This newspaper’s Nov. 25 editorial (“Our View: Thanksgiving story shouldn’t erase the past,” Page A8) as well as the article by Associated Press reporter Collin Binkley (“Thanksgiving lessons jettison Pilgrim hats, welcome truth,” Page B6) in the same edition both provide some insight into the horrific national tragedy resulting from the intersection of Native Americans and European white colonialists and settlers that began in the early 1600s and prevailed as U.S. government policy through the 1800s.

Systemic racism has been the prevailing force introduced by successive waves of white populations “discovering” the American continent and claiming it for themselves. As heinous as slavery was during much of the same period, the cruelty and crimes perpetrated upon Africans are arguably exceeded only by the relentless elimination of Indigenous peoples by settlers, soldiers and the U.S. government from “sea to shining sea.” Tens of thousands of so-called “savages” were massacred, and those who survived were displaced far from their homelands. In a particularly ironic tragedy, Black Civil War veterans were enlisted by the Army as “Buffalo Soldiers” to aid in the destruction of Native communities in the West.

The clash of cultures was extreme. Native warriors, though esteemed for their fighting prowess in sporadic battles with neighboring tribes, generally lived in peace, and thus never understood why white people seemed to be in a constant state of war, killing at random without provocation. Equally mystifying to them was the insatiable greed white people had for acquiring land, while Native Americans had lived for centuries across a vast continent without any claim to private ownership of land.

A major occupation of white Europeans throughout much of the 1700s and 1800s was to fight Native Americans. In this role, they were not content in their attempt to annihilate dozens of Eastern Indian nations all the way to the Mississippi River; they subsequently continued to do the same to both Indians and Mexicans throughout the West and to the Pacific coast. This cause was euphemistically referred to as “manifest destiny,” driven by a Calvinistic zeal that convinced the new Americans they were doing God’s work to establish a unique and exceptional country. Many of our prominent national figures, including several presidents, most notably, Andrew Jackson, are still honored today even though their main claim to fame was to systematically exterminate Native Americans.

The Press Herald editorial seems to suggest that the primary conflict was between Indians and Pilgrims over several decades in the early 1600s when, rather, it was an epic and ongoing struggle lasting well over 300 years. A frequent reaction to recent efforts by educators and historians to provide more authentic accounts is reflected in Arkansas Republican Sen. Tom Cotton’s demeaning comment quoted in the accompanying AP story “Thanksgiving lessons …” (“… revisionist charlatans of the radical left”).

But, in fact, our legacy is largely one of occupation and intervention (The Philippines, Hawaii, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, to name a few), fueled by a strong conviction of white superiority and a goal of territorial dominance. The U.S. controls approximately 750 bases worldwide, and deploys nearly 200,000 troops in about 140 countries. And incidentally, to this day, the U.S. military refers to combat zones as “Indian Country.”

For those readers who are skeptical of the veracity of what I write here, I recommend reading “An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States,” a remarkable and reliable book by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz. It is a heartbreaking account of what she straightforwardly refers to as genocide, but it is also a necessary story to better understand the injustices of our past in hopes of achieving greater justice for our citizens in the future.

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