Monday, January 28, 2008

Apologies to Indigenous Populations

Australia's doing it. A step in the right direction. Check out the news reports.

Some of those viewer comments on the article are harsh! Whew! This is definitely a controversial issue. Very interesting how such a majority of the viewer responses are negative.

The USA isn't anywhere close to a similar gesture. Professors debate over the semantic definitions of genocide, and whether it applies to European colonists' actions in the USA. Sometimes it applies, perhaps usually, clearly not always... etc. We miss the point.

I was out of college before I realized that the Native American tragedies were comparable to anything that happened or is happening in the Middle East, Balkans, NYC, Central Africa, Central Europe, South Africa, East Asia, South America, the Philippines, or anywhere else. It was ugly, and I should have known earlier.

I am convinced that if I had discussed this issue more in elementary school and junior high, then I would have developed better, deeper morals and a better understanding of the world. I would have a more useful sense of falliblism about authority figures, especially governments, which would have really improved the quality of my education and life.

Two components are needed to discuss this issue appropriately. A basic moral framework, and very basic historical facts. Let's look at the Ballad of Davy Crockett for our moral framework.

Verse 7:
He give his word an' he give his hand
that his Injun friends could keep their land
An' the rest of his life he took the stand
that justice was due every redskin band
Davy, Davy Crockett, holdin' his promise dear!

So we recognize that according to our values system, European settlers were supposed should have given Native Americans fair treatment. Of course, that's not what happened. Examples: The Indian Removal Act that Crockett opposed. the Treaty of Fort Laramie with four tribes in the modern Dakotas. We didn't do too well in California. For something really graphic, consider Bartholomew de las Casas's description of the 16th century conquistadores, first published in 1552. And the rest of the country wasn't that much better. Even the Quakers had their low points.

Even little kids can understand these unfair events and basic contradictions. If they realize how fallible their government's decisions have been, maybe they'll take more responsibility for future decisions.

Which brings us back to the Ballad of Davy Crockett.

Verse 4:
Andy Jackson is our gen'ral's name
his reg'lar soldiers we'll put to shame
Them redskin varmints us Volunteers'll tame
'cause we got the guns with the sure-fire aim
Davy, Davy Crockett, the champion of us all!

Now, varmints is the same word as vermin, which "describes farm pests which raid farms for livestock" (from wikipedia). Calling people varmints. And this is a song that kids sing all the time. I grew up on the Ballad. Kind of like how I grew up saying "Get your cotton-picking hands off my computer!"

As long as people get excited and feel justified in killing other people, we aren't going to fix abortion, and we aren't going to fix poverty. We need to teach our kids to develop personal integrity and moral values, and not to blindly follow authority figures like lemmings.

We need to stop feeding kids the Santa Claus fairy tales of Thanksgiving and instead do some real-life reconciliation work like Kevin Rudd of Australia, so we can give them some optimism that isn't founded on half-truths.

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