Where Jefferson believed in trying to cajole Native people to sell their land, President Andrew Jackson favored taking it by force. As a young man, Jackson had profited enormously from buying Chickasaw land and opening it to white settlement. He held extremely racist views about Native people, whom he had brutally fought in the early 1800s. He expressed a desire to “distroy” [sic] the indigenous population, asserting that it was actually his duty to do so. Jackson was “revered as a hero of Indian wars,” and elected president in 1828.
Throughout the book, Takaki illuminates the horrifying reality of the racist views held by presidents and other leaders across American history. While some may argue that President Jackson was a “product of his time,” Takaki pushes readers to think critically about the ways in which US presidents are often revered within the educational system, and what this means to people of color.
Once in office, Jackson claimed it was not within his power to intervene when states violated treaties they’d made with tribes or forced laws on indigenous communities. In 1832, the Supreme Court ruled that states could not impose their jurisdiction in this way, but Jackson refused to implement this ruling. He did not believe that Native people could be integrated into settler society, and thus established an area west of the Mississippi river where Native people could live freely and govern themselves. He advised Native communities to move there, saying that they should make the same sacrifice of abandoning their ancestral homeland and European settlers had done.
This passage shows that segregation and integration do not align neatly with racism and anti-racism. Throughout history, there have been both racist and anti-racist segregationists, who believe that Native people should live separately from white people for different reasons. Meanwhile, there have likewise been those who want an anti-racist form of integration, and those who hope to eliminate the existence of ethnic populations by assimilation.
Jackson characterized Native people as “children” and said he wanted to treat them fairly, like a parent should. However, he did not regret the enormous number of Native deaths that had thus far occurred as a result of colonization. The area he was clearing by pressuring Native people to move would become the home of the Cotton Kingdom. The land-allotment program, which was originally established by Jefferson, was the main way in which land was taken from the Creek, Chickasaw, and Choctaw tribes.
It is obvious here that the claim to see a particular group of people as “children,” besides being infantilizing, is a way of disguising extreme cruelty and control as love. What Jackson really wanted was to have absolute control over Native people, making all their decisions for them, in order to remove them from American society and, eventually, exterminate them completely.
For example, the 1805 Choctaw treaty aimed to turn Choctaws into farmers, ignoring the fact that the tribe had an advanced agricultural system long before colonization. Before settlers arrived, they were a communalist people, who shared everything from each harvest with the whole community. After the establishment of the American settler colony, some Choctaw became rich through land ownership and owning enslaved people. In 1830, the sovereignty of the Choctaw nation was overridden by the Mississippi state government. No longer sovereign on their own land, the Choctaw reluctantly signed the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek, handing their land over to the US.
The genocide of Native people also almost erased many indigenous ways of life. One of the most significant of these was the communalist practice of only using the resources needed by the community, and sharing everything equally between everyone. Takaki points out how this practice stands in stark contrast to the forms of capitalist accumulation, profit-seeking, exploitation, and unequal distribution practiced by settlers.
At this point, white settlers simply started moving onto Choctaw land and claiming it as their own. Meanwhile, a large number of Choctaw began their move west, filled with unbearable sorrow at the prospect of leaving their homeland. The journey was difficult, and many died en route. To observers, it was clear that the white settlers orchestrating the move west were slaughtering the Choctaw without having to do so directly. The Choctaw felt that in leaving their home, they’d chosen the less of two evils, although in this sense they’d hardly had a choice at all. The tribe sued the government for making a $3 million profit on the sale of Choctaw land when they had promised not to do so. Although the Choctaw won, almost all the compensation money went to their lawyers.
The fate of the Choctaw illustrates the situation of utter powerlessness indigenous people were forced into. Takaki shows how, at the whims of a government who were (at best) completely indifferent to whether they lived or died, the Choctaw suffered enormously. Moreover, even when they tried to fight their mistreatment through the settlers’ legal system, it ultimately proved fruitless due to the exorbitant cost of their lawyers’ fees. There was simply no way for them to receive justice.
Like the Choctaw, the Cherokee Nation had been told that their sovereignty was no longer respected, and that they would have to comply with the laws of the state of Georgia. They were also “given the option” to go west, but at first they refused to abandon their homeland. Chief John Ross pleaded with President Jackson, calling him “Father” and imploring him to honor earlier promises to the tribe. However, this did not work, and in 1835 a treaty was signed selling Cherokee land to the US for just over $3 million. This was done largely in secret and against the will of most people in the Cherokee Nation.
Here, Takaki shows that the supposed choices presented to indigenous nations were not choices at all. Similarly, the idea that they consented to giving their land away was also false; Takaki shows how, even where there was the appearance of an agreement, in reality the situation Native people were in was already so compromised and unjust that their capitulation could hardly be considered proper consent.
Most Cherokees refused to leave their home, and as a result, the federal government ordered the military to remove them by force. Soldiers ambushed Cherokees in the midst of their daily activities, forcing them to abandon their homes without time to pack, and brought them to internment camps. Meanwhile, settlers looted the homes that had been left behind. The march west took place in the middle of winter, and once again, the tribe were vulnerable to cold and disease. A quarter of the Cherokee Nation (4,000 people) died on the journey, which came to be called the Trail of Tears.
The horrifying brutality of the Trail of Tears shows how disingenuous the American government’s claims to care about Native people were. Takaki explains that, in reality, the government could not care less about whether Native people lived or died, and indeed engineered a situation that killed Indians in both a short- and long-term sense, by exposing them to deadly conditions and then destroying their way of life.
The Plains Indians originally lived on what is currently Nebraska and Kansas. For the Pawnee people, corn and buffalo were central to their way of life, and buffalo hunting was considered a sacred activity. They were strict about never killing more buffalo than was necessary to their survival, and they used every part of the animal for housing, clothing, and tools. The corn harvest was likewise a sacred ritual. By the beginning of the 19th century, some Pawnees participated in the fur trade, which in turn caused many of them to become ill and die from diseases. Meanwhile, the construction of the railroad—and the closure of the frontier it promised—further threatened the Pawnee way of life.
As this passage shows, the colonization of the US indeed represented a clash of cultures. Yet the evidence presented here belies the settler narrative that this clash was between civilization and savagery. And even if it was, the settlers are hardly the ones who appear “civilized.” The Pawnee way of life described here is far more peaceful, sustainable, and amenable to collective flourishing than the settlers’ mode of existence.
In 1871, the Indian Appropriation Act was passed, which declared that no indigenous nation would be acknowledged as independent from the US. In this way, the government gave itself the legal right to build the railroad wherever it pleased. Buffalo were massacred in enormous numbers, while the Pawnee were being pushed from their land by both settlers and the Sioux (who had in turn been pushed from their own land). Although some Pawnees resolved to stay on their homeland, others felt that they had no choice but to migrate to Kansas. A Pawnee named Overtakes the Enemy lamented that to be “civilized” by white settlers was to be destroyed. Indeed, the way of life of the Plains Indians came to be totally destroyed by the brutal march of “American Progress.”
Once again, this passage reiterates the way that “civilization” was a banner under which an enormous amount of death and destruction was committed. A seemingly innocuous and even positive technological invention like the railroad in fact spelled death and disaster for many indigenous communities.