As the destination of the Trail of
Tears, Oklahoma has more Indians than most states. I've crossed the Trail of
Tears several times in my cross-country voyage. Each time, I yank out a $20,
see Andrew Jackson's mug, and wonder what drove him to do it.
The classic answer, that it was
just a land grab, doesn't make sense. With much less turmoil, Jackson could
have signed a piece of paper saying all the land was part of America and anyone
living on it were American citizens. In those days, America was a patchwork of
Italians, Irish, Germans, and such communities. We could have easily added
Cherokees, Seminoles, and so on to the patchwork.
Was it some sense of guilt that
drove Jackson to give land to the Indians to replace what had been stolen?
Doubtful. Europeans had a long history of trading real estate at the point of a
sword. Less well documented before the arrival of the pale faces, but so did
These days, racial or ethnic hatred
is the ready answer of the politically correct. But then why was not genocide
the logical answer, morally popular ever since the Jews wiped out the
Canaanites to grab their promised land? The 1800's was not a time of shy
Not that racism and bigotry were
unpopular, but if that is all that was required, why were there no black
By a process of elimination, I was
left with but one conclusion about them Indians, the ease with which it is to
call them "them". Whereas the Italians, Irish, and Germans embraced the melting
pot and were quick to call themselves Americans, the Indians held tightly to
their customs and culture, resisting assimilation at every turn. Consider how
an Italian-American is an American modified by the Italian adjective, but an
American Indian is an Indian modified by America. Whether this was moral or
justified, it bread an us-vs-them tribal mentality, endemic to humanity since
we swung through trees.
Once the walls are built, the
us-vs-them mentality contains within it the seeds of its own amplification. A
growth of love within the us community is easily matched by a hate of the them
community, particularly as the wall escalates ignorance and fear of
Modern day Palestinians understand
this when they look at Israel's wall, as did Adolf a few generations before.
The outlook would be bleak if it were not for the rest of the American
Not all that long ago, black &
white movies portrayed "them" Indians as fearsome savages ready to scalp
innocent farmers if not for the cavalry. Color movies and the introspection of
the 70's rehabilitated Indians and swung the pendulum in the other direction.
Indians became wise, close to nature, and admirable. A movie or book with an
Indian villain became a rarity.
Meanwhile, Indians came out of
their reservations to fight in America's wars with distinction, dot the roads
with casinos, and remove bricks from their own us-vs-them walls. Oklahoma's
country festivals are complete only with a few booths presenting Indian baskets
and dream catchers. I bought a flute made by a Choctaw so I could learn to
celebrate our exit from the us-vs-them spiral.
Of course the journey isn't
finished, but the world news is full of so many us-vs-them communities that
could learn to heal by how we Americans reached into our
Beaver Bend State Park
Atop Talimena Drive, Ouachita National Forest
Dawn mountains like rolling waves
A knee-slapping good time
Get back here so I can dance some more
|For more pictures of Oklahoma, click here.