that are allowed to set their own rules in the way that a religious congregation or a club or a trade organization is able to do so with the members having the choice of remaining a member and following the organization's rules or being free to leave any time they want. Now, it is true that the tribe might regard itself as being something more than a mere private association - but the fact that they think that or wish that doesn't necessarily make it true. It is also true that the tribe may not consider its members free to leave and pursue their own lives - but a proper society would protect the rights of any tribal member who wished to leave and become a law abiding citizen.

Tribalism is probably appropriate and a necessity of human survival in a Stone Age context. But the very instant the Europeans arrived, that Stone Age context was gone forever and was no longer operative. The existence of civilization is a FACT that no person, including primitive peoples who come into contact with it, can ignore or evade.

Confronted with a proper society, the choice facing the Indians would have been to learn from the newcomers or to resist and cling to their primitive ways of doing things. But to be fair to the Indians, it was rarely that simple. Sure, civilization is better than savagery and, as such, its arrival can properly be regarded as a great opportunity for primitive peoples. But the people from the civilized countries were not always nice people - in other words, the cultures they came from themselves still had a way to go down the road of becoming fully civilized. For example, the Spaniards were civilized compared to the Indians - but in some locations, they basically turned the "inferior" Indians into slaves and force them to perform back breaking and dangerous labor in mines.

For that reason, unlike some others here, I am not without a certain amount of sympathy for the Indians. There is absolutely NOTHING immoral about being a savage if a Stone Age culture is all one has ever been exposed to. Such a person deserves our pity - not our contempt. And while it is true that, once the alternative of savagery verses civilization has been presented, there IS a moral choice involved that can be properly judged, the nature of that choice is not always self-evident to someone who comes from such a culture. Nor did the Europeans always make it easy for the Indians to see the value of civilization. I have no doubt that many Indians viewed the alternative as a choice between masters - not as a choice between reason, individualism and freedom (which they might not have even been able to even grasp - look at the difficulty people in our culture today have in grasping it) verses the primitiveness and slavery of tribalism. And having such sympathy for the Indians' context and plight is NOT the same thing as advocating the moral and cultural relativism of multi-culturalism.

I think most people would agree that there was to be no peaceful coexistence of the American and Indian cultures so long as western expansion and development occurred as it did. Even so, could our relations with the Indians have been handled differently?

I think the basic principle to keep in mind is that Indians are human beings and, as such, have the same rights that everyone else does. What is equally important to keep in mind, however, is that savages and people in primitive cultures have no grasp that they even have rights or what rights are (indeed, people in the West did not have such knowledge until just a few centuries ago).

A proper society, in such a context, would have welcomed and protected the rights of any Indian who wished to become a productive member of that society. He would have had the exact same legal rights that any other member of that society would have had. The fact that the Indian was from a different race would have made no difference. The proper attitude towards the Indians would be to encourage them to voluntarily become full-fledged and productive members of such a society - something which would have been of benefit to all concerned.

Of course, not every Indian would necessarily choose to become a member of such society. Making such a transition and adjustment to a new and foreign culture - a culture in which most would probably started out on the bottom rung economically due to their lack of knowledge - is not an easy thing to do and not everybody is up to such a challenge, especially if such a challenge come up late in one's life. While tribalism is a dubious social arrangement in the context of a civilized society, it WAS the social arrangement that the Indians had been living under since day one - and it would not have been proper to forcibly abolish the tribes. Instead, a proper society would recognize the pre-existing tribes, not as self-sovereign governments, but rather as independent, private and VOLUNTARY associations. If individual Indians wished to continue obeying their chiefs and tribal elders, they should have been free to do so in the same way Catholics are free to obey the Pope and the clergy. But the tribes would have had no legal authority over any Indian who wished to leave and join civilization.

As for land, with the exception of a small number of agrarian tribes, the Indians had no basis to claim that they had any more right to the land than did the Europeans. Being the first person to wonder through a certain territory is NOT the same thing as establishing a valid claim of ownership. Being able to say that your gang knocked in the skulls of the gang that previously wandered around a certain territory is NOT the same thing as establishing a valid claim of ownership. The only claim that nomads can possibly make over the territory they roam is that they (or their ancestors) happened to roam into that area. Well, so did the Europeans - they roamed into that area too. Ownership was a concept completely foreign to the Indians and, as a result it was not something that they were in much of a position to claim even in a de-facto sense of the term. What the Indians lacked and what is needed in order to settle land disputes is property rights - and that, not "reservations" is the approach that should have been taken with regard to the American Indians.

