In his Proclamation on Indigenous Peoples’ Day, 2022, which the progressive Left is striving to make a federal holiday in lieu of Columbus Day, President Joe Biden proclaimed that “we celebrate indigenous history and our new beginning together, honoring Native Americans for shaping the contours of this country since time immemorial.”
In addition, the Biden administration has embraced the progressive Left’s oppressor versus oppressed paradigm. This means casting “indigenous peoples,” or “Native Americans,” as the completely innocent victims of exploitation by white explorers, colonists, settlers, and government officials. This has all the markings of the infamous 1619 Project, which places slavery at the center of America’s history and claims that its continuing legacy is an America that remains systemically racist.
For example, President Biden referred in his proclamation to centuries during which “Indigenous Peoples were forcibly removed from ancestral lands, displaced, assimilated, and banned from worshiping or performing many sacred ceremonies.”
A year ago, Vice President Kamala Harris blamed “the European explorers who first landed on the shores of the Americas” for ushering in “a wave of devastation for tribal nations, perpetrating violence, stealing land and spreading disease.” Referring to what she characterized as “this shameful past,” the vice president said that we must “do everything we can to address the impact of the past on Native communities today.”
It is true that Native Americans’ ancestors migrated to the lands that became known as the Americas many thousands of years before Europeans began migrating here. But it is complete fiction that the descendants of the migrants who first inhabited lands in the Americas lived in perfect peace and harmony until European explorers and colonizers arrived. It is not true that these white Europeans were the first people to slaughter Native Americans, forcibly remove them from their ancestral lands, and enslave them. Nor is it true that white Americans were the only people in America who engaged in such appalling practices after the United States became an independent nation.
This is not to excuse the serious harms inflicted on some Native Americans by whomever was responsible. But the pursuit of truth requires providing a more complete account that does not single out white people as the fall guys to take all of the blame for all of the bad things that have happened to Native Americans throughout history.
Native Americans fought fiercely amongst themselves for centuries before they saw their first white man, killing each other in a brutal fashion. Conquering tribes displaced the tribes they defeated from their ancestral homelands. And slavery was practiced by Native Americans themselves before and after the arrival of the first Europeans.
Left-wing progressives are not interested in historical truth, however. To the contrary, they regularly distort American history to fit their narrative of white supremacist oppression against blacks, indigenous people, and other people of color.
For example, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, a revisionist historian who authored a book entitled An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, wrote that:
“US history, as well as inherited Indigenous trauma, cannot be understood without dealing with the genocide that the United States committed against Indigenous peoples. From the colonial period through the founding of the United States and continuing in the twenty-first century, this has entailed torture, terror, sexual abuse, massacres, systematic military occupations, removals of Indigenous peoples from their ancestral territories, and removals of Indigenous children to military-like boarding schools.”
Dunbar-Ortiz added that “[T]he history of the United States is a history of settler colonialism— the founding of a state based on the ideology of white supremacy, the widespread practice of African slavery, and a policy of genocide and land theft.”
The real history of these “indigenous peoples” tells a vastly different story. Well before the arrival of any European explorers and colonists, there were wars between tribes of Native Americans that led to massacres and land dispossession. White Europeans did not introduce the practice of slavery for the first time to Native Americans. Nor, after the arrival of white Europeans, were Native Americans always the enslaved victims of white slave owners. Some became slave owners themselves, enslaving blacks as their white neighbors were doing.
“Indigenous slavery long predated the arrival of Europeans in the Americas. As far back as we can peer into pre-Contact monuments, codices, and archaeological evidence as well as the earliest European accounts, we learn about Indigenous Americans enslaving one another,” wrote University of California Davis History Professor Andrés Reséndez in a piece entitled “Perspective: The Other Slavery” published by Smithsonian.
According to the curator of the National Museum of the American Indian, Paul Chaat Smith, as quoted in 2018 by Smithsonian Magazine: “[T]he Five Civilized Tribes were deeply committed to slavery.” The Native American tribes known as the Five Civilized Tribes consisted of the Cherokees, Chickasaws, Choctaws, Creeks, and Seminoles.
These tribes, Mr. Smith explained, “established their own racialized black codes.” They “rebuilt their nations with slave labor, crushed slave rebellions, and enthusiastically sided with the Confederacy in the Civil War.”
The Cherokees and the other Native Americans making up the Five Civilized Tribes, Mr. Smith added, “were willful and determined oppressors of blacks they owned, enthusiastic participants in a global economy driven by cotton, and believers in the idea that they were equal to whites and superior to blacks.”
Paul Chaat Smith is a Comanche himself. But he refuses to distort history to serve a grossly misleading white oppressor versus oppressed Native American narrative like Ms. Dunbar-Ortiz has done.
To be sure, Mr. Smith does not gloss over the grave injustices committed against Native Americans by white men, including by President Andrew Jackson and other past U.S governmental officials. However, Mr. Smith does not view his own people as being the victims solely of white supremacists. He readily acknowledges the horrific wrongdoing committed by Native Americans themselves, including by his Comanche forbears, against each other and against other people of color.
“The Comanche empire was built on the rape, murder, and enslavement of Indians and Mexicans, and in a very distant third, some whites, who actually were settlers,” Mr. Smith said during a talk he delivered in 2017.
“I know that sounds harsh, but history is harsh and it spares no one,” Mr. Smith added.
“Human beings throughout time and across the world demonstrate pretty much the same measure of brutality and grace. Talking about this part of our histories is a price of seeing Indians as fully human, not New Age forest bunnies. I see it as a powerful blow against white supremacy to insist that vast amounts of post-contact Native history is not a binary struggle between settler and the indigenous. That history is complicated and scary and dense, precisely because it centers around political agendas of Indian peoples rather than a neatly constructed 21st-century fantasy that everything that ever happened to us is about the white man. It wasn’t. It isn’t.”
Providing as truthful an account of history as one can is a complex undertaking because human beings are complex amalgams of good and bad character traits. Left-wing progressives, however, believe that what stands in the way of the perfectibility of human society are rigged institutions and conventions propping up oppressors. These pillars of oppression, left-wing progressives claim, must be dismantled from top to bottom to liberate the oppressed. This bogus morality play requires villains – privileged whites who supposedly control all of the levers of power today. And it requires victims – the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color), who must rise up against their oppressors to create a perfectly equitable and inclusive society.
It takes courage for a member of a group identified as an oppressed race, class, or ethnic group to step back and look critically at the mixed historical record of one’s own identity group. Thank goodness for people like Paul Chaat Smith, who was willing to speak the truth about wrongdoing committed by his own Comanche ancestors and by the ancestors of other Native American tribes. The victims of this wrongdoing included blacks and members of defeated Native American tribes.
Leftist ideologues will never acknowledge the truth because they know that to do so will cause their house of cards to come tumbling down.