Summary and Discussion of Jason Edward Black’s Essay: “Native Resistive Rhetoric and the Decolonization of American Indian Removal Discourse”

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M. Bryan Strain

Professor Robert King

English 3365

10 October 2012

Summary and Discussion of Jason Edward Black’s Essay: “Native Resistive Rhetoric and the Decolonization of American Indian Removal Discourse”

            Black’s essay brings to light the strategies of rhetoric employed by Native Americans to resist the Indian Removal Act of 1830.  He points out the common belief that American Indians silently removed as Euro American whites moved onto their lands, or they violently rebelled against the incursions.  The evidence gathered by Black, shows the American Indian adapted quickly under the threat of removal and used the language of the dominant white man’s own discourse to resist.

The debate concerning Indian Removal gave many different reasons for expelling the native populous from lands desired by European settlers.  From savage intolerance to the divine manifest destiny, the reasons were often argued to sound like removal was necessary to save the poor Indians who are sure to become extinct if they are not removed. Black states, “To most proponents, the primary thrust of the policy was benevolence” (67).

The Native Americans used the very language of the benevolent proponents to resist removal. Black quotes Arnold Krupat as stating, “to take possession of the master’s

‘books’ is to obtain some important parts of the master’s power — which then . . . may

be turned to one’s own purposes.’’ Black focuses on four specific resistance types of rhetoric used by the “five civilized tribes.”  These tribes were able to effectively turn the excuses for Indian removal in their own favor. They used discourses of territoriality, republicanism, paternalism, and divine authority to rebuff the arguments of those who sought to take their land.

The doctrine of Manifest Destiny was used to suggest it was given by divine authority that Euro American settlers must take the land west as a destiny of a superior people.  They ignored the fact that the land was already in use by saying the Indians didn’t really know how to use the land.  Therefore we must take the land and show them its proper use.

Indians fought this territorial sentiment by quoting Jefferson as early as 1803 stating, American Indian nations should remain in the East in order to ‘‘improve’’ (Black 75). Indians cited the very constitution of the United states that claimed federal authority to negotiate with Indians as foreign and sovereign nations. They argued that this fact shows their own government never intended to treat them like citizens but as sovereign nations (Black 75).

George Harkins, and Choctaw Indian, fought territoriality and republicanism by showing that the Indians had been attempting to fulfill their portion of the treaties already negotiated.  He states, ‘‘The man who said that he would plant a stake and draw a line around us, that never should be passed, was the first to . . . [draw] up the stake and [wipe] out all traces of the line’’ (Black 76).

Euro Americans often spoke to the Indians referring to the US Government as a “Great Father.” They used this paternal analogy to claim they were caring for the Native Americans. Colonel Webb, a Choctaw, resisted this type of thinking by stating,

[W]hen you were young, we were strong; we fought by your side… You have grown large; my people have become small,’’ and ‘‘Brother, my