The most vital rule: Damn it, you have to be kind
A well-nuanced WWI Museum display explores chaplaincy

Marking an expansive anniversary in American history


Today marks the 181st anniversary of the start of what historians call the "Great Migration," when about 1,000 settlers (a key word) left from here in Western Missouri to head to the West and claim for themselves land that had been in Indigenous hands for thousands of years.

Well, in fact, the term "Great Migration" also has been given to the massive movement of Black people from the South to the North of the U.S. from 1910 to 1970. And that's a fascinating story, too, best told in Isabel Wilkerson's book, The Warmth of Other Suns.

But for today let's focus on the earlier migration and its role in the theft of Indigenous land that formed the basis of this new country of colonialists, the United States. Several sources say the first departure of what became the Great Migration started a year earlier, in 1842, from Elm Grove, Mo., the exact location of which seems to be something of a mystery, though it was clearly not far from today's Kansas City. And one of this migration's eventual main routes (along with the Santa Fe Trail) ended up being called the Oregon Trail, the primary starting point of which was right here in the KC metro.

What's important to remember about this eventually massive migration of white settlers moving west is that, after a time, it ended Indigenous control of the land on which people often called Native Americans today lived. By crooked treaty and outright theft, the American people and their government simply took control of the western half of this vast continent, not unlike the way they gained control of the eastern half.

Indig-ContBut let's turn to an expert to describe what all this was about and why it still matters all these years later. Here's what historian Pekka Hämäläinen writes in his excellent and recent book Indigenous Continent: The Epic Contest for North America:

"The United States' expansionist burst -- mightily boosted by rising capitalism -- was a dark moment for many Native Americans in the West. The western half of the continent was still overwhelmingly Indigenous, which was unacceptable to (President James K.) Polk and most Americans, who wanted unhindered access to California and its gold, its fertile land and its Pacific connections.

"The U.S. government believed that treaties and reservations had pacified the Indians and secured American dominance from ocean to ocean. That was wishful thinking. The federal bureaucracy was completely unprepared for its task of managing tens of thousands of Indians living far from American settlements. Most Native nations were assigned a single U.S. officer to oversee their government-issued amenities, their 'civilization' process and their eventual absorption into the U.S. body politic as reformed people.

"Taking advantage of the skeletal U.S. governance in Indian lands, speculators, settlers, timber thieves, whiskey traders and other opportunists pushed into reservations. In the recently acquired California, Whites focused on banishing the Indians, and then on killing them. U.S. agents deported as many Native Americans as they could to small concentration camps. The land, supremely fertile and laced with gold, was too good for the Indians. . .In 1846, there had been 150,000 California Indians; in 1860, only 35,000 remained."

Behind all of this is a quasi-religious term that, for a long, long time, gave almost divine sanction for the cultural and physical genocide of Indigenous people who occupied land in the way of expansion: "Manifest Destiny." That's a term that often hides much more than it reveals.

If Americans are going to have a serious conversation about -- and make a serious effort to offer (as we should) -- reparations to Black Americans because of slavery, Jim Crow and more, there also should be a similar conversation about reparations for Indigenous people whose ancestors suffered all of that and more at the hands of white settlers and their leaders. I'm not at all sure why that conversation didn't begin a long, long time ago.

(Speaking of anniversaries, June 2 this year will mark the 100th anniversary of when Native Americans finally became U.S. citizens. There were a few exceptions before then for various reasons, but it was on June 2, 1924, that President Calvin Coolidge signed the Indian Citizenship Act. As you might imagine, not only was there opposition to this among current American citizens, there was also some opposition among the Indians.)

(The map above came from here.)

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A Catholic leader, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Pierbattista Pizzaballa, has paid an unannounced visit to Gaza to give people there hope, this Religion News Service story reports. In the process, the story makes this good point: "(T)he Israel-Hamas war is not a religious one and certainly not a Jewish-Muslim conflict, stressing the often ignored fact that the Palestinian people are not of a single faith or a movement." And it concludes this way: "The patriarch is the only such appearance by any public or private personality, political, artistic or religious, since the war began. Not a single foreign journalist has been allowed to visit Gaza, a stricture aimed at demoralizing Palestinians. But his visit has given the morale of the Palestinians in general and Palestinian Christians in particular an inestimable boost." It's what the best of clergy do, while the worst often are full of what the poet William Butler Yeats dismissed as empty "passionate intensity."


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