What should have happened is that , when the American settlers negotiated treaties over land with the tribes, that land should have been regarded as private property belonging to the tribe. How the tribe used that land - whether it would be owned by the tribe in a socialistic manner or distributed as private parcels to individual tribe members would have been a matter for each tribe to decide on its own - in the same way that it is up to a church to decide how the congregation's property is to be disposed of. Once such treaties were negotiated, the American government should have protected the private property belonging to the tribes in the same way that it protected the private property of the white settlers.

Establishing Indian land as private property and protecting the individual rights of Indians who wished to leave the tribe and become part of European/American civilization would have gone a long ways towards breaking down tribalism and encouraging assimilation into mainstream American culture. The best and the brightest Indian children would have seen the advantages of civilization and left the tribe - in the same way that such children of today's Amish make a similar decision. Those who chose to remain behind would have been free to do so long as they did not become violent. Eventually, as the American standard of living grew, there would have been increasing pressure on the tribes to provide members with a similar standard of living. Many individual Indians would probably have left the tribe for greater opportunities elsewhere. And some of the tribal lands would have become quite valuable over time - which would have resulted in pressure to either divide tribal land up to its members or to sell it and distribute the proceeds.

That would have been the fair thing to do - to give the Indians what they lacked and desperately needed, ownership and rights to the land they occupied. And, early on, that would have been very easy to do because there were not all that many Indians ( a Stone Age lifestyle can support only so many people per square mile) and there was an abundance of land. Eventually, access to the tools and knowledge of Western Civilization - for example guns to kill game instead of rocks - would have resulted in a population explosion among the Indians beyond the point of what could be sustained by a nomadic existence, which alone would have forced them to give up such a lifestyle.

As for those tribes who refused to negotiate peace treaties with the Americans in exchange for ownership of private property and instead initiated violence upon settlers, the thing to do would have been to do exactly what was done: defeat them militarily.

The only obligation that the European settlers had with regard to the Indians was to recognize the fact that they, too, were human beings - and all human beings have rights. It was not the Europeans' responsibility to "civilize" the Indians or convert them to Christianity and such. What WAS their responsibility, since the Indians had no conception of rights, was to create a context in which the rights of peaceful and willing Indians could be established, and once they were established, to respect and protect those rights, so long, of course, as the Indians did likewise towards the Europeans.

Were the actions taken by the US government and American settlers during the westward expansion during the 18th and 19th centuries justified and moral?

By the standards of what I just laid out - not, they were not fully justified and moral in many areas. But we are dealing with history and, quite frankly, those standards are based on a lot of premises that would be pretty hard to expect the first American settlers to go by.

The way I think it is best to answer the question is to point out that the settlement of the American continent was certainly not the first time that the expansion of civilization has come up against and overtaken a bunch of tribal nomads. For example, the spread of Roman civilization across Europe. How come today's multi-culturalists do not damn the ancient Romans for destroying the "noble" and "natural" lifestyles of European savages? What about territorial disputes between tribes which were more savage and brutal than anything the Europeans dished out? How come the multi-culturalists have a problem with the Europeans evicting Indians from land by force - but they don't seem to have a problem with other Indian tribes doing it? How come one historical example - the behavior of European settlers in America - is loudly damned by the multi-culturalists who, at the same time, are totally silent on other very similar historical examples? The answer of course, is that the multi-culturalists really don't care squat about the Indians or their well-being. Their only concern is to destroy Western Civilization - and that is the context in which such people's criticism of the American settlers must be viewed. In other words, the American settlers were sometimes far from saints - but in the context in which they are attacked by the multiculturalists, that fact is utterly irrelevant. And the sorts of behavior the multi-culturalists sanction and turn a blind eye to is far worse than any injustice that the American settlers may have ever been guilty of.

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The first step towards getting an answer to questions is to pose a valid question. Let's see if we can get him to do that first.

If his questions rest on certain false premises (as I think some of them do) then the proper approach is to identify those premises and explain why they are false. Another proper approach is to do exactly what you have been doing - challenging those premises through questions. But what is NOT proper is to sneer at the person and snidely remark that you cannot understand why they would even ask such a question in the first place - which is exactly what the other poster did and what I took him to task for. Furthermore, the fact that a person's questions rest on false premises do not necessarily disqualify them from being honest questions. Nor do they necessarily disqualify them from being intelligent questions.

