This past weekend I spent some time in Nashville, Tennessee, for a trade show. On the first day, before the show began, my parents and I decided to venture out to The Hermitage, home of President Andrew Jackson. The museum and the tour paid careful attention to the legacy of slavery on the planation, which I thought was encouraging. As you are walking up the path to the mansion, for example, the audio tour notes that back in 1837 the whole area would have been a cotton field and you would definitely have seen slaves working in those fields. These are no-brainer facts, but it’s important that Americans incorporate these ugly truths into the romanticized stories of past heroes.
That being said, another key aspect of Jackson’s life and career went unmentioned and unnoticed. No where did I see any mention of the fact that part of Jackson’s legacy is that he helped to completely crippled the “5 civilized tribes” of Native Americans who up until his Presidency had mostly lived peacefully in the Southeast. Those five tribes were the Cherokee, the Chickasaw, the Creek, the Choctaw, and the Seminoles. Jackson was a notorious proponent of Indian removal, and while the Cherokee marched on the Trail of Tears under Martin van Buren’s Presidency, the foundation of that trail was set during Jackson’s term as President. This entire aspect of Jackson’s Presidency lies untouched at his home. Why?
Lately there has been a lot of talk about sports teams who use names like “Indians” or “Redskins.” That’s great, but are you aware of some of these statistics?
“American Indians and Native Alaskans number 4.5 million. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, these Americans earn a median annual income of $33,627. One in every four (25.3 percent) lives in poverty and nearly a third (29.9 percent) are without health insurance coverage.” via http://www.spotlightonpoverty.org/
“A recent class action suit alleged that the government mismanaged billions of dollars in Indian assets. The case settled in 2009 for $3.4 billion—far less than what was lost by the feds.” via Forbes
“One-quarter of Indian children live in poverty, versus 13 percent in the United States. They graduate high school at a rate 17 percent lower than the national average. Their substance-abuse rates are higher. They’re twice as likely as any other race to die before the age of 24. They have a 2.3 percent higher rate of exposure to trauma. They have two times the rate of abuse and neglect. Their experience with post-traumatic stress disorder rivals the rates of returning veterans from Afghanistan.” via Washington Post
What it seems like to me is that we are not just brushing American history under the rug where whites and Native Americans are concerned – we are simply brushing all Native Americans under the rug. If we don’t see them and we don’t witness their difficulties, then fighting to get a logo changed can certainly seem like ample effort. Right?
There are Native Americans alive today whose great-grandparents fought Custer. The massacre at Wounded Knee, the massacre of Black Kettle and his tribe, the abuse of Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce, all happened towards the end of the 19th century. That’s not that long ago, but the sands of time are threatening to bury it all, and we are letting it happen.
When will we be able to face the fact that Andrew Jackson was not just a slave-owner but also an Indian killer? When will we recognize that many Civil War heroes, including Sheridan and Sherman, went out West and declared that the only good Indian was a dead Indian? There are people alive today who were sent to schools in the East to get rid of their Native American culture. They were prohibited from speaking their native language. They were not allowed to keep their sacred possessions. Are we going to continue to sweep them under the rug too?
I am deeply concerned that we are going to simply turn a blind eye to our history and to our present where Native Americans are concerned. When will the battle end? When will we come to terms with what has happened on this “land of the free?” Huge portions of our population are still waiting.