The Pervasive Power of the Settler Mindset
January 8, 2020 7:28 AM   Subscribe

More than simple racism or discrimination, the destructive premise at the core of the American settler narrative is that freedom is built upon violent elimination.

In the spring of 1774, two members of the Shawnee tribe allegedly robbed and murdered a Virginia settler. As Thomas Jefferson recounts in Notes on the State of Virginia (1787), “The neighboring whites, according to their custom, undertook to punish this outrage in a summary way.”

In their quest for vengeance, the white settlers ambushed the first canoe they saw coming up the river, killing the one, unarmed man as well as all of the women and children inside. This happened to be the family of Logan, a Mingo chief, Jefferson says, “who had long been distinguished as a friend of the whites,” but who now took sides in the war that ensued. The Mingos fought—and lost—alongside the Shawnees and Delawares against the Virginia militia that fall, and Logan’s letter to Lord Dunmore after the decisive battle is, according to Jefferson, a speech superior to “the whole orations of Demosthenes and Cicero.”

posted by poffin boffin (8 comments total) 50 users marked this as a favorite
From its inauguration, then, American freedom was founded on this unrelenting vision of a frontier populated by unjust enemies. Jefferson’s founding brief for continuous expansionary warfare in the name of collective freedom has animated the country’s sense of itself ever since. It is, as political theorist Aziz Rana has noted, a foundational yet unexamined precept within U.S. accounts of political liberty—one that continues to define practices, institutions, and American ways of living that exact a violent toll.

Embarrassingly, this isn't something I'd thought about much. Yet it rings so true. I find it especially relevant to the situation in Iran at the moment. And of course the analogies currently being made to other USian interventionist history.
posted by arabidopsis at 7:42 AM on January 8 [7 favorites]

This article is gut-wrenching. Thank you for posting it.

My parents and ancestors did not grow up in this land. I was born in the US, and at some point made an active choice to live here in the US.

Sometimes I wonder what I am doing by living here. Imagine that you went to a friend’s party in a large house. During the party you realize that the parents of your friends are former home invaders who broke in and killed the former inhabitants of the house. They’ve been living in the house ever since. What kinds of friends do you have? How has their upbringing been shaped by this? Are you sure you want to be friends with them?

I live in the former territory of the Lenape tribe. I also have benefited from this country. US imperialism and military strategy and the US’s resulting relationship to South Korea plus a large part in why I am in the US, the same way that settler colonialism plays a large part in why others might be in the US.

What does grieving and mourning look like, I wonder? What does it mean to mourn a past and to deal with a so-called “melting pot” (not really) birthed on the backs of a violent eliminationist strategy? How do the inhabitants of a house mourn the future that could have been?
posted by suedehead at 8:12 AM on January 8 [19 favorites]

[One comment deleted. If you want to stay a member of Metafilter, do not come into posts like this with dismissiveness, who cares, well actually, or other responses like that. I'm giving you a 24-hour ban and a warning: you need to completely stop participating in this way or get banned for good.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 8:54 AM on January 8 [23 favorites]

In some ways Canada is even worse. Canadians in general pride themselves on how the country was founded by immigrants and still welcomes immigrants; how Toronto is >50% immigrant, and as a "mosaic" rather than a "melting pot" we don't just welcome diversity, we celebrate it.

Just so long as you're not indigenous. Everyone's Canadian ... except those who were here first. It's utterly gross, and the federal government is STILL pulling bullshit about it.
posted by seanmpuckett at 8:55 AM on January 8 [14 favorites]

And while the performance of settler guilt is useful on a political theater level, indigenous peoples are generally very practical. They know we're not leaving. What they want, in the absence of alternatives, is to be dealt with fairly, nation to nation. If the bounty of the land is to be shared, let it be shared equitably. If it's to be a country of laws, let the law be applied equally. If there's to be a system of welfare, let it go to the people who need it. And if Canada in particular is to be a mosaic, let the first tile in the mosaic be recognized and respected. In short, settler, live up to your own damn rhetoric.
posted by klanawa at 9:41 AM on January 8 [22 favorites]

This is a good reality check. I believe I was around ten years old when I began to perceive the dichotomy between white history and reality. I was born in the SW. I am white. My suspicions were further bolstered during my early teens; I lived for four years with a Navajo family, expats you might say, from their family's holdings in the four corners area, who moved to the San Joaquin Valley, in California--their four children were my age and a few years younger. They were for all purposes my brothers and sisters, as much so as the blood I shared with the siblings from my father and mother. I never really understood their tolerance for white people, though I am white. How could they bear their history? I guess the answer is that one must.