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To anyone who wants to better understand the morality of the European settlement of the Americas, I recommend the book The Enemies of Christopher Columbus by Thomas Bowden. The book is structured as answers to a series of questions about the bringing of Western Civilization to the New World.

I also remember that last year (probably in October in honor of Columbus Day), Bowden gave a talk sponsored by the Ayn Rand Institute in which, among other things, he specifically gave a long answer to the question of what exactly happened in the "Trail of Tears" incident. I don't remember very well what he said, but I did not get the idea that the Indians were unfairly treated. If I remember correctly, there was also some reason the Indians were unwilling to travel by water; instead they travelled by land which had something to do with why so many of them died. In other words, I ended with the impression that the United States has been unfairly vilified in this incident.

A recording of the talk is probably available from ARI. Its title was "Columbus Day Without Guilt."

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  The answer of course, is that the multi-culturalists really don't care squat about the Indians or their well-being. Their only concern is to destroy Western Civilization - and that is the context in which such people's criticism of the American settlers must be viewed.  In other words, the American settlers were sometimes far from saints - but in the context in which they are attacked by the multiculturalists, that fact is utterly irrelevant.    And the sorts of behavior the multi-culturalists sanction and turn a blind eye to is far worse than any injustice that the American settlers may have ever been guilty of.

Dismuke:

I agree with everything you wrote. That was one of the best and most comprehensive discussions I have ever read on this subject. It should serve as a model answer for all those questioning the morality of the settling of America.

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What should have happened is that , when the American settlers negotiated treaties over land with the tribes, that land should have been regarded as private property belonging to the tribe.

The board will not let me edit my posting so I will post this as a clarification of my potentially confusing wording. The Indian land that should have been regarded as private property was the land that was granted to the Indians as a result of such treaties - not the entire American continent prior to the negotiation of such treaties.

To elaborate on a few other points:

The European settlers had every right in the world to stake a claim in the wilderness and engage in the sort of activities necessary to given them a moral claim to regard it has their own personal, private property. But, as human beings, the Indians had the exact same rights to do so as well - and that is what should properly have been offered to them as a means of settling land disputes. And while tribes are not an objectively valid form of social organization, there would have been nothing particularly wrong with recognizing such negotiated property rights as resting with the tribe and not the individual Indians. There are all sorts of examples where private property is owned by a group and not by individuals - i.e. corporations, churches, clubs, etc.

How the Indians made use of their private property, once granted, would have been up to them so long as they did not initiate violence on others. If they wished to continue to roam in the woods eating bark, bugs and small animals - so be it. My guess is that after a few generations of exposure to Western lifestyles, technology and consumer goods, most Indians would have lost interest in roaming around living a "natural" type existence. My guess is that, as civilization expanded across the American continent and Indian land became increasingly more valuable as real estate, there would have ended up being a whole bunch of very wealthy Indians.

Unfortunately, I don't think that what I propose would have been conceivable or possible at the time. The initial European settlers in North America would probably had a HUGE amount of difficulty accepting the notion that ALL human beings have the same rights and that they should make it possible for a bunch of unwashed non-Christians of a different race to legally exercise and have recognized such rights as the ownership of private property. Look at it this way - even if the Indians had been advanced enough to have a system of private property, it is rather doubtful that the Spaniards or even, later on, the early English, would have recognized it. They would have simply conquered them the same way that they went about conquering European nations which were militiarily weaker. I am afraid that "might makes right" was still very much the European way of doing things at the time - and that is the approach that they would have brought over with them to America. Of course, for the multi-culturalists to damn the Europeans for that is absurd because such "might makes right" was certainly no different than how the Indians dealt with each other. The multi-culturalists have no problems whatsoever with societies that operate on the premise of "might makes right" - they only object to it in the case of those societies that later rejected that premise.

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For example, missionary teachers forbade Indian children to speak their native language at school.

I have not made a study of the conflicts (or, for that matter, the cooperation) between Amerinds and European settlers. In the cases you point to here, what was the ethical and political situation?

For example: Did all "Indian" children go to missionary schools? If so, why? Did government at some level force them to do so? Or, on the other hand, were Amerinds prohibited from forming their own schools? Did one situation fit all?

Debating history is different from debating philosophy. Debating history requires a presentation of verifiable facts about particular individuals doing particular actions at particular times. Of course, one can generalize from those particulars, but the particulars must be established first. Dismuke has made a step in that direction by offering a link to the Trail of Tears, apparently a particular event that happened at a particular time and place. If the account offered is accurate, it does raise the question of injustice -- racist injustice in particular.

