Power and Politics in American Indian History
Nick Estes, Our History is the Future (2019), Chapter 2, Origins
The North American white ethnostate has seen several iterations – currently it’s called the United States – but whether we’re talking about the current iteration or one of the previous ones, it was always a hostile invading imperial force. Since the first colonists arrived and started stealing land from indigenous people, billions of acres of indigenous land has been annexed by the American empire and stolen from those who had lived here for tens of thousands of years (Estes 67). During its imperial expansion across indigenous lands, over a hundred million indigenous people were slaughtered, over ten times the number of people who died in the nazi holocaust. (Janu) Every white American is complicit in these crimes against native people and against humanity because it was deliberately done for their benefit and it’s still happening today. Modern America was built by slaves on top of the graves of a hundred million murdered indigenous people.
One of the major ongoing themes in the systematic subjugation of native people by the American empire is the control of water resources. (Estes 67) As we heard in the workshop on land acknowledgement video several weeks ago, during pre-imperial days, water was safe to drink and untainted by giardia and other poisons. As Estes says on page 67, “In this world, water is life.” And we saw that connection in the first chapter of the book where even today, native people are still fighting to protect their access to vital water resources and protect them from further contamination.
There are a wide range of histories of native peoples detailing the groups that came together to form modern indigenous nations. For example, the Oceti Sakowin people have origin stories that they came from the north, the south, or the west; and they did. (Estes 70) Native peoples had migrated freely in all directions for countless millennia before the rise of the white ethnostate. Tribal groups were often separated by rivers or mountain ranges (Estes 69), and members could travel or migrate between groups, adding to the background stories of the tribe’s diverse origins.
Rather than written histories or laws, native groups created a “tribal consciousness” which established and maintained norms and expectations for group members. (Estes 70) There were no police or compelled behavior or force against individuals. Instead, the group relied on solidarity and kinship to establish and maintain the norms which their collective consciousness had developed over tens of thousands of years. (Estes 70) Likewise, rather than rely on violence to allegedly discourage deviance as we do today, the ultimate punishment was exile. And this was seen as the ultimate loss of identity and purpose for someone who had made some egregious violation of the expectations of the group. (Estes 70)
In 1803, the united states annexed nearly a billion acres of indigenous land in a single day through a deal with a European power who had previously claimed to the land. (Estes 17) This led to a surge in american imperial expansion, with explorers being sent to inform the many native people who had already lived there for tens of thousands of years, that they were now the property of the american empire which had purchased them from another empire. Explorers like Lewis and Clark were sent to explore these new lands. They offered threats of total destruction to some tribes, took hostages from others, and murdered many innocent people along the way. (Estes 72) These actions were legitimized by acts on congress which institutionalized them as the policy going forward. (Estes 72)
Much of the early expansion of the american empire into native lands was economically motivated. Hunting and fur trapping became a major industry for native tribes which were then traded to French and British firms for resale in Europe and America. (Estes 76) My own family first came to America in 1633 for this reason. We were fur traders in Europe who came to America to set up trading operations with native tribes in order to export those furs to Europe. In addition to the fur trade, native hunters were instrumental in providing food to early colonists setting up towns and trading posts throughout the native lands they were annexing. (Estes 76) Feeding the colonists allowed the tribes to retain a degree of autonomy and power for a time, despite the many drawbacks including sexual violence against native women and outright genocidal acts by the American government. Once the beavers were hunted almost to extinction, the buffalo were next. The end to the balance of nature meant there would be few to no large game left on the great plains. This meant no more furs or food, not just for export but for the tribes to feed themselves. (Estes 76) The genocide of the buffalo and beavers led to the genocide of the native population through hunger and left them susceptible to increased threat and aggression from the imperialists who wanted their land.
Slowly native land sovereignty was eroded by trade and exploration. Natives were also subjected to forced conversion to Christianity, sterilization, poisoning, deliberate infection with diseases, and other crimes against humanity. (Estes 79) It wasn’t until the middle twentieth century that the native people who America had purchased from France were finally granted citizenship and acknowledged as actual people living on the land with rights of their own. (Estes 80) And yet even today, many of these problems persist to varying degrees in different areas. Many tribes go unacknowledged, deprived of their land, their culture, and even the simple recognition of their existence by the evil imperial American government.
K-Sue Park, “Self-Deportation Nation” (2019, 1880-1939)
The united states has long had a semi-official policy of “self-deportation” or making life as miserable as possible for some groups of people so they will choose to leave the country voluntarily. (Park 1880) One way this has been attempted is the 1994 prop 187 which wanted to deny access to hospitals and education except to citizens. (Park 1880) Many similar bills across the nation followed the failure of prop 187. (Park 1881)
These laws build on earlier work with the same purpose for a different group. Native tribes were pressured to leave their ancestral lands by early imperialist policies in Georgia and elsewhere. (Park 1883) These racist imperial displacement policies were adopted as official policy by presidential candidates like Mitt Romney who openly stated in a campaign speech that self-deportation was the solution to immigration. (Park 1884)
Self-deportation was also one of the main tools for removal of groups in the early days of the American imperial ethnostate. Especially with regard to nonwhite groups from slaves to immigrant workers and the natives who had already been here for tens of thousands of years before the rise of the American empire. (Park 1887).
