A Brief Background:
I had an assignment for my Humanities class that asked us how we personally feel about the concept of the “American Dream” and to consider how other cultures view the concepts of happiness and freedom. At the same time I was watching the PBS documentary series We Shall Remain, 6 episodes from their American Experience series about the atrocities suffered by the native tribes of this country at the hands of the invading Europeans. The series presents an emotional history of several tribes and influential people in American history from the perspective of the native peoples’ affected. You can learn more
about the series and access a ton of cool resources at the PBS website.
These two topics, the idea of the American dream and the extreme suffering of the Native Americans, set the tone for the following post.
For me, the phrase “The American Dream” has always brought to mind images of baseball, apple pie, Rosie the Riveter, and immigrants lined up outside the Statue of Liberty with visions of streets paved in gold. For many immigrants, America represented the epitome of freedom and happiness, but for the native peoples of North America, the “American Dream” was actually a nightmare of invasion, plague, and genocide.
Native Americans enjoyed true freedom and happiness amongst the vast riches of this land for thousands of years before Europeans stepped foot on our soil. Hundreds of thriving societies with rich cultures were wiped out in less than a century and those that remained were imprisoned on small tracts of land far from their homes, their ancestors, and their traditions (PBS, 2009). For the few native peoples left in this country, freedom is an unknown concept and true happiness cannot be fully realized within the constraints of their reservations.
The European-American vision of freedom, a far cry from what the natives knew as freedom, enslaved thousands of people and revoked the in-born rights of hundreds of cultures and societies within the continent. For many tribes, freedom and happiness go hand-in-hand and their people cannot have one without the other. Happiness is found through the freedom of celebrating their culture, heritage, and traditions, remembering where they came from, and what their ancestors sacrificed for their right to be Cherokee, Lenape, Lakota or any of the hundreds of other individual societies of natives. Europeans stole the Native Americans’ identity and forced them to assimilate into white society or be imprisoned on reservations. The Trail of Tears, the marching of thousands of Cherokee people from their homes in the southwest to the reservations of Indian Country, is just one example of the freedom and potential happiness of these peoples being taken right out from underneath them by the white man (PBS, 2009).
We Shall Remain. [Television Series]. (2009). USA: PBS.
Check out Part 2 of my pro-native tirade in which I disassemble the Preamble of the Declaration of Independence.