Having seen first hand some of the long history of corruption in U. S. culture -- in the form of the use of government to empower racists -- I try not to react to criticisms of U. S. culture in a knee-jerk manner. I love America, but not U. S. culture as a whole, just as I love Western Civilization but not European culture as a package. But when I hear the criticisms, I want to see evidence.

So, what is the evidence about the moral and political situation behind missionary schools for Amerinds?

My source is The Legal Ideology of Removal: The Southern Judiciary and the Sovereignty of Native American Nations by Tim Alan Garrison (University of Georgia Press.) Garrison documents how the US government entrusted the education of Indian children to the Christian mission societies, who exhibited a paternalistic attitude toward Indian culture. For example, it was white philanthropic and Christian mission societies who “convinced the US government to implement a neo-civilization program designed to eradicate Indian culture, tribal government, and Native American communal property ideas.” (242) Garrison goes back to the 13th Century to trace the Christian origins of the ambiguous notion that non-Christians have natural rights as human beings, but these rights can be revoked in order to forcibly convert them to Christianity for their own benefit.

As to Indian children not allowed to speak their language, I thought it was in this book but could not find the reference. I probably read it somewhere else. Thanks for putting me on the spot about it. I’ll try to find where I read it.

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Perhaps a good example of the difference and inevitable conflict between individual rights and ethnic rights was the practice of blood revenge among the Cherokee people, documented in The Legal Ideology of Removal: The Southern Judiciary and the Sovereignty of Native American Nations by Tim Alan Garrison (University of Georgia Press):

The practice of blood revenge, which fell under the jurisdiction of the clans rather than the National Council, [of Cherokee tribes] inhibited the development of tribal controls over violence. Under blood revenge, Cherokee warriors had customarily gone out in small war parties to avenge the deaths of slain members of their town or clan… The Carolina colonial government also tried to force the Cherokees to punish individuals who killed traders or settlers. Consequently, in the second half of the 18th Century the Cherokee National Council repeatedly attempted to extend jurisdiction over blood revenge and threatened to punish individuals or towns who killed colonial traders, attacked English settlements, or endangered relations with the Carolina government. The Cherokee people, however, refused to surrender their right to revenge, and as a result, the council was unable to prevent conflicts between Cherokee warriors and British traders and settlers. (46)

It was indeed a clash between two civilizations.

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For example, missionary teachers forbade Indian children to speak their native language at school.

And this was hardly unique to the Indians or to North America. One can also point out numerous examples of other conquerors doing the exact same thing even in our own time.

For example - the Soviets did not think twice about attempting to eradicate local cultures across their vast expanse of empire. One means of doing so was to forbid native languages from being taught in school. The Soviets feared not only individualism but other forms of collectivism as well - including loyalty to one's ethnicity or local heritage. As a result, the Soviets did everything they could - including mass deportations - to stamp such things out and to undermine local cultures they regarded as potential competition.

The relevant issue to this discussion is the fact that, while the multi-culturalists constantly squawk about and damn evil Westerners for seeking to eradicate native cultures, these are the very same people who had no fundamental problems at all with the existence of the Soviet Union and, indeed, argued that we needed to make an effort to "understand" the Soviets and to have more tolerance for our "differences." Obviously concern for the plight of native languages and cultures is NOT the primary motivation of the multi-culturalists.

Going back to Vladimir who raised the issue in the first place:

I am specifically talking about the actions taken to eliminate indian culture (reservations, schools, etc) as well as duplicity (Trail of tears) and plain brutality (Wounded Knee)

Rather than debating the nature or historical accuracy of such actions, let's just assume for the sake of discussion that we can agree that the European and American settlers engaged in certain actions which we would properly regard as nasty and inappropriate.

That having been granted - it is CRUCIAL that the issue be placed in its proper context and not regarded in isolation without regard to wider issues or concerns. One has to consider the context in which these inappropriate actions are constantly being brought up, who it is that is bringing them up and for what purpose. In other words, what is the broader POINT that the people who are constantly reminding us of them trying to make?

In this case, it is the multi-culturalists who are the ones who are constantly bringing up such actions and they do it in the context of trying to damn America and argue that it needs to be taken down a notch in this world and that our actions need to take into consideration the feelings of counties such as France, Germany, China and various dictatorships throughout the Third World. When one considers the nature of those counties both today and in the past - well, the damnation of certain actions in American history suddenly becomes rather absurd by comparison.

