Erasing Native American culture is one of the most dangerous things a person can do. By wiping away the triumphs, defeats, and dreams of Native Americans, one belittles and degrades them. Although progress is being made in the 21st century, US history is still taught through the eyes of the oppressor. Many US history textbooks start at Columbus’ “discovery” of America, and then proceed to capitalize off of the pain and struggles of Native Americans due to this colonization.
As kids, we read about the Trail of Tears and the Indian Removal Act, but what we didn’t learn about was Native American joy and artwork and culture and gender expression, etc.; we get such a cookie-cutter look at Native Americans and then proceed to read about colonizers and the “successes” of the West. As Howard Zinn explains in his book A People’s History of the United States, “To emphasize the heroism of Columbus and his successors as navigators and discoverers, and to deemphasize their genocide, is not a technical necessity but an ideological choice. It serves—unwittingly—to justify what was done.”
I think specifically it’s extremely important for white Americans to understand that the land they live on, walk on, breathe on, is not their own, but rather, something that their ancestors stole and killed innocent people over. I also think it is crucial for white Americans to educate themselves; much of the undoing of racist mindsets is accomplished through learning outside of school, as the US education system is rooted in colonization and racism.
I think about that William Butler Yeats quote often. It goes, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” We consume these false tales about US history and then don’t do anything with that information, or rather, misinformation. We must fill our own pail.