Clearing Up Misconceptions About IndiansIn the last post I said:
"Our money", meaning white people, meaning their taxes. I'll get back to this in the next post.this is a common misconception in Canada and when you read the excerpt below you will see it is also common in the US. People assume that there had to be wars between the Indians and white people and that treaties were surrender of land and rights by defeated peoples. There are a few like that, but most were the result of difficulties and misunderstandings and attempts at negotiating ways for the two sides to coexist peacefully. Here's an interesting little known fact, the US has broken every single treaty they have signed with Native people, every one. Indians did not give up land and resources, they made treaties and pacts protecting these things, and eventually white people simply overran them, took what they wanted, and ignored the treaties they signed in order to do so.
On to the excerpt from The Wabanakis of Maine and the Maritimes, copyright 1989 by the American Friends Service Committee, page A-21:
Between 1821 and 1839 the Maine Legislature authorized the harvesting of timber from Passamaquoddy land in violation of the 1794 treaty. Over the years, also in violation of the treaty, the Legislature authorized the sale or lease of various pieces of Passamaquoddy land without compensation and without consent of the Passamaquoddies. Several of the Penobscots' islands were sold without compensation, as well. In addition, in 1833, in violation of its own deed procedure as well as a former treaty, four townships or 95% of Penobscot land at the time, were transferred to the State of Maine.
In 1833 the Penobscot trust fund was established with the $50,000 that the State paid for the four townships. In subsequent years monies from the sale of timber, hay, and shore rights also went into this fund. The Passamaquoddy fund was established in 1856 by a deposit of $22,500 (for a lease of timber, grass, and power rights), the next year $5,225 was added, and in following years additional proceeds from the timber harvest on Passamaquoddy land were added. Interest on the deposits was supposed to be paid at six percent per annum. For a period of one hundred and ten years, from 1859 for Passamaquoddies (1860 for Penobscots) until 1969, no interest was ever paid, but rather went for the annual use of the Indian agensts.
The state's treatment of Indians was paternalistic, and the Legislature assumed the authority to make whatever decisions it thought necessary at any given time. Even the state courts fostered this attitude. In 1842, for instance, the highest court in Maine stated that "...imbecility on their [the Indians'] part, and the dictates of humanity on ours, have necessarily prescribed to them their subjection to our paternal control; in disregard of some, at least, of abstract principles of the rights of man."
People who had once lived in abundance were now impoverished, and wherever they went in the larger society they faced prejudice, discrimination, and injustice. Indians were lazy, it was said. Yet their livelihood had been taken from them. They lived on welfare, it was said. Yet the so-called assistance given to them was in fact income from the products taken from their land (hay and timber) or income from the rent or lease of their land. After 1930 the State of Maine arranged that this money be paid to the state; then it was passed on (not all of it, at times) to the Penobscots and Passamaquoddies. Thus, what was income was made to appear as welfare. During the nineteenth century Maliseets and Micmacs, who had always lived on both sides of the United States-Canadian border, lost their hunting territories in Aroostook County when Americans opened this area to settlement.
These kinds of things should be common knowledge, but instead it's the lies and misconceptions that are "common knowledge". The Wabanaki were nomadic within our territories. We travelled from campsite to campsite depending on the season, if the hunting was good we were in the woods, fishing and planting season we would have areas designated for that. When we were enclosed on reservations we could no longer sustain our livelihood and the white people over-hunted/over-fished/over-harvested the trees anyway which made it difficult even when we were allowed to roam. The Indian agents insisted that we become farmers instead, but gave us little training and would do things like deliver seed too late and too few for a good harvest anyway, and underpay us for our crops. Also, everytime we come up with an idea for a self-sustaining industry in order to get a little ahead it seems like white people step in and make up new rules and laws to stop us. This is what happens if we do try to run a forestry program or fisheries and now it is happening on the reservations that want to run casinos. There are lots of white people who were allowed to become millionaires doing these things but when we try it, suddenly they are worried about over-fishing and over-harvesting or morality where gambling is concerned and gotta have laws and regulations.
Basically, when white people pay taxes and some of that goes to Indians it is because of treaties that their leaders signed sometimes centuries ago. It isn't because Indians are welfare bums. You're forefathers assumed we would all assimilate or be killed off and didn't think they would be paying so long. And now you want to forget that these treaties exist and just "let bygones be bygones". It's always the ones who made fortunes on the backs of others who want to forget history and what is owed. They take everything away and then tell you to pull yourself up by your bootstraps, only they took the bootstraps too. To those who say that your ancestors weren't here to steal from Indians (or that your ancestors didn't own slaves) you still benefit, your family benefitted too. You are probably living on stolen land right now and getting cheap resources because your government is still giving away what is ours for pennies on the dollar to oil companies, wood processors, mining, etc on our land. Yes, even now.
One last thing, alot of times white people say that Indians have no concept of ownership so it was okay for them to come in and take the land in a free for all anyway. But when you look at maps in history books do you notice they always have boundaries for the territories in which you will find certain tribes? That's because we didn't have ownership in the way that white people mean, individuals having deeds for specific plots of land, but we knew where our territory began and ended and unless we either asked permission or were looking to start a war we didn't cross into other peoples' territory.