Anyhow, a peripheral effect of my upbringing was to sensitize me, both to expansionism and colonialization. I get the argument that goes something like, "yeah, well, what's done is done, and there's nothing to be done." That sounds good enough on the surface, except for the problem of how in the world we (descendants) might even begin to unravel the misdeeds our ancestors have visited upon, not just the native peoples of the land we inhabit, but us, their children; that is, we who have to live with the manifest sins of our fathers.

So far our enlightenend civilization has come up with the bright idea to just ignore what seems unpleasant. Well, that's the least offensive of the options we've taken. More active responses to our history involve rationalizations of several stripes, and minimization of the affects all those atrocities our fathers have committed in the name of whatever whim seemed to them to cover the ground. White guilt is a curse visited upon us. It makes us stupid and callus, unless we want to live in unearned shame or abiding outrage.

Below is Tahgahjute's letter to Dumore.

James Logan (c.1725–1780)

Born about 1725 died in 1780; his real name, Tahgahjute; by birth a Cayuga, but made a Chief of the Mingoes; lived for many years in western Pennsylvania; his family murdered by the whites in 1774; killed near Detroit in a skirmish with Indians.

(1774)Logan to Lord Dunmore:

I APPEAL [1] to any white man to say if ever he entered Logan’s cabin hungry, and he gave him not meat; if ever he came cold and naked, and he clothed him not. During the course of the. last long and bloody war Logan remained idle in his cabin, an advocate for peace. Such was my love for the whites that my countrymen pointed at me as they passed, and said: “Logan is the friend of white men.”

I had even thought to have lived with you, but for the injuries of one man. Colonel Cresap, [2] the last spring, in cold blood and unprovoked, murdered all the relations of Logan, not sparing even my women and children. There runs not a drop of my blood in the veins of any living creature.

This called on me for revenge. I have sought it. I have killed many. I have glutted my vengeance. For my country, I rejoice at the beams of peace. But do not think that mine is the joy of fear. Logan never felt fear. Logan will not turn on his heel to save his life. Who is there to mourn for Logan? Not one!

[Note 1] Lord Dunmore at this time was governor of Virginia. Logan’s speech was really a message sent to Dunmore by Logan through John Gibson, an Indian trader. There was war at that time between the Indians and whites on the western frontier of Virginia. Trouble had long existed in that region, but the killing of Logan’s family had now become the immediate cause of a general outbreak. The war was brought to a close on October 10 by the Battle of Point Pleasant, in which Logan is said personally to have taken thirty scalps. [back]

[Note 2] Colonel Michael Cresap, after whom this war has sometimes been named, tho it is more often called Lord Dunmore’s War, was not responsible for the murder of Logan’s family. Some white men, led by one Greathouse, a liquor dealer, murdered them.
posted by mule98J at 9:47 AM on January 8 [3 favorites]

It is hardly incidental that Michigan’s Oakland County Executive Brooks Patterson thought it apt, quite recently, to characterize inner city Detroit as a “reservation, where we herd all the Indians into the city, build a fence around it, and then throw in the blankets and the corn.”
Contaminated blankets.

The whole article is brilliant and relevant. Thanks for posting it.
posted by mumimor at 1:03 PM on January 8 [2 favorites]

The whole article is brilliant and relevant. Thanks for posting it.

Indeed. From the Ruins of Empire by Pankaj Mishra had a similar effect on me.
posted by kingless at 7:04 AM on January 9

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