Aside from efforts to displace people who have lived in an area from tens of thousands of years, we also see a pattern where immigration creates new industries, and then local politicians seize on the xenophobia of the affluent white electorate to campaign against minority groups; promising to make live miserable for immigrants so they will leave. (Park 1885) In many cases, these politicians have passed openly racist laws which are later removed by courts. (Park 1885) Poor laws were one tool which allowed the imperial government to remove indigent people from the country and send them back to wherever they had immigrated from, but this was expensive and challenging to enforce, and it posed a problem for native populations which had been here since time immemorial. (Park 1888)
Instead, the colonists more often resorted to more indirect means of removing undesirable populations so their homes could be replaced with new imperial homes. (Park 1889) This strategy focused on, ”attacking native people’s lives from every angle,” as Park puts it. It was the combination of attacking the health, safety, mobility, food supply, shelter, and kinship of the native people which allowed the colonists to make conditions so hostile that native people had no choice but to abandon their homes and flee to safer places. (Park 1889) The imperial policy of making people’s lives miserable often led to violent confrontations or uprisings, costing many native people their lives. (Park 1890)
A century later, the United States was the new name for the white imperial ethnostate spreading across the continent, and it continued the same policies to a much more extreme degree. (Park 1898) Indian removal become an overt policy of the government, and led to violent forced migration away from ancestral homelands and into the unexplored imperial frontier to the west. (Park 1899.) By the early nineteenth century, many states had adopted their own ethnostate legislation focused on removing native people and violently forcing them even further west. (Park 1901) Since this was not, strictly speaking, something states had the right to do, the supreme court eventually removed these laws. (Park 1902) After the court made this decision, states shifted focus to self-deportation strategies to make the lives of native people a living hell so they would leave out of desperation. (Park 1902) The Indian Removal Act saw the military doing the dirty work of the ethnostate, forcibly putting native people in concentration camps and later marching them by the tens of thousands to reservations hundreds of miles away. Nearly ten-thousand native people died on the way. (Park 1903)
The Indian removal disaster served as the framework for the later efforts to remove the populations of newly freed slaves. (Park 1905) Congress and presidents had long considered a suitable site to dump millions of black americans safely outside the white ethnostate, but they were not able to find a satisfactory place. (Park 1905) Many white southerners were concerned because they had enslaved so many black people that the freed slaves actually outnumbered the white slavers in many parts of the south. (Park 1905) In 1832, a program was even set up to pay for the passage of any black people who wanted to leave the country. (Park 1905)
Instead of going ahead with the removal of millions of black people, the southern states decided to pursue a strategy very similar to self-deportation. They worked hard to disenfranchise black voters through many unethical and illegal tactics to keep them from voting (These tactics are still in widespread use today). (Park 1907) They also created institutions to ban black people from living in certain cities and communities, or going to certain restaurants. (Park 1907) As an aside, the city of Piedmont was created for the same reason. Eventually the military was sent in to enforce the rights of black people, but this effort was short-lived and did not fully succeed. (Park 1909)
Jim Crow arose as an ideological umbrella for all the strategies employed to subjugate black people in post-reconstruction america and prevent them from voting, making money, or living alongside white people in most respects. (Park 1910) Despite being officially illegal, these tools of deprivation, discrimination, and subjugation still underpin and inform many social institutions in modern america such as the criminal “justice” system, the workforce and hiring, access to education, etc. Jim Crow is not about removing black people, it’s about keeping them down, but it uses many of the same strategies as self-deportation, which begs the question of whether its goal is not rather for black people to simply stop existing altogether, and whether on some level that is always the real goal at the core of self-deportation efforts. (Park 1911)
The “modern removal system” came about with the yellow scare of the late nineteenth century. (Park 1912) Many Chinese immigrants had come to work in America and been met with intense racism by members of the white ethnostate. (Park 1912) San Francisco used many of the usual self-deportation tactics such as denying Chinese people access to schools and hospitals. (Park 1913) Initially, these racist local laws met the same fate and were overturned by the supreme court (Park 1913), but later the federal government instituted essentially the same rules nationwide under the Chinese Exclusion Act. (Park 1915)
“Illegal immigration” has never been a crime, and yet in 1925, congress created a border patrol to patrol the border and treat migrants like criminals even though they were not committing a crime. (Park 1916) This very clearly fits under the “self-deportation” idea because immigrants are being specifically targeted with actions that attempt to make things difficult for them in order to deter them from coming here.
Several years later, the united states instituted the same racist policies that paid for black people to leave the country by extending that to include Mexicans. (Park 1917) This was called the “voluntary departure” program and it became the basis for a new way of thinking about racism as an official institution of the united states. Despite the fact that it is not a crime to cross the border and enter the country, a fake police force had been created which gave people the opportunity to choose between being harassed or choosing to leave.
Today most of these racist institutions and practices are still in effect. As we’ve heard, presidential candidates are extolling the benefits of self-deportation in campaign speeches, and governments across the country are working to make it harder for certain kinds of people to work, go to school, get healthcare, and live normal lives. (Park 1921) This is just one way that the racist institution of self-deportation is alive and well in America today. In many ways, it’s getting worse. We see disparities getting bigger for impacted populations with the twin rise and fall of coronavirus and the economy respectively; native American populations and black populations are the hardest hit, and it’s no coincidence. It took centuries of hard work to create the systems that deliver these results exactly as intended.
Estes, Nick. Our History Is the Future. Verso Books, 2019.
Janu. “The American Indian Holocaust, Known as the ‘500 Year War’ and the World’s Longest Holocaust In The History Of Mankind.” DeWereldMorgen.be, 28 Apr. 2017, www.dewereldmorgen.be/community/the-american-indian-holocaust-known-as-the-%C2%93500-year-war%C2%94-and-the-world%C2%92s-longest-holocaust-in-the-history-of-mankind/.
Park, K‐Sue. “Self-Deporation Nation.” Harvard Law Review, 132 Harv. L. Rev. 1878, 10 May 2019. (1880-1939)