On Friday President Trump gave the commencement address at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. About one third of the way through his speech he attempted to affirm and motivate the graduates by reminding them of America’s past military conquests when he said,
“Together, you are the tip of the spear, the edge of the blade, and the front of the shield defending and protecting our great country. You know, there is no mission our pilots can’t handle. There is no hill our Marines can’t take, and there is no stronghold the SEALs can’t reach. There is no sea the Navy can’t brave, and there is no storm the American sailor can’t conquer. Because you know that together, there is nothing Americans can’t do. Absolutely nothing. In recent years and even decades, too many people have forgotten that truth. They have forgotten that our ancestors trounced an empire, tamed a continent, and triumphed over the worst evils in history.”
Tamed a continent?
On May 28, 1830 President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal act. This was the Act of Congress that gave the military the right to remove native tribes from their lands in the east to more empty lands further in the west. This resulted in the Trail of Tears for the Cherokee, the Choctaw and the Chickasaw. It also resulted in the Long Walk for the Navajo and Apache. All told about a dozen tribes experienced forced relocation due to this act, and tens of thousands of native people died as a direct result of this act.
Tamed a continent?
Following the conclusion of the Dakota War of 1862 and lasting through the summer of 1863 the US military and the state of Minnesota paid bounties of between $25 – $200 for the scalps of Dakota people. In December of 1862, President Lincoln ordered the largest mass execution in the history of the United States with the hanging of the Dakota 38. In January of 1863, President Lincoln signed a bill nullifying all the Treaties with the Dakota people in the state of Minnesota. In March of 1863 President Lincoln signed a bill granting himself the authority, without treaty or negotiation, to remove tribes from the state of Minnesota. This inhumane and forced removal began in April and was completed by the fall of 1863.
Tamed a continent?
In the fall of 1863, General Carleton gave the following order to US Army Officer Kit Carson “Henceforth every Navajo male is to be killed or taken prisoner on sight…. Say to them ‘Go to the Bosque Redondo or we will pursue and destroy you….We will not make peace with you on any other terms. This war shall be pursued until you cease to exist or move. There can be no other talk on the subject.’ Kit Carson began a campaign of terror against the Navajo people. He burned our hogans, destroyed or crops, killed our livestock and relentlessly pursued us throughout our traditional lands.”
President Abraham Lincoln
“By the middle of December most of the weak and aged had died. There is hardly a Navajo family that cannot remember tales of an aged grandfather, a pregnant mother or a lame child that had to be left behind when the camp had to be quickly deserted. The patrols were not interested in taking captives; it was too much trouble to transport them back to the forts. Any Navajo they saw was shot on sight. Mothers were sometimes forced to suffocate their hungry crying babies to keep their families from being discovered and butchered by an army patrol or taken captive by the slave raiders.” (“Book of the Navajo” by Raymond Friday Locke)
On January 15, 1864, President Abraham Lincoln approved the creation of the Bosque Redondo Indian reserve, which, for all intents and purposes, functioned as a death camp. Over 10,000 Navajo men, women and children were forcibly marched there. Hundreds died in route, and once relocated, those who attempted to escape were shot. But those who remained did not fare much better as nearly one quarter of the Navajo people who were imprisoned at Bosque Redondo died.
Tamed a continent?
In 1851, the United States signed a treaty with the Cheyenne and Arapahoe tribes, establishing their treaty lands in the area of the southwest that today is eastern Colorado and western Kansas. In 1858, gold was discovered in the Rocky Mountains, and settlers and prospectors began encroaching upon the lands of the Cheyenne and Arapahoe people. In 1862, the United States reduced the lands holdings of the Cheyenne and Arapahoe tribes by 92% through the Treaty of Fort Wise. In November of 1864, Colonel Chivington of the US Army massacred nearly 200 Cheyenne and Arapahoe men, women and children while they were encamped on their own treaty lands. It was later reported that the soldiers paraded the genitalia of the massacred Cheyenne and Arapahoe people down the streets of Denver. Within 3 years, the Cheyenne and Arapahoe tribes completely surrendered and were removed to Oklahoma.
Tamed a continent?
What do the Dakota in Minnesota, the Cheyenne and Arapahoe in Colorado and the Navajo in New Mexico have in common? In May of 1862, President Lincoln signed the Homestead Act. And in July of 1862 he signed the Pacific Railway Act. The Homestead Act provided 160 acres for any American citizen willing to homestead land in the west for 5 years. And the Pacific Railway Act opened land and provided resources to complete the transcontinental railway and telegraph lines. The Transcontinental Railroad had three proposed routes. A northern route that went through Minnesota. A central route that went through the territory of Colorado. And a southern route that went through the territory of New Mexico. Within two and a half years
In his annual address to Congress in 1864, President Lincoln reported “1,538,614 acres were entered under the homestead law…The great enterprise of connecting the Atlantic with the Pacific States by railways and telegraph lines has been entered upon with a vigor that gives assurance of success.”
