Healing America’s Narratives: Trails of Tears and Broken Treaties

[Part of a series, this post is adapted from Chapter Four of Healing America’s Narratives: the Feminine, the Masculine, & Our Collective National Shadow (Now Available)]

Photo © by Boston Public Library on Unsplash

Some five-hundred-plus years ago, European explorers began bumping into land masses now known as South, Central, and North America and the islands of the Caribbean. The indigenous inhabitants of these areas include the Taíno, Aztec, Lakota, Yucatán, Iroquois, Inca, Nez Perce, Huron, Apache, Cherokee, Navajo, Olmec, Inuit, Toba, Quechua and Chibcha, among many, many more.

These peoples had been on these lands for some 10,000 to 20,000 years when the English, Spanish, Portuguese, and French met, interacted with, and eventually colonized them.¹ Slaughter, rape, removal, and betrayal often characterized the colonization process, which in contemporary parlance is a literal cancelation of people and culture. The invaders interpreted what was different as “lesser” (or, as some might say today, not “woke”) and perceived the unfamiliar humans as “innocents,” “savages,” or both.

A pattern emerged: arrival, intrusion, violence, commerce, acquisition of land through treaty, and acquisition of more land through violence and treaty betrayal. As more Europeans arrived or as something of value was discovered in or on the land, the Europeans and then the Americans broke treaties and took what they wanted.

In his enforcement of the 1830 “Act to provide for an exchange of lands with the Indians residing in any of the states or territories, and for their removal west of the river Mississippi,” Indian killer, slaveowner and president, Andrew Jackson, promised that “There, beyond the limits of any State, in possession of land of their own, which they shall possess as long as the Grass grows or water runs. I will protect them and be their friend and father.”² Estimates put the total number of humans removed during the 1830s at around 100,000, with 15,000 deaths along the way.³ Said differently, an infant, a child, a woman, or a man was forced to leave home 100,000 times and travel hundreds of miles in horrible conditions. More specifically, some 2,858 refugees were forced to travel some 1,200 miles by steamboat and some 12,496 were forced to travel by foot and wagon for 2,050 miles over three different routes.⁴ Their friend and father didn’t protect them.

That’s a synopsis of one example. Here’s a list of several more, among many: the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851 (broken amid a gold rush shortly after it was signed); the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre and the retaliatory 1866 Fetterman Massacre; the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 (broken in 1874 with the discovery of gold in the Black Hills, and again in 1877 with the Congressional “act to ratify an agreement with certain bands of the Sioux Nation of Indians and also with the Northern Arapaho and Cheyenne Indians” in direct violation of Article XII of the 1868 treaty, effectively taking the Black Hills without consent of 75% of adult male Indians).⁵

By 1890, the 60 million acres of the Great Sioux Reservation, as identified in the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty, had been reduced to about 22 million acres in 1877 due to government’s and prospectors’ interest in gold and other minerals, and then further reduced to 12.7 million acres through the Dawes (General Allotment) Act of 1887. The Dawes Act ended the tribes’ communal holding of land and allotted set acreage to individual Indians, who were required to farm the land for twenty-five years. Any land that was not so allotted would be sold to the public.⁶

Less than thirty years after the 1890 slaughter of some 150 children, women, and men at Wounded Knee, Choctaw men whose parents and grandparents had been removed from their land in the 1830s enlisted to fight in World War I and became the first “Code Talkers,” using their native language so enemy spies could not understand messages. Some thirty-three tribes, most famously the Navajo, would similarly serve in World War II.

Fast forward to 1980: the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that in 1877 the U.S. government had in fact illegally taken the Black Hills in violation of the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty. The ruling upheld a 1979 Court of Claims decision that called on the U. S. to pay $17.5 million plus 5% annual interest, which at the time totaled about $106 million. The Sioux refused to take the settlement, which is now worth more than $1 billion, asserting that the land was never for sale, that money was not just compensation, and that the value of the gold, timber, and other resources removed from the area is significantly greater than the money offered.⁷ The issue remains unresolved in 2022.

_____

1. Adam Rutherford. “A New History of the First Peoples in the Americas.” Atlantic. October 3, 2017, https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2017/10/a-brief-history-of-everyone-who-ever-lived/537942/. Accessed March 8, 2021. The article is adapted from Rutherford’s A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived: The Human Story Retold Through Our Genes. New York: The Experiment, 2017.

2. Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States 1492-Present, (Harper Perennial, 1999/1980), 133–34.

3. Elizabeth Prine Pauls, “Trail of Tears,” Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/event/Trail-of-Tears, Accessed February 10, 2021.

4. Claudio Saunt, Unworthy Republic: The Dispossession of Native Americans and the Road to Indian Territory, (W. W. Norton, 2020), 280.

5. Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, Article XII: https://www.archives.gov/milestone-documents/fort-laramie-treaty#transcript

6. Miles Hudson, “Wounded Knee Massacre,” Encyclopedia Britannica, December 22, 2020, https://www.britannica.com/event/Wounded-Knee-Massacre Also: The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, “Dawes General Allotment Act,” Encyclopedia Britannica, Dec. 4, 2019, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Dawes-General-Allotment-Act. Accessed April 23, 2021.

7. Numerous legal, historical and journalistic sources exist for this story. See Kimbra Cutlip, “In 1868, Two Nations Made a Treaty, the U.S. Broke It and Plains Indian Tribes are Still Seeking Justice,” Smithsonian Magazine, November 7, 2018, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/1868-two-nations-made-treaty-us-broke-it-and-plains-indian-tribes-are-still-seeking-justice-180970741/; and Tom LeGro, et al. “Why the Sioux Are Refusing $1.3 Billion”, PBS News Hour, August 24, 2011, https://www.pbs.org/newshour/arts/north_america-july-dec11-blackhills_08-23 Accessed May 4, 2021.

Healing America’s Narratives: Fear of the Feminine & the Subjugation of Women

[Part of a series, this essay is adapted from Chapter Three of Healing America’s Narratives: the Feminine, the Masculine, & Our Collective National Shadow (October 2022)]

Photo © by Katherine Hanlon on Unsplash

True for a boy as well, a girl born in 1774, 1862, 1917, 1963, 1971, 2001, 2017, 2022,* or any other year received cultural givens and expectations that were unique to the time, place, and familial, ethnic, racial, and financial circumstances of her birth and childhood. That she was born a biological female provided an additional given that would impact what was expected of and available to her.

While an investigation of any aspect of our collective national Shadow discloses disturbing manifestations of what we refuse to see in ourselves, the fear of the feminine and the subjugation of women are both disturbing manifestations and foundational elements of America’s Shadow. More to the point, it is the persistent absence of the qualities of the healthy feminine, further undermined by the relentless presence of the qualities of the unhealthy masculine, that encourages and amplifies and may very well be the primary cause of America’s collective Shadow. Specifying “healthy” and “unhealthy” above is essential to this argument.

The feminine, as used here, tends more toward a concern with care, embrace, collaboration, mercy, and compassion, among other traits; the masculine tends more toward a focus on rights, independence, individualism, justice, and wisdom. While this not an exhaustive list, notice that each tendency, whether it’s considered feminine or masculine, can be beneficial in its healthy manifestation and that all of them are descriptive, not prescriptive: we can observe them, but we’re not suggesting that any woman or man is “supposed to” embody the respective feminine or masculine tendencies in a certain way.

While the historical subjugation of women is visible to any honest person who is willing to look, the fear of the feminine manifests in less obvious ways. This essay posits that those men who primarily manifest unhealthy versions of masculine traits like rights, independence, individualism, justice and wisdom — which historically have resulted in dominance over, violence against, and subjugation of women and others — often fear healthy feminine traits like relationship, care, mercy, and compassion as emasculating rather than integrating. More specifically, cisgender, heterosexual males who historically have been conditioned to “be men” (i.e. stereotypically unhealthy masculine) experience both a strong attraction to the power of the feminine in women and a fear-of-emasculation-based aversion to the feminine in themselves. They mistake healthy feminine-masculine integration as emasculation, which terrifies them, so they subjugate what they fear.

The white, British, Christian, male founders and earliest leaders of the United States were captives of their cultural givens (as we all are of our own). Their Bill of Rights did not explicitly demonstrate any care about or for women; their Declaration of Independence did not embrace women; their proclamations of freedom and justice for all included no mercy for women, and the significant wisdom inherent in the Constitution they framed lacked compassion for women. These statements are true as well for the Africans they kidnapped, brought here, and enslaved, for their enslaved descendants, and for the native peoples whom they betrayed, expelled, and slaughtered.

