by Maison Allen
What if Europeans never settled in North America? Would the land in this country have remained unharmed? Would the environment be in better condition than it is today?
Unlike colonists, the Native people did not treat the Earth as a consumable good.
While there is no way to answer these questions, taking a look at the way Indigenous people lived suggests that the Earth would be in much better condition. Native Americans have a long history of living a sustainable life and treating the Earth with great respect. Historically, the Indigenous people of this country used the land’s resources in order to live. The Earth is sacred to them and they think of themselves as connected to the land. Unlike colonists, the Native people did not treat the Earth as a consumable good and they were (and still are) respectful of nature. Even today, Native Americans continue to be conscious of the Earth and the human race’s place on it. Ever since the Europeans came here and stole this land from the natives, our environment has suffered immense damage. And with the damage to the Earth, also came the damage to the Native Americans who lost all they had because of the colonists. Colonialism was, undoubtedly, devastating to both the Indigenous tribes and the land.
Colonialism was… devastating to both the Indigenous tribes and the land.
Colonialism is “the practise of invading other lands & territories, for the purpose of settlement and/or resource exploitation.” This is what the European settlers did centuries ago when they came to America. Un- fortunately, it is still discussed with a select narrative that diminishes the importance of what occurred. When learning about the 13 colonies and the beginnings of a new country, “colonialism” might not have seemed like a bad word.
The often-told story relates how Europeans fleeing religious persecution built settlements in the United States. But colonialism is a “war for territory”, and the war fought on this land long before the colonists demanded freedom from England is often ignored. As the colonists expanded their territory, they displaced Native American tribes. In reality, the two cultures’ combat over this territory resulted in horrific events, such as the Trail of Tears and the Black Hawk War. The settlers’ perceived entitlement to this land continues to be prevalent today. The ramifications of colonialism continue to leave Indigenous people with no acknowledgment of the past, as well as no justice now.
Historians speculate that the colonists feared the Native Americans, and there were even some officials who wanted to “civilize” them. During his presidency, George Washington began initiatives that forced tribes to convert to Christianity and learn English in order to “civilize them”, and southern colonists frequently removed tribes from their territory to use the land for cotton farming. Andrew Jackson led a brutal campaign to take land from the Natives. While there were laws in place establishing peaceful transactions for treaties, Jackson used military force and violence to remove Natives, leading to events like the Trail of Tears. As a result, the Indigenous people were pushed to the corners of this land, losing many lives in the process.
In the United States, even though colonialism began about three centuries ago, Indigenous people are still facing the ramifications of losing their land. Treaties with the Indigenous people have been ignored and they continue to lose their land rights, as exemplified by Standing Rock, North Dakota. The government and oil companies were pushing plans to construct the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) through Native American land. Since the beginning of 2016, Native Americans have been peacefully protesting the construction while police forces sprayed them with tear gas and fire hoses. Many feared that the pipeline would cause contamination to the water supply in Stand- ing Rock, which is not an uncommon occurrence. The pipeline is also a massive environmental concern that seems to be ignored by those in favor of it. In fact, in November of 2017, the pipeline leaked 210,000 gallons of oil, making it the state’s largest oil spill to date. But even with this legitimate concern, the pipeline construction proceeded and today, the Native Americans’ rights to their land are being denied.
People are trying to correct the wrongdoings of our ancestors. Some have started initiatives to combat colonialism through land acknowledgement, a bold and necessary idea. For example, in many Australian universities, lectures are prefaced by “Welcome to Country”, which acknowledges Indigenous people’s rights to land. The U.S. needs to follow this practice; rather than trying to hide or erase our country’s history, let’s make conscious efforts to bring it to light.
In order for our communities to truly be sustainable in every sense of the word, we need to respect Indigenous people. We can never eradicate the devastation Native Americans faced because of colonialism, but we can start to heal the wound by making conscious efforts to acknowledge their struggles. We need to respect their sovereignty while celebrating their culture and the land.
by Maison Allen
Maison is a junior at Moravian College, where she studies Communications and Social Influence.
(Essays express the ideas of the individual authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Alliance.)