Recently the Internet has exploded with statements from American politicians about how the Syrian immigrants should be treated should the come to the United States. These politicians have proposed refusing their requests for sanctuary in over 30 states of the union. Other politicians are proposing holding the refugees in camps while they are being fully vetted and processed for entry into the United States. This is an appalling development in US politics.
George Takei has likened the statements as similar to how Japanese Americans were interned in WWII. These were American citizens, who happened to have Japanese ancestry whose lives were ruined because of this action. And Takei has compared the fact that no Japanese Americans were ever convicted of a crime against the nation, with the fact that 1800 Syrians that have already immigrated and have not committed any crime against the nation.
This is a startling development and indefensible in US history. As Native peoples of this land, we too were imprisoned in military reservations for many years. Even though we were the original people of this land, we were forcibly removed or our leaders chose to remove to save our peoples from the invading colonizers. We were placed on reservations and not allowed to leave without passes. we were not considered citizens of the country until 1924, yet the US kept paternalistic administration over all of the tribes. We were no longer considered to be the people of this land for more than a century, and the Americans took over all of our lands, and resources. Many of our lands were renamed, and for the past two centuries our forests, lakes, rivers, and prairies have been systematically destroyed by pollution, mono-cropping, and over exploitation of the resources of the land.
Our people were subjected to more than a century of various tactics of assimilation. Our children forced to attend American and religious schools. Our people forced to adopt agriculture and give up their traditional ways of living. Even our right to pass on our possessions to our children was removed because our children who did not match the correct “blood quantum” were not allow to own land on the reservation, or inherit the lands of their parents. Those who did not have 1/2 blood quantum had no choice but to leave their tribes and assimilate to American culture in their cities. Our populations, our cultures and our languages declined. At the same time the amount of land on the reservation declined as more and more was given away to Americans. Many Native people were fully dispossessed of their land, culture and tribe.
Ironically, many of the Japanese-American Internment camps of WWII were located next to Indian reservations. As well they could get day passes to work, and children did attend government schools. After their release, most had lost everything they had before their removal
Then when it appeared that our people were fully assimilated, many of the tribes were terminated. The treaties and associated rights terminated, and the reservation lands liquidated. Many tribes ceased to exist and became invisible in American society. Many of these tribes have been restored, and in the past 30 years more and more aspects of their cultures and societies have returned.
It is an extreme vision of what could be, but an appropriate comparison to the internment camps being presently proposed. In the past decades there have been actions of the US government to apologize for the illegal Hawai’ian Nation takeover, for Japanese Internment, and for many other injustices of the US government. I do not recall if there was ever an apology for the treatment of Native peoples on the reservations, nor for their kidnapping of Native children to Boarding schools and their forced assimilation.
All Native Americans are citizens of the United States and have this as their history. I for one cannot hear about the proposition of internment of another people without recalling the history of the imprisonment of Native and other peoples in the world by the United States. This cannot happen again, there cannot be more mistakes like this in the future of the US. The Native nations are still in the process of dealing with the colonization and subjugation and imprisonment of our peoples by the US, and will be for some time. Will the Tribes stand by and let this happen to other peoples?
Ethnohistory Research, LLC | David G. Lewis, PhD
PhD Anthropology (UO 2009) and Native history researcher. Member of the Grand Ronde Tribe, Takelma, Chinook, Molalla, and Santiam Kalapuya ancestry. Owner of Ethnohistory Research LCC, professional consultant and project researcher.
I teach at local universities and colleges and take contracts with tribes, local governments and nonprofits. I have experience in archival organization, museum development, exhibit curation, traditional cultural property nomination, tribal ethnohistoric research, tribal maps, traditional ecological knowledge, and presentations to large and small gatherings. Contact me for consultation about any of these projects.