The present policy of the Government is but a continuation of the same progressive change by a milder process. The tribes which occupied the countries now constituting the Eastern States were annihilated or have melted away to make room for the whites. The waves of population and civilization are rolling to the westward, and we now propose to acquire the countries occupied by the red men of the South and West by a fair exchange, and, at the expense of the United States, to send them to land where their existence may be prolonged and perhaps made perpetual.
Andrew Jackson’s Address to Congress: “On Indian Removal,” 1830
“In practice, termination is used as a weapon against the Indian people in a modern war of conquest. Neither the Senecas nor the Colvilles were listed in the original discussion of termination by Acting Commissioner Zimmerman in 1947. Nor were these tribes listed in House Concurrent Resolution 108, which outlined termination and mentioned tribes eligible for immediate consideration.”
Vine Deloria, Jr., Custer Died For Your Sins, “The Disastrous Policy of Termination”
QUICK STORY: I had a conversation with one of my best friends after Donald Trump certified America’s racism (otherwise known as “The Election of 2016”). My dear friend is a tribal leader and brilliant; he tends to always see the big picture. He’s usually right. Therefore, when we disagree on something, I disagree knowing that he’s probably going to be right and change my mind. On the particular topic of Donald Trump’s presidency, I hoped he would be right, but I had every reason to know that he was wrong.
Me: You don’t mean it when you say you’re going to try to work with this guy, do you?
Dear Friend: We have to. We have to make bridges and not burn them.
Me: You don’t think that he’s already burned all the bridges? You’ve seen what he said about Natives. You’ve seen what he said about Mexicans. You’ve seen what he said about Muslims. He’s kinda shown us who he is. I think he’s going to hurt all brown-skinned people like he said he would. Why wouldn’t we believe him?
Dear Friend: I understand that. But hopefully that was all campaign rhetoric. He’s a dealmaker and maybe we can make some deals.
WHY DID I TELL YOU THIS STORY?
Native people have seen this before. We cannot work with Trump. We cannot make deals with him. History tells us that.
Trump isn’t showing us anything new. His plan to phase out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is 100% the same white supremacist spirit and energy that Native people have seen before. At one time it was called “Removal.” Later, it was called “Manifest Destiny.” In yet another generation, it was called “Assimilation.” It’s also been called “Termination,” “Dawes Allotment,” “Boarding Schools,” and many, many other insidious, sneaky names.
But it’s always the same effect: remove brown-skinned Indigenous people from sight. Relegate them to being fearful that they will be picked off and force them into hiding. That was the case when the Eastern Tribes desperately and brilliantly hid in caves, mountains and swamps to avoid being pushed toward Indian Territory. Those resourceful Native knew that if they were caught, they would be deported to a place that they had never seen before, that was not where they grew up.
That same evil spirit happened again when the white missionaries and then government officials came to kidnap Native children from their homelands. They would be deported to a place that was dedicated to killing the Indian and saving the man. Those people wanted to wipe the Indigenous stain off of the land and make it more appropriate for the encroaching white people.
Different fact patterns, different times, but the same spirit. The same energy.
Forceful removal. Racially profile brown-skinned, Indigenous people and push them someplace else. Out of sight.
And make no mistake: most of our sisters and brothers to the south are Indigenous. How do we know that? Well, the facts show that. To wit, in Mexico, Indigenous people make up 21.5% of the population. In Guatemala, 60 percent of the population is made up of indigenous peoples - more than 6 million inhabitants. Lots and lots of Indigenous people as a matter of public record.
But there’s also another simple way that we know that many of the folks down south are Indigenous: genetics. See, people from Spain are white Europeans. The brown comes from Indigena. Simple. Therefore when you see the folks who are being targeted by Trump’s racist policies regarding illegal immigration or “the Border,” make no mistake that he is talking only about Indigenous people. Indigenous people who moved north, south, east and west long before there were any borders going into the so-called United States or so-called Mexico. They may not be enrolled members of a federally recognized Tribe, but they are from these lands the same as so-called Native Americans are. And to the degree that Trump is allowed to remove them with impunity, it puts all Indigenous people—including enrolled members of federally recognized Tribes—in jeopardy. Native people from the US have to see ourselves in this cowardly move; this is about as close to home as it becomes before it is us. And for the non-Natives allies, you cannot be an ally of Natives within the US and not defend our Indigenous sisters and brothers to the south. Because it will be us next that this genocidal and racist administration comes after next. It has already played with the concepts of “privatization” much like in the moments leading up to Termination in the late 40s and early 50s. It will be us next. Promise.
The truth is that these “immigrants” have more right to be here than 90% of European Americans but there is, of course, no acknowledgment of that. They belong. No, they do not belong because no DACA recipients have felonies or because they walk on water or run a 3.8 forty-yard dash. Those are unfair and unrealistic standards that we do not apply to anyone else, like when we make the case for black lives by pointing out that a black youth who was shot by the police “was an honor roll student.”
They belong simply because Indigenous people have always moved around on Turtle Island.
And now our family is facing removal. Just like our ancestors. And it is vital that we understand these relationships that are older than time and older than borders and rely upon those relationships to help find some solutions in this crazy, white supremacist’s administration. No, we’re not going to be able to work with this clown. No, we’re not going to be able to find solutions with him. It is time to make our own solutions when he comes after our folks. Indigenous style.
Gyasi Ross is a member of the Blackfeet Nation and his family also comes from the Suquamish Nation. He is a father, a storyteller and co-host of the Breakdances With Wolves: Indigenous Pirate Radio podcast available on itunes, Soundcloud, etc.