And, yes, it’s easy to look from the third decade of the twenty-first century with the benefit of much of what these founders gave us and invited us to subsequently discover and amend, and point out where we think they came up short. They had the benefit of neither the documents they created nor the learnings from subsequent fits and starts of implementing those documents, as we do, in our 246 years of history. Their documents remain remarkable; their human shortcomings were real. Both are true. We have progressed in our movement toward equality for women; we still have a long way to go. Both are true.

*Selected (among many) years that directly or indirectly impacted the lives of girls and women:

  • 1774: two years before the nation’s ‘birth’;
  • 1862: the Emancipation Proclamations & three years before the Thirteenth Amendment freed enslaved women (and men);
  • 1917: three years before the Nineteenth Amendment would give women the right to vote;
  • 1963: two years before the Voting Rights Act would begin to enforce the Nineteenth Amendment, especially in the former slave states;
  • 1971: a year before Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 would make it illegal to discriminate based on sex in any educational or federally funded program;
  • 2001: the September 11 attacks impacted the direction of the country for women, girls, men, and boys;
  • 2017: a record number of women decide to run for Congress, and most of them win in 2018, many in response to the behavior of the U.S. president;
  • 2022: Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York continues her efforts, begun in 2013, to change the way sexual assault cases in the U.S. military are adjudicated.

“Enough with the…Talking Points” Chapter One: Who (You Think) You Are – The Culture Thing

In this interview, Reggie and Kent explore the role of “cultural givens” in how we engage in conversation.

“Enough with the…Talking Points: Doing More Good than Harm in Conversation” Chapter 1 – Kent Frazier interviews Reggie Marra.

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Grave & Goofy Poems: Narrative Healing in Uncertain Times – Episode 5

Welcome back!

In this 20-minute episode we’ll explore metaphor and simile – using comparison to explore one thing in terms of another. Toward that end, we’ll take a look at poems by Billy Collins and Jack Gilbert.

Grave & Goofy Poems – Narrative Healing in Uncertain Times – Episode 5: Comparision 4.22.20 from Reggie Marra on Vimeo.

Grave & Goofy Poems: Narrative Healing in Uncertain Times – Episode 3

Welcome back!

In this 13+-minute video, we’ll work with responding to or talking back to a poem – using someone else’s poem as a starting point, we’ll begin writing based on some aspect of the poem that resonates with us. In this episode we’ll use poems by Roque Dalton, translated by Jack Hirschman, Naomi Shihab Nye, and yours truly.

If you’d like a brief overview of what we’re doing here, please check out Episode 1, March 25, 2020.

Enjoy!

Grave & Goofy Poems: Narrative Healing in Uncertain Times Episode 3 – Responding to What Resonates 4.8.20 from Reggie Marra on Vimeo.

Grave & Goofy Poems: Narrative Healing in Uncertain Times – Episode 2

Welcome back!

In this 12-minute video, we’ll work with imagery – using sensory, concrete language that appeals to the senses.

If you’d like a brief overview of what we’re doing here, please check out Episode 1, March 25, 2020.

Enjoy!

Grave and Goofy Poems: Narrative Healing in Uncertain Times – Episode 2 / Imagery 4.1.20 from Reggie Marra on Vimeo.

Narrative Tradecraft #1 – Perspective

This post originally appeared at http://www.teleosis.org.

Perspective, or point of view – which I’ll use synonymously here, colors how we experience everything, and in many ways is the foundational element with which we work in our Living Poems, Writing Lives course. We engage various “tools” as both literary devices and as strategies for living our healing narratives in an intentional way. These devices include, and are not limited to, point of view/perspective, imagery, metaphor, diction, ‘music’, drama/conflict, theme, texture, revision and completion.

P1030093The point of view through which any one of us experiences and assesses his or her life emerges through a variety of factors that includes development within specific intelligences or developmental lines (e.g. cognitive, moral, spiritual, kinesthetic, emotional), personality, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, childhood (and adult) experiences, religious affiliation or lack thereof, health – in the broadest meaning of the word, and political affiliation – just to name a few, and also what we might call the center of gravity or general worldview that is the cumulative effect of these factors.  Trusting, for the sake of argument, that there are objective events in the world – the tree falls, the car starts, he drops the glass, the heart skips a beat, the train is late, the flower blooms – it is our point of view, the perspective through which we experience the event, that determines what meaning we give it and how we respond.

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