In a very fundamental way, the genocidal actions taken by the United States throughout its history to eliminate the Indigenous peoples within its borders reflects one of the defining characteristics of what it means to be an American. America is an immigrant nation and its history is one of taking pieces of humanity from all over the world and reassembling them into a new and vibrant society. To achieve success in this process has required that American culture have as one of its critical components a cultural grinding mechanism that easily effectuates the transformation and assimilation of immigrant populations. Anthony Kronman, the Yale Law School Dean, has identified these “disintegrative forces” within American society as; privatization, “the tendency in a large free enterprise economy” for individuals “to concern themselves exclusively with their own welfare”; specialization, the “inexorable tendency to separate those in different lines of work and to reduce their fund of shared experiences;” alienation, “the sense of detachment from one's work, and secondarily from other human beings;” and forgetfulness, “the loss of a sense of historical depth, the consequent disconnection of the present moment à from all that went before or is to follow.”
Being subjected to these forces of cultural transformation and assimilation is only legitimate if one consciously and willingly consents to it. Unfortunately, Indigenous people in the United States never freely consented to being absorbed into American society. Immigrant peoples, by virtue of leaving their home nations, obviously did so. The fact that most Indigenous people today may not even comprehend the magnitude of how much they have been assimilated into American society by these disintegrative forces does not obviate the underlying injustice of the genocidal act that have been taken to bring it about.
Thus, if Indigenous peoples in the United States are to remain a distinct part of humankind, then much of that distinctness--including the distinctness of political loyalty--must be consciously preserved and recognized. While this will require action on the part of the United States as well as the Indigenous nations, there should be no doubt that eliminating the forces that continue to threaten a distinct Indigenous existence rests primarily with the party that created them in the first place--the United States. Unfortunately, in an era when too many Indigenous people support the current American president's efforts to ensure that “we become one America in the twenty-first century,” it may no longer be possible to mount the collective effort necessary to induce such corrective action.
Thomas Jefferson accurately predicted how these uniquely American influences would affect Indigenous people. In a speech to the Delawares, Mohiccons and Munries, he advocated that Indians should abandon the traditional way of life and choose to live like Americans. He reasoned that
once you have property, you will want laws and magistrates to protect your property and persons, and to punish those among you who commit crimes. You will find that our laws are good for this purpose; you will wish to live under them, you will unite yourselves with us, join in our great councils and form one people with us, and we shall all be Americans; you will mix with us by marriage, your blood will run in our veins, and will spread with us over this great island.
Against the backdrop of what has transpired during the last 200 years, it is hard to deny that Jefferson accurately predicted what would become of the Indigenous population.
Associate Professor of Law and Director of the Tribal Law and Government Center, University of Kansas. Chief Justice, Sac & Fox Nation of Missouri. Member (Heron Clan) and former Attorney General of the Seneca Nation