Saturday, March 5, 2011
Recently, I have been reminded of another, much larger, but more quiet invasion. That was the American expansion that displaced and dominated the American Indian tribes, forcing them into land no one wanted.
In roughly a century and a half, American settlers, businessmen, adventurers, missionaries, politicians, fortune seekers, and soldiers pushed across the American continent, settled in it, and claimed lands long occupied by the Indian tribes. It was a massive, quiet invasion.
Today criticisms about American expansion are rampant from commentators like Glenn Beck who on his website claims Andrew Jackson was “… the guy who went in and just started slaughtering the Indians,”1 to prominent Christian writers, like Shane Claiborne, who highlight our injustice to the Indians. (“Forgive us Lord, for stealing the land: Have mercy and set us free.” 2)
Was it really that bad? After doing some reading, I make these observations:
- It is true that the settlers did the Indians wrong. Time and again our forefathers mistreated them; for example the displacement of the Cherokee nation, -- "the trail of tears," which had elements we would associate with the Bataan Death March of 1942.
- Often the greed of the common man, government officials, commercial interests, corrupt Indian agents, or biased legal decisions violated agreements. Treaties were constantly broken and new ones made.
- The colonial population of 4.5 million at the end of the Revolution jumped to 12.5 million in 30 years, thus creating conditions where “the westward pressure for more land was enormous” 3
But it is also true that…
- The Indians were largely nomadic, hunters with relatively few people claiming vast territories; their culture was different from the European, farming, and individual plot of land mindset. As often happens today, the two cultures missed each other.
- Extensive efforts were made to treat the Indians fairly. The US government generally espoused policies respecting Indian rights and land ownership
- There was a core of Americans who felt the Indians should be treated justly and generously. Among them were Christians like Episcopalian Bishop Henry B. Whipple and government appointed Indian agents like William Bent (Left and second from left).
- There were Indians who bucked the system and sought peaceful co-existence with the whites, like Black Kettle of the Cheyenne
But what do we do with the reminders that we stole the land? How does it help us to see a past President and American hero as evil? Should I apologize to an American Indian? Maybe. It wouldn’t hurt.
Human history has been interwoven with invasion and conquest. The Europeans who subjugated the tribes of North America had themselves been conquered earlier.
Is it better then, to forget what happened to the Indians? Turn off Beck and Claiborne? No. I don’t think so.
As a nation, like an individual, remembering our sins can help or hurt us. Remembering helps when it humbles us, stirs us to want to change, warns us not to repeat those things, and when it makes us realize our need for God. Remembering hurts us when we can only see how bad we are, and when there is no hope of redemption.
1 - http://www.glennbeck.com/content/articles/article/198/48248/
2 - Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Enuma Okoro, “February 8.” In Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010) 137
3 - Ezra Bowen, Edit. The Indians. (New York: Time-Life Books, 1973.) 157
Quotes of Note ... The Invisible World
“Spiritual warfare is learning to recognize the strategies, refusing to cooperate with them, and aggressively cutting off the schemes of the devil in Jesus’ name.” Dean Sherman
“those who protest that God cannot exist because there is too much evil evident in life… Evil exists; therefore, the Creator does not. That is categorically stated… If evil exists, one must assume that good exists in order to know the difference. If good exists, one must assume that a moral law exists by which to measure good and evil. But if a moral law exists, must not one posit an ultimate source of moral law, or at least an objective basis for a moral law? By an objective basis, I mean something that is transcendingly true at all times, regardless of whether I believed it or not.” Ravi Zacharias
“But the Devil is no big threat to God’s purposes; he is not even remotely comparable in power. He has been given a limited time before his final judgment to try to prove his case, just as all other moral beings who have chosen to live in rebellion against heaven.” W.A. Pratney