Missing in History, presented by DoSomething.org
WEEK THREE: 3 Things About Native American History Your Textbook Doesn’t Want You to Know
And how they relate to the fight for justice today
A Canadian textbook was recently recalled because it said Native American tribes willingly forfeited their lands to Europeans. The truth? Native peoples were forced off their lands and onto small plots called “reservations.”
This kind of “erasure” – omitting or misrepresenting figures and events – happens in lots of textbooks. November is Native American Heritage Month. Read and share this guide to educate friends on the events that shaped Native history and how they influence today’s struggle for equality and justice.
1) The US government forced Native American children to attend boarding schools where they were forbidden from speaking their Native languages.
The History: Starting in the 19th century, these government-run schools forced children to abandon their Native culture in favor of white practices. As a result, children were forced to cut their hair, wear uniforms, and march in formations. Rules were extremely strict and discipline was often harsh when rules were broken.
Today: The boarding schools have gone, but punishment of children on the basis of culture persists. For example, in 2012, seventh-grader Miranda Washinawatok was suspended for speaking Menominee to her teacher. Additionally, the percentage of Native American dropouts is twice that of the national average, and given that the education system does next to nothing to encourage Native academic success, it’s not hard to see why.
2) Over 100 years after Sitting Bull was killed at Standing Rock, the Lakota people are still fighting to protect that land from European expansion.
The History: American soldiers cleared the area the next day, killing over 200 Lakota tribe members. The massacre was followed by a three-day blizzard, after which soldiers recovered frozen bodies and buried them in a mass grave.
Today: 126 years later, Standing Rock once again became a site of resistance, as Native Americans from across the country occupied the space to advocate against construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), which posed environmental and health threats to the Lakota people and their land. In the summer of 2017, a judge ruled that environmental tests had not been sufficiently conducted on the pipeline, but didn’t shut down the pipeline’s construction. The fight over DAPL continues today.
3) For nearly 50 years, activists have fought to change the name of the NFL’s Washington Redsk*ns, a dictionary-defined slur towards Native peoples.
The History: The term “redsk*n” originates from the practice of paying bounty hunters to kill Native Americans, which required the hunters bring back the scalp of the dead as proof. After seven years of fighting, Suzan Harjo and six other Native activists successfully petitioned to have the team’s six trademarks overturned in 1999, only for the decision to be reversed in court following the Redsk*ns’ appeal.
Today: In 2013, Redsk*ns owner Dan Snyder refused to respond to backlash, saying that the name would never change. While activist Amanda Blackhorse had been successful in striking down the trademarks, progress came to a halt this June when the Supreme Court ruled that the law against offensive names restricted the right to free speech.The issue goes beyond the Redsk*ns – over 2,000 American sports teams still have Native American mascots.