The purpose of the multi-culturalists in bringing such things up is to so convince people in an out-of-context manner that America is a rotten, nasty country - and, therefore, if they don't go along with the multi-culturalists' agenda, then they too are rotten and nasty. It is really no different than how the Communists used to try to make hay out of the alleged exploitation of child labor and factory workers. The Left used to pull out of their history books (which were usually written by fellow Leftists) examples of factories in the early days of the Industrial Revolution where conditions were pretty horrible, where workers, including children, worked long hours and where the owners were nasty and abusive and then assert that if you don't go along with the Leftists' agenda, you are no better than those nasty abusive factory owners.

Did such factories exist? Undoubtedly some did. Does the existence of such factories constitute a refutation of capitalism? Of course not. Does the existence of such factories provide a single shred of existence to justify enslaving entire societies under the brutal tyranny of Communism? Of course not. Does the fact that the early American settlers were not saints in all respects refute the enormous and unprecedented achievements in terms of individual rights, human dignity and standard of living that have been made possible by the United States of America? Of course not. Does the fact that the early American settlers were not saints make the case that we should turn our foreign policy over to the French or the United Nations and regard ourselves as being no better than the Soviets, the Nazis, the Cambodians or some primitives running around in a jungle somewhere? Of course not - but that is exactly the point that those who are constantly harping on about the treatment of the Indians are trying to imply.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with studying and taking into consideration historical issues such as the treatment of the Indians by the early American settlers - but when one does so, one must NEVER forget the overall framework and context that motivates one to study them in the first place. As Objectivists are fond of saying, context is everything.

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Here is the relevant excerpt from that article:

"The Cherokees in 1828 were not nomadic savages. In fact, they had assimilated many European-style customs, including the wearing of gowns by Cherokee women. They built roads, schools and churches, had a system of representational government, and were farmers and cattle ranchers. A Cherokee alphabet, the "Talking Leaves" was perfected by Sequoyah."

The Cherokees were the MODEL example of a formerly primitive people who looked at a more advanced civilization and chose to be open to it and to learn from it.  For that, they are to be admired, not held in contempt.  The Cherokees were the example that other tribes should have followed in response to being confronted with a more advanced culture.  But look where it got them once gold was discovered on their land.

I have to agree here. There is more to the history of the treatment of the American Indians than is usually afforded by the casual "Superior Europeans meets utterly barbaric savages and the right side wins." One thing missed in that analysis is the barbaric effects of Christianity and racism on the European side. Which is not to say that many of the Indians didn't engage in barbaric acts.

But, qua actual civilization (due to Aristotle and the Renaissance/Enlightenment), it was proper for a more advanced civilization to set the terms, which essentially means to offer the benefits of civilization - in essence the idea of individual rights, including property rights - to such Indians as were willing and able to accept those terms.

As you note, the Cherokees, by historical accounts, did live a civilized life, but their rights were violated due to expediency. In fact, the question of "State's Rights", whether Georgia had the right to ignore a *Federal* treaty with the Indians, circa 1830s, was one of the preludes to the Civil War -- Georgia naturally being a slaveholding southern state that wanted to expediently act without the inconvenience of honoring such a treaty.

Note a real irony here too: some of the Cherokees, Creeks, etc. legally owned slaves too! That's how well they were integrated into European society.

If anybody is really interested in this, the first CD-ROM that I did was a collection of 18th and 19th century documents related to the American Indians, premised on the idea that it would be interesting to have an accessible electronic library prior to 20th century distortions introduced by multiculturists and Marxists with their own axe to grind. The core of it is the 6 volume work by Henry Schoolcraft, the country's first "ethnologist" and reportedly the first non-Indian to visit the headwaters of the Mississippi river in Minnesota, as well as geological explorer (lead mines in Missouri for example.) He was married to an Ojibwa (Chippewa) woman for 30 years. In addition to being the first one to write down the mythical tales they told in the wintertime when it was too cold to do much else (Longfellow's "Song of Hiawatha" is directly based on Schoolcraft's writings), he systematically studied and recorded the Algonquian dialects of the Indian languages (their vocabulary and grammatical structure), which is of scientific interest to linguists, especially since they represent a quite different evolution than Indo-European languages. Schoolcraft was commissioned by the U.S. Congress in the mid 1800's to develop an encyclopedia of all known knowledge related to the Indians, with the result being a 6 volume set, with some of it representing answers to a large questionnaire that he sent to everyone he knew that had first hand extensive knowledge of the Indians. There are quite a few other Indian languages (to varying degrees of completeness, mostly vocabulary tables) represented as a result, as well, including some that are now extinct.

