"Common sense in dealing with natives has seldom prevailed in the 400 years since Jamestown given that Indians, like Europeans, vary considerably from tribe to tribe, from age to age and from person to person.
The history began with treaties between advancing white settlers and involuntarily retreating tribes or "sovereign nations" of Indians. What typically happened in the 19th century was that an Indian massacre of isolated settlers, magnified in the white imagination by fear and propaganda, led to what we would now call ethnic cleansing of whole regions of the United States.
When the Indian Wars ended in the 1890s, most Indians were isolated on reservations, far from their ancestral lands, often in places not conducive to their way of life. Today, Indians' case for betterment has a greater claim on American justice than that of any other sometimes discriminated-against minority group.
But history is richer and more complex than the simple parables by which it is taught. A pertinent fact to know is that the Cherokee, Creek and Seminole owned black slaves, and the Cherokee fought with the Confederacy in the Civil War. The Reconstruction Treaty of 1866 required these tribes to grant citizenship to their former slaves. But in 2007 - flush with power and money from gaming rights - the Cherokee voted to expel 2,800 black members.
Republicans did not settle for six-figure swindles. The congressional scandal, for which Jack Abramoff is now doing time for scamming various Indian tribes out of an estimated $85 million, cost Tom Delay his majority leadership and seat in Congress, and rightly, I think, cost the Republicans the House of Representatives in 2006.
What are we to conclude? The Cherokees' recent vote to exclude their black members isn't unique: Tribes can, and do, delimit their membership. It has jokingly been said that as gambling profits have skyrocketed, tribes' "membership drives" have been efforts to "drive members out.""
Get the Story:
David A Mittell: Corruption of the Native American
(The Patriot Ledger 8/8)