[Note: This post from 2021 is repeated because it’s still relevant.]
It depends on your perspective. It depends on the story you tell yourself.
If you tell yourself that Manifest Destiny is your divine right, that we are bringing civilization to the uncivilized, that the people who were already here are less than—they are not even people—then you can do what we did to kill most of them and push the survivors to the furthest reaches of the least desirable land.
You see Justice.
If you tell yourself the story Tommy Orange tells in his autobiographical novel There There, that you got some new neighbors and they were starving and you helped them and then invited them into your home for dinner, but after dinner, they didn’t leave and they invited more of their friends into your home and they took over your house and with a knife at your throat made you live in the closet under the stairs, then you know what was done was wrong.
You see Injustice.
There is a plaque in the park across the street from my condo that honors the history of Cincinnati.
In part, it reads:
“Cincinnati was a good choice for settlement. Rich soil supported agriculture and food was available in the wild. Early settlers saw a river teeming with fish and a primeval forest of ash, sycamore, maple and mulberry. Wild fowl, turkey, deer, elk and buffalo abounded. It was a land to explore. But life was not easy or without hazard. The original surveyor of the tract mysteriously disappeared, supposedly victim to a tomahawk and scalping knife. To the north large numbers of unfriendly, well-organized Miami Indians posed a threat to the struggling community. Congress authorized President George Washington to call out the militia. In 1789, work began on a substantial wooden fortress, Fort Washington, to garrison three hundred troops. It was located near the present corner of Third and Broadway. In the early 1790s, when the Indian War erupted in the Northwest, Fort Washington served as the central base of operations for the newly organized American Army. General “Mad” Anthony Wayne’s victory at Fallen Timbers in 1794 eliminated the Indian threat for all of Ohio and the northwest.”
After my walk in the park on this cold, bright morning, when I started writing this post, I thought I was veering off the topic of finances and my family.
But it’s not off-topic.
I am in the financial position I am in because my ancestors, on both sides, benefited from the near extinction of the Indigenous Americans who were here first.
On my father’s side, my great-grandfather profited from loans made to farmers who farmed stolen land, and my grandfather followed in those footsteps.
My mother’s side farmed the stolen land.
I’m not saying they didn’t work for what they had. Especially on my mother’s side, life was difficult. They lived at the mercy of the weather, which during my mother’s youth, was a Dust Bowl.
Life was hard but they didn’t worry about anyone killing them to take their land.
Here is my editorialized version of the plaque in the park:
Cincinnati was a good choice for settlement (which is why there was a large group of people already living here). Rich soil supported agriculture and food was available in the wild. (No wonder we wanted the land, but we realized too late that the way we farmed the Midwest caused the Dust Bowl.)
Early settlers saw a river teeming with fish and a primeval forest of ash, sycamore, maple and mulberry. (Where did the forest go? And is that murky brown river with the signs warning not to go in it after a storm the same one that teemed with fish?) Wild fowl, turkey, deer, elk and buffalo abounded. (What happened to them? The people who were already here managed to live off the land and wildlife without destroying it—does this mean we are destroyers?) It was a land to explore. (It was…)
But life was not easy or without hazard. (Especially for the people who were already here.) The original surveyor of the tract mysteriously disappeared, supposedly victim to a tomahawk and scalping knife. (Strategically, probably a good idea, to slow the invasion. But why does this plaque reference the violence of the tomahawk without mentioning the violence of the invaders? Is the goal to make the people who were already here sound violent to those of us who read the plaque today?)
To the north large numbers of unfriendly, well-organized Miami Indians (Wouldn’t you be unfriendly if people were invading your land and destroying your means of survival?) posed a threat to the struggling community. (The community is struggling but those who were here first are about to be obliterated.)
Congress authorized President George Washington to call out the militia. In 1789, work began on a substantial wooden fortress, Fort Washington, to garrison three hundred troops (300 people with guns is a considerable force). It was located near the present corner of Third and Broadway. (I walk by Third and Broadway. There’s a plaque there, too.)
In the early 1790s, when the Indian War erupted in the northwest (Why are we calling it the Indian War? Why aren’t we calling it the Immigrants from Northern Europe War?), Fort Washington served as the central base of operations for the newly organized American Army.
General “Mad” Anthony Wayne’s victory (Somehow, when I was taught about Manifest Destiney, the artwork depicting the advance into the heartland was led by a virginal woman in a Grecian gown, not by somebody with blood on his hands named Mad Anthony) at Fallen Timbers in 1794 eliminated the Indian threat for all of Ohio and the northwest. (The people who were already here were eliminated, while the threat of the northern European invaders was preserved).
That’s how the domination of other people works.
First, we make them other. Then, we make them less than. Then, we make them not even people at all.
Telling this story is the only way we can sleep at night.
Land acknowledgment: Cincinnati is located on the unceded and stolen territories of the Hopewell, Adena, Myaamia (Miami), Shawandasse (Shawnee), and Wazhazhe Maⁿzhaⁿ (Osage) peoples.
Two for Thanksgiving Dinner
- Want a side dish that travels well, that doesn’t compete with what anyone else is bringing because cranberries are the star of no one’s table? Here’s my mom’s Cranberry Salad for Cold Weather recipe. The first time the dish gets passed, people take a polite little scoop. But then they take seconds. And sometimes thirds. (If you’re wondering if Mom has a Cranberry Salad for Warm Weather recipe, she does. That one is better left in the box.)
- Want to change the table conversation up a bit? Grab a page or two from Seth Godin’s Thanksgiving Reader. It’s the kind of activity people protest before and appreciate after.
Chewing the Cud of Good
Thankful that there is always something to be thankful for.