While white settlers claimed they intended to shape the Natives into what they perceive as an “ideal American,” they failed — or rather refused, to recognize the goodness in what we have today, diversity. To the settlers, the American way was the only way. The Natives were told to rid of everything they once knew to become more ‘civilized’, and when they didn’t, they were forced to. Through laws, acts, and grants, decisions made by the people in power lead to the dismantling of not only their people, but to their culture.
The effectiveness of the Progressive Era simply wasn’t there for the Natives. Shown to us in the film, ‘In the White Man’s Image’, young Natives were sent off to boarding school away from their families, forced into impoverished living conditions, and stripped of their culture. They were forbidden to practice their religion, their traditions, their language. Policy throughout the country was, ‘Kill the Indian, save the man’. When the same Natives attempted to get jobs after they graduated, they were turned down. “A red skin in a suit is still a red skin”, employers would say. Most Native Americans that attended these boarding schools went back to their homes on the reservations as soon as they could. This depicts an overall dissatisfaction from the Natives that none of the knowledge they acquired was deemed useful, or the more obvious, that it was never wanted. Many of them also failed to communicate with their own families once they returned home. The only Natives who could be seen as remotely successful were Chonce Yellowrobe and Luther Standing Bear. Chonce worked as a disciplinarian in the boarding school system, pleasing his previous superintendent at the Carlisle Indian School, Richard Henry Pratt. Luther was a Hollywood actor who had his time in the limelight. Even then, he was predominantly typecast for Indian roles in movies and television. It was bittersweet, at best. As for the Dawes Act, it was a sorry excuse for progressiveness from the start. This act allowed the president to assign reservations to Native’s at his own will, without permission or assent from the people he was assigning these pieces of land to. Not only was the act successful in giving Natives land they already owned, but it was also successful in taking more land from them. White settlers felt so entitled to the land they stole, that they deemed any land that wasn’t being actively used by Natives as their own. In the same year the Dawes Act was passed, Congress approved six land grants to railroads on Native land. Twenty-three laws were again passed permitting the building of railroads in Native territories. I refuse to believe these policies were implemented in the Native’s best interests at all. These policies were created in the white man’s interest to assimilate and vanquish culture. If their true intentions were to assist Natives in living, they would honor the treaties that they proposed to the Natives in the past or would simply leave the Natives be. They would have agreed to coexist with Natives in their way of life. The agenda of the settlers were on the contrary. Were these policies effective? Yes, but for the oppressors alone. In no way, shape, or form is cultural erasure doing anything in their best interest.
The reasoning behind the Indian New Deal was to “socially engineer the Indian World” (Ronald Takaki, p.227). This policy was effective for the man who proposed it, Jacob Collier, and supported him and his agenda. We’re shown he holds little to no care for the Natives and their wellbeing when he reduces their stock reduction because he believes their stock is the cause of soil erosion. After their pleas went unheard, Collier proceeded to make more reductions to their stock, furthering their demise, and their way of life. The Natives consistently told Collier that their stock had nothing to do with the soil erosion, but it wasn’t until later that Collier was revealed to that fact, although the damage was already done.
The logic behind the Siege of Wounded Knee was heavily flawed. Native Americans were standing their ground in the name of equality, equity, and justice. Americans had committed economic terrorism on them and their ancestors, and they had had enough. The Natives were justified in their actions. Had it been the Americans facing oppression instead of Natives, their revolt would have been praised to this day. They were reacting to centuries of oppression, thievery, and abuse from the white settlers. The Siege brought about many trials and tribulations. Natives suffered many casualties of their friends, family, women, children. It was a tragic event that brought about much-needed change for the Natives. It was extremely unfortunate it had to be done this way. An example of the change shown in ‘We Shall Remain’ was when we see Marlon Brando, a Hollywood actor, refused his Oscar award for his role in the Godfather on live TV. He instead sent Sacheen Littlefeather on his behalf, a Native American woman who was president of the National Native American Affirmative Image Committee, to express the mistreatment of Native Americans at Wounded Knee. Another situation that brought light to the tragedies Natives faced was the amount of media that surrounded Wounded Knee. Over 90% of Americans watched the calamity that occurred; and in turn, raised awareness across the country.
The Progressive Era policies supplied little to no benefits to the Natives whatsoever. Both the boarding schools and the Dawes Act were made in spite of Native American culture and in an attempt to subjugate the entire race. While the Indian New Deal was supposed to be a savior for the struggling Indians, and perhaps a solution to the ‘progressive’ era, it instead proposed a false power complex for the Indians. They were made to believe that this new deal would give them their power back, their land back, their lives back. It instead led them to have increased poverty in their reservations and a large reduction of their stock. As for the Siege of Wounded Knee, the devastating event ending in bloodshed and over 300 deaths from the Lakota people, was what brought attention to the rest of the nation. With widespread media coverage, the rest of the country began to see and listen to the Natives, and their struggles. We can only hope that as we progress as a nation, we will continue to listen.