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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Changing American Presidential Perception of Native Americans

Last year in Nov of 2013, President Obama welcomed for the fifth time 566 federally recognized tribal leaders to the White House Tribal Nations Conference. As early as 2009 Obama showed an honest interest in not only the Native American vote, and his next re-election bid, but also in re-building a positive connection between the original American indigenous population, and the traditionally mistrusted by Native Americans -  American Federal Government.

The American President of the past mirrored the common white settler or soldier's overly negative mistrust and blatant dislike for the Native American.  George Washington compared them to wolves and as beasts. Andrew Jackson was quoted as saying the Native American had neither intelligence nor moral habits. With such presidential condoning of racism and fear mongering towards the original inhabitants of North America, it’s plain to see how easy it was for the governments of the time to remove, eliminate a perceived threat from the Indian, and exterminate when necessary the Native American peoples’ in such a grand scale that Adolf Hitler would certainly truly appreciate its evil magnitude.

Of course it would take decades and even centuries for an American president to acknowledge the simple fact that Native Americans were the only ones technically here first when President Franklin Roosevelt said that only full blooded Indians were native to this country, and everyone else was basically an immigrant or a descendant of immigrants. As you can imagine, at that time in history Franklin Roosevelt was certainly courting the immigrant vote and not the Indian one, but at least it was a nice mention.

By the late forties and early fifties, American Indians had become an American Christian duty to civilize the old perceived savage into a non-scary educated member of society. Unfortunately again for the Native American, this new found white Christian perception of the Native American Indian was nonnegotiable by the Indians themselves. Once more Native Americans were forced into unbearable circumstances in the form of religious boarding schools in order to let Christ himself cast the savage demons from them. Decades of this practice were echoed in President Harry Truman’s  words on the American Indian when he stated:

"The United States, which would live on Christian principles with all of the peoples of the world, cannot omit a fair deal for its own Indian citizens."

Truman seemingly was tired of the old Indian Office’s bureau style education and land use regulations perpetrated on the Indians under their supposed care, but President Truman was still of the popular belief at the time that total assimilation was the only hope for the survival of the Indian race. As a consequence of this misguided perception of what the American Indian’s true needs were, many reforms and subtle breakthroughs in Indian rights and recognition were swept aside to accommodate Truman’s way of thinking towards Native Americans.

Forms of this assimilation theory towards the North American Indian populous remained all the way into the Reagan years when then President Ronald Reagan, obviously in his “clueless years”  stated that maybe America had made a mistake and shouldn't have humored the American Indian in their wanting to stay in such a primitive lifestyle – Why didn't they just come out of the reservations and join us in the cities and be good citizens right alongside us?

To re-iterate the Republican perception of the plight of the Native American Indian some years later, with a quote from the incredibly knowledgeable on the subject, George W. Bush:

"Tribal sovereignty means that. It's sovereign. You're a… you're a… you've been given sovereignty and you're viewed as a sovereign entity."

Which otherwise means they basically got nothing coming from the Bush administration.

Barack Obama has at least seemed to have ironically fulfilled one of his promises in both his presidential terms, the promise of choice in American inclusion, rather than past forced exclusion, assimilation, or threatened extermination for the Native American.

"We also recommit to supporting tribal self-determination, security, and prosperity for all Native Americans. While we cannot erase the scourges or broken promises of our past, we will move ahead together in writing a new, brighter chapter in our joint history." - Barack Obama