Tamed a continent?
On December 29, 1890, the US Army surrounded a band of Lakota people near Wounded Knee. During a scuffle, a weapon discharged (unclear from which side) and chaos ensued. The US Army had up to four Hotchkiss Cannons at Wounded Knee. These are 37 mm cannons that shoot up to 70 rounds per minute and are accurate to 2,000 yards. The US Army rained bullets down on the Lakota people, many of whom ran into a nearby ravine to seek cover from the gunfire. The US Army later awarded 18 Medals of Honor to US soldiers who participated in the massacre. Three of the medals, those given to William Austin, John Gresham and Albert McMillan, were awarded specifically for directing fire into and flushing the Lakota people out of the ravine.of signing the Pacific Railroad act, President Lincoln ethnically cleansed the Dakota from the state of Minnesota, the Cheyenne and Arapahoe from the territory of Colorado and the Navajo from the territory of New Mexico.
Tamed a continent?
In 1500, there were approximately 4 million indigenous people living on the section of Turtle Island that today is known as the continental United States. By 1870, that number had been reduced to 25,713. That is a 99.36% population reduction.The United States of America did not “tame a continent”, it ethnically cleansed one. Nearly to extinction.
Mr. President, I am not going to ask you to apologize for your truly offensive choice of words. For I observe that they are deeply rooted in your white supremacists (and sexist) world view. In the speech announcing your campaign, you labeled Mexican immigrants as rapists and murders and promised to build a wall along our southern border. You were caught on a live mic before the campaign, telling a young protégé that celebrity and fame gives you the right to sexually assault women. You told a campaign rally in Iowa that you “could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody, and you wouldn’t lose voters.” You threaten other nations, via Twitter, with nuclear annihilation. You hide your taxes and hire lawyers to pay hush money to porn stars. You attack the press, humiliate your wife and sexually demean your daughter along with Howard Stern on national radio. And on Friday, you sought to motivate the 2018 graduating class of the United States Naval Academy by celebrating the ethnic cleansing and genocide of native peoples here in the United States. Nothing appears sacred to you, except your own fame and glory. I am not asking you to apologize, because I do not believe you are sorry.
Instead, I want to ask the American people. Is “making America great again” really what we want? American history is a mess. The Doctrine of Discovery, slavery, stolen lands, broken treaties, Jim-crow laws, Indian boarding schools, massacres, segregation, internment camps, nuclear bombs, mass incarceration, a broken immigration system. America’s greatness is a myth, rooted in the lie of white supremacy. Do we really want to go back to that? Make America Great Again? And for whom?
In his final State of the Union, President Obama tried to address our national need for a new politics. He said, “We the people, our Constitution begins with those three simple words. Words we’ve come to recognize mean all the people.”
Now that may sound beautiful. But I have studied American history and our founding documents extensively. The problem is, we have never decided, as a nation, that “We the People” means All the People. The founding fathers didn’t intend that. Abraham Lincoln didn’t believe it. The Civil Rights Movement couldn’t close the gap. Even our first black President, Barack Obama, didn’t get us there. And I promise you, Donald J. Trump does not believe that We the People means All the People.
I see President Trump’s definition of greatness, and I don’t want any part of it. I would much rather work towards a future where We the People finally means All the People. I know it will take some incredibly hard work, and I believe we can get there. But not if we continue to demean and sexually assault women. Not if we continue to arrest black men for sitting in Starbucks. Not if we insist on criminalizing non-white immigrants. Not if we dehumanize anyone, including our enemies. And not if we continue to celebrate our ethnic cleansing and genocidal history.
We also won’t get there by calling Republicans to be better Republicans. Nor will we get there by asking Democrats to be better Democrats. Unfortunately, the myth of American Exceptionalism and the lie of white supremacy are areas of bi-partisan agreement. What we need is for all Americans to be better humans.
For the past 5 years I have had the privilege of traveling the country and speaking with people from all segments of society. Teaching them about the Doctrine of Discovery and the incredibly violent and dehumanizing legacy it imprinted on America. I recently gave one such lecture in Fresno California. It was recorded and is available on my YouTube Channel. I invite all Americans to watch it (posted below). Not because its easy to hear. But because it presents a history that we have buried, yet desperately need to deal with.
I thank you for taking the time to read this. Walk in beauty my relatives.
Mark Charles (Navajo) serves as the Washington DC correspondent for Native News Online and is the author of the popular blog“Reflections from the Hogan.” His writings are regularly published by Native News Online in a column titled “A Native Perspective” which addresses news directly affecting Indian Country as well as offering a Native perspective on national and global news stories. Mark is active on Facebook,Twitter,YouTube andInstagram .