Then: Historic Injustices against Indigenous Peoples

November 10, 2020

From a young age, children are taught romanticized versions of American colonial exploits. The most well-known story of Thanksgiving, revolving around the peaceful, friendly meeting between the Wampanoag tribe and the English colonists, is one explicit example of the injustice done to indigenous history in American education. This interpretation of events is glaringly false, as it portrays the settlers as heroic saviors, while ignoring the deadly conflicts and horrific abuses that were committed against the indigenous peoples. History textbooks rarely mention the Pequot massacres of 1637, nor is there any acknowledgement of the robbing of Wampanoag graves. Hundreds upon thousands of indigenous folk were wronged, yet their murderers are celebrated today through the declaration of Thanksgiving as a national holiday. In all truth, Thanksgiving is more a celebration of the massacres against the indigenous than it is a commemoration of peace and harmony. 

Artwork like this reinforces a misleading depiction of what life was like for indigenous people during the colonial era.

In the 1700s, the arrival of Spanish missionaries posed another major threat to indigenous culture and way of life. These Spanish missions were established along the coast of California, from Sonoma all the way down to San Diego. Despite the glorification of these missions in elementary school curriculum projects, these missions ultimately involved some of the most atrocious and darkest aspects of American expansion into the West. As part of the encomienda system, the native people of California were forced into cultural and religious assimilation, as well as inhumane labor conditions. Colonists regarded the natives as ‘property of the church,’ destroying their culture and replacing it with their own as part of organized assimilation programs.

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