I added some material to this CD-ROM later, including the official U.S. federal documents related to Indian affairs from 1789 through 1827. The original one had all of the Federal treaties as well (the so-called Kappler edition, published by the U.S. government, in 1904 if I recall correctly.)

I still sell this ROM here: http://civilwaramerica.com/emedia.php, along with products on the U.S. Civil War, including the deepest resource available for Civil War Research, a DVD-ROM containing 200,000 pages of material including most of the official federal records (which subsumes a lot of Confederate material.)

As far as what the situation should be today, I think it's crazy that the reservations still exist. In my thinking on how to integrate them properly with the rest of America, they should be (1) formed into standard land-holding corporations with complete mineral and other land rights, and a system developed to have the remaining reservation inhabitants (and perhaps related others to a point) become equal shareholders, with the ability to freely sell those shares, including to e.g. mineral extraction companies, real estate companies (think the area around Phoenix for example), and so forth. Or, some other comparable legal mechanism, with the essential idea being individual private ownership, not "tribal ownership". (2) Be relieved of all special legal status and simply be treated under the laws of the states they reside within. That would be a final act of true integration with the rest of America, rather than a very strange holdover from the past with their set of special circumstances and wanton abuse by "tribal leaders". It would instantly give a financial incentive to put vast tracts of land to good economic use, in a way fully integrated with the rest of American jurisprudence.

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Here is the relevant excerpt from that article:

"The Cherokees in 1828 were not nomadic savages. In fact, they had assimilated many European-style customs, including the wearing of gowns by Cherokee women. They built roads, schools and churches, had a system of representational government, and were farmers and cattle ranchers. A Cherokee alphabet, the "Talking Leaves" was perfected by Sequoyah."

The Cherokees were the MODEL example of a formerly primitive people who looked at a more advanced civilization and chose to be open to it and to learn from it.  For that, they are to be admired, not held in contempt.  The Cherokees were the example that other tribes should have followed in response to being confronted with a more advanced culture.  But look where it got them once gold was discovered on their land. 

There is no doubt that the removal policy was morally unjustified.

However, the pro-removal partisans were using legal rather than moral arguments. I quote from the insert cover of The Legal Ideology of Removal:

Because the federal government upheld Native American self-dominion, southerners bent on expropriating Indian land sought a legal toehold through state supreme court decisions... By casting removal as a states' rights rather than a moral issue, they won the wide support of a land-hungry southern populace.

The book documents how the missionaries living among the Cherokees failed to make a moral stand against the removal. They told them to accept the removal or demonstrate only 'peaceful resistance.' The author quotes William G. McLaouglin, a historian of the Cherokees who is especially critical of the missionaries' surrender:

There seemed to be in this complex reasoning a greater emphasis upon prudence and political expediency (not to mention defeatism) than had been evident in their former pronouncements; spiritual righteousness and national honor had somehow been displaced by practical necessity, national security, and 'changing circumstances. (p. 283)

My point is that it was not Western civilization but Christianity that betrayed the Indians.

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I fully agree with Burgess' early post about the method of debationg history, but I'd like to throw in a few matters of principle to help weigh the debate. It has been alluded to here that the US government had some right to not treat the Indians as people because they viewed themselves collectively. Does a person's seeming abdication of the individual nature of a human deprive him of his nature? Is he, because he roams around the plain shooting buffalo, without rational faculty? Does this mean he does not have rights? Can I shoot my communist neighbor morally? Does the end justify the mean?

Given that there was a better use for the land, would not free and uncoerced trade with the Indians have made for a better outcome? I'm pretty convinced that the actions of the US government were morally condemable in some cases. Not to say that the settlers were wrong to selttle the land, but that it could have been done morally.

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I'm pretty convinced that the actions of the US government were morally condemable in some cases.

Can you suggest one such case, especially if it is one that others in this thread can read about online for initial research?

I see two issues as important. First, were there particular instances of injustice by the U. S. government (or any of its lower forms of government, such as states and counties)?

Second, were instances of injustice part of the essential nature of the government, or were they instances of bad people doing bad things within an otherwise good system? Of course, if the political system were otherwise good, it would have corrected the problem, or at least it would have offered compensation for damage wrongfully done.

Why? Because the purpose of government is to protect rights within its jurisdiction.

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