Welcome to week seven of A People’s Readalong. A group of us (see the end of the post for the group, and please shout out if I’ve overlooked you) will be reading one chapter a week from Howard Zinn’s classic history book, A People’s History of the United States. We’ll be finished sometime in July.
**Important announcement: Jenners and I have made an executive decision to move to post every OTHER week (and in the interest of full disclosure, this is mostly to preserve the mental health of your beleaguered hosts, who are struggling with Zinn). We’ll still be reading a chapter a week, but the posts will be every two weeks. So after today, my next post will be March 12th, and it will feature chapters 8 and 9. You, of course, are free to do whatever you want.
Now onto this week’s reading, which was Chapter 7: As Long as Grass Grows or Water Runs. The title of the chapter comes from instructions given by President Jackson (who is pretty much the anti-Christ when it comes to Native American history):
“Say to the chiefs and warriors that I am their friend, that I wish to act as their friend but they must, by removing from the limits of the States of Mississippi and Alabama and by being settled on the lands I offer them, put it in my power to be such – There, beyond the limits of any State, in possession of land of their own, which they shall possess as long as Grass grows or water runs. I am and will protect them and be their friend and father.” p. 133-134
To which I say, “Liar, liar, pants on fire.”
I read this chapter as I was reading Rez Life, a book by David Treuer that talks about treaties and reservations (although that’s not the sole focus of the book…it’s just the part that intersected nicely with Zinn’s chapter). It was totally accidental, but made for a great companion read. Treuer’s book offers a lot more detail on treaty rights and broken promises and how the American government has used Native Americans and their lands throughout the history of this country. It’s also very readable and personal, as Treuer interjects quite a bit of his own family’s story into the book. In fact, he alternates between general history and personal history, so the book never gets bogged down with dry historical details. Like, you know, some other authors involved in this post.
Anyhoosie, the whole point of this chapter is to show how Native Americans were forced off of their land to accommodate not only the westward movement of Americans, but so that greedy capitalists could exploit the valuable land that the Native Americans inhabited. Lumber, minerals, and all sorts of natural resources were more valuable to the American government than the rights of the Native Americans, and therefore they were pushed off of their land and promised new lands in exchange (and for some tribes, this happened multiple times). And all the while, the US government maintained a paternalistic attitude toward the tribes, which they considered children. This attitude made it easy to justify the greedy land grabbing, because the government obviously knew best and was only acting in the best interest of the tribes (that attitude is totally illustrated by that above quote from President Jackson). The whole thing reminds me of when men tell women “don’t you worry your pretty little head about things.”
So that’s my take on chapter 7…what did you think?