Written out of history: the legacy of Native American slavery
June 24, 2019 10:02 PM   Subscribe

Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an executive order (PDF) Tuesday (June 18, 2019) apologizing on behalf of the citizens of California for a history of “violence, maltreatment and neglect” against Native Americans in a rare move that some tribal leaders said could begin a healing process for their communities. (Los Angeles Times) Now it’s Los Angeles’ turn to offer an apology. No other city in the state went further in the 1850s to strip away the rights of Indians, make their labor available to whites, and hasten the devastation of the Native American community in the city. (L.A. Times op-ed) But the enslavement of indigenous people was not a practice only in California, but throughout the Americas (Wikipedia), for hundreds of years, under various names and methods.
The enslavement of communities from North America and the Caribbean broke down entire nations, and irreparably erased cultural and political ecosystems. American schoolchildren are taught that smallpox was the epidemic that gutted Native American populations after exposure to Europeans; an illness to which they had no immunity ravaged their numbers. [Andres] Reséndez suggests nothing less than that the epidemic was actually the Europeans themselves.

A singular aspect of the enslavement of indigenous populations is the subterfuge involved: Several laws passed over the centuries forbade outright slavery, and much of the energy of slavers and governors went toward intricate justifications. "Explorers" — who often explicitly hoped to trade in human capital — claimed holy wars to bring heathen slaves to Christianity; provincial governors invented punitive indentures to staff their gold and silver mines. Systems sustained themselves through legal justifications and relied on social collusion that made emancipation more difficult — how could you emancipate someone who wasn't technically a slave? (However, this isn't just a study in victimization. Reséndez makes sure to note resistance within the communities; Indians who sued for their freedom, the Pueblo uprising of 1680, even Geronimo.)

It's unfortunate, though inevitable, that some of the facts under discussion have lost historical resonance amid the long-standing cloud of white defensiveness. The fact that some Native American nations sought to maintain autonomy by adapting European horse culture and becoming slavers themselves is an object lesson in the trickle-down horrors of colonialism, rather than "self-contained billiard balls colliding with one another on the frontier," as Reséndez puts it; sometimes he writes as if he knows that any engagement with Indian slavers is doomed to erase some of the nuance of his research. It's an unenviable task, handled well.
(NPR book review, for The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America)

Indigenous Slavery is an effort to create a database of enslaved indigenous people, and though not yet open to the public, the bibliography is informative, such as "Written Out of History: Contemporary Native American Narratives of Enslavement" (Anthropology Today, 2009, by Max Carocci; full article via Academia.edu), with a related short video via Intercontinental Cry.
posted by filthy light thief (8 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
The Other Slavery was previously listed in the 2016 National Book Awards Longlists post.

For a terrifying look at California's history, here's the complete State of the State address from Peter Burnett, the 1st Governor of California, delivered January 6, 1851, from the Governors' Gallery, part of the digital California State Library, from which I'll pull a longer quote than is commonly referenced:
The love of fame, as well as the love of property, are common to all men; and war and theft are established customs among the Indian races generally, as they are among all poor and savage tribes of men, as a means to attain to the one, and to procure a supply of the other. When brought into contact with a civilized race of men, they readily learn the use of their implements and manufactures, but they do not readily learn the art of making them. To learn the use of new comforts and conveniences, which are vastly superior to the old, is but the work of a day; but to acquire a knowledge of the arts and sciences, is the work of generations. Like the people of all thinly populated but fertile countries, who are enabled to supply the simplest wants of Nature from the spontaneous productions of the earth, they are, from habit and prejudice, exceedingly adverse to manual labor. While the white man attaches but little value to small articles, and consequently exposes them the more carelessly, he throws in the way of the Indian that which is esteemed by him a great temptation and a great prize; and as he cannot make the article himself, and thinks be must have it, he finds theft the most ready and certain mode to obtain it. Success in trifles but leads to attempts of greater importance. The white man, to whom time is money, and who labors hard all day to create the comforts of life, cannot sit up all night to watch his property; and after being robbed a few times, he becomes desperate, and resolves upon a war of extermination. This is the common feeling of our people who have lived upon the Indian frontier. The two races are kept asunder by so many causes, and having no ties of marriage or consanguinity to unite them, they must ever remain at enmity.

