If you’ve ever taken American history, you know it’s an understatement to say Native Americans got the short end of the stick. Since they make up only 1 percent of the American population, many of us do not think about the trauma that Native Americans have to deal with on a daily basis. As a result, we can be insensitive to their losses and hurts.
This year’s TruEMU campaign features several successful alumni. One of the power statements of the selected alumni proclaims, “I manifest my own destiny.” This may seem like a harmless statement in today’s context. It means that the individual is taking charge of her life to make her dreams a reality.
But to bring back the term “Manifest Destiny” from high school history class, this was the policy the U.S. Government implemented in the 1800s to justify westward expansion and the removal of Native Americans from their homelands. It was the mindset that European colonizers had a “divine destiny” from God to take the lands from sea to shining sea.
This policy was also fueled by the expansionist ideology that lead to the war with Mexico and the Spanish-American War.
Somewhere along the line, the white man’s burden got thrown into the mix. There was an urgent passion to “educate” and “civilize.” In the words of Captain Richard Pratt of the U.S. Army, who established the infamous Carlisle boarding school, “Kill the Indian, and save the man.”
The embodiment of this phrase led to the elimination of 96 percent of the indigenous population of America. It led to intergenerational trauma as a result of the generations who experienced the government-sanctioned boarding schools, the last of which was not closed until 1980. It led to the ban on native languages and religions. Currently, many tribes are struggling to bring back their culture.
In addition to these problems, Native Americans today must contend with outside perceptions and stereotypes and with cultural appropriation. They suffer the indignity of being used as mascots for teams – our own university switched our mascot from the Huron Tribe to the Eagle in 1991. They must also deal with watching children dress up as Native Americans for Halloween, as though the cultural traditional clothing has little more importance than decorative purposes.
Native Americans have suffered through all of this and more. The language has evolved such that we can casually use the term today and the average American doesn’t think twice about it.
The term “Manifest Destiny” can be used so casually it just adds salt in the wound for Native Americans.
It’s time that we move past the passive acknowledgement of past crimes and focus on what we can do today. While we can never fully compensate Native Americans for their losses, we can dignify them with proper acknowledgement of history.
Our educational system and mass culture should stress the significance of this term and the history behind it that made it possible for such atrocities as the boarding schools to mar our history.
Certainly the individual who used the term “Manifest Destiny” in her power statement did not mean offense or callousness. But aside from the political correctness in avoiding casual use of the term, let’s respect the pain experienced by the indigenous people of this country.
It’s the very least we can do.
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