That a war of extermination will continue to be waged between the races until the Indian race becomes extinct must be expected. While we cannot anticipate this result but with painful regret, the inevitable destiny of the race is beyond the power or wisdom of man to avert.
In relation to Gov. Newsom's apology and executive order, most news coverage focused on the "war of extermination" phrase, probably because it was an easy quote that conveyed the core of the message, but the rest is damning for its justifications of genocide, somehow believing that it is civilized to exterminate other people.

From CALmatters is a nonpartisan, nonprofit journalism venture: Beyond Confederacy: California confronts its legacy of slavery and genocide, which opens with a reference to Assembly Bill No. 738, approved by the Gov, Brown on October 9, 2017, which required a model curriculum in Native American studies, written with the input of Native Americans, that schools could use as a guide for grades 9 through 12, and lists some of "California's founding fathers" (a phrase used without noting its inherent conflict) who were also instrumental in indigenous genocide, but whose names adorn cities and counties, and plenty of public schools.

San Jose Unified School District Renames School 'Ohlone Middle School' (NBC Bay Area, June 14, 2019, with a two minute auto-playing, auto-muted video)
Several members of the Ohlone tribe dressed in red to address the school board and after some public comment, it didn’t take long for members to make their decision.
Formerly named Burnett Academy. One less monument to genocide.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:18 AM on June 25, 2019 [7 favorites]

This is a good collection of links on a very under-examined topic, I look forward to exploring them. I'm not familiar with the scholarship on First Nations slavery in the US but here in Canada, Marcel Trudel's Canada's Forgotten Slaves is a good place to start on the topic for the Canadian context.
posted by Ashwagandha at 7:43 AM on June 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

Is Gavin Newsome running for president? Because if so, he’s got my vote. I know he’s far from perfect but after the Axios interview I watched yesterday he seems to have nailed the Republican’s to the wall on toxic masculinity.
posted by photoslob at 8:16 AM on June 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'm guessing you're joking, because he'd have to pull a Palin. He just started his four-year term as Governor this year.

It's good to have politicians making progress at all levels, not just in the White House.

And before anyone mentions reparations, like I was about to, Daniel R. Wildcat, a Yuchi member of the Muscogee Nation, has an article on Why Native Americans don’t want reparations:
... reparations have never figured prominently into American Indian calls for justice. Why?

The greatest harm done to us was the theft of land – our homeland – often accompanied by forced removals and under the cover of law. To American Indians, land is not simply a property value or a piece of real estate. It is a source of traditions and identities, ones that have emerged from centuries and millenia of relationships with landscapes and seascapes.

That territory is irreplaceable.

Reparations are ill-suited to address the harm and damage experienced by people who understand themselves, in a very practical and moral sense, as members of communities that include nonhuman life. For many Native Americans, our land (including the air, water, and biological life on which we depend) is a natural relative, not a natural resource. And our justice traditions require the restoration of our land relationship, not monetary reparations.
From the Washington Post, June 10, 2014
posted by filthy light thief at 8:47 AM on June 25, 2019 [6 favorites]

And our justice traditions require the restoration of our land relationship, not monetary reparations.

Case in point: the Lakota sued the federal government starting in the 1920s over the theft of the Black Hills in violation of multiple treaties and the Constitution. They finally won in court in 1980, when the Supreme Court awarded them over $100m. The tribe refused the money, has always refused the money, and it sits earning interest in a bank account somewhere.

The Lakota could do a great deal with whatever $100m in 1980 is worth now; but what they want is the Black Hills back. Unfortunately it would cost far more than $500m for the federal government to buy out all the private landowners and close the national parks and forests and return the land. I don't think it'll ever happen.

Accepting the cash means giving up their claims on the land, and the Lakota won't do it.

posted by suelac at 9:30 AM on June 25, 2019 [12 favorites]

Thank you. I've written some about chattel slavery in the United States and wanted to include an installment on Native American slavery, but thought the research daunting. It's good to see some folks sinking their teeth into it.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 9:58 AM on June 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

Thank you for sharing. Most Californians are probably unaware of these horrible laws.
posted by mundo at 2:17 PM on June 25, 2019

And our justice traditions require the restoration of our land relationship, not monetary reparations.

...I m pretty sure that s what a lot of peoples mean when we use the word reparations, though. I think the word for what all peoples won t accept is mitigation.
posted by eustatic at 5:39 AM on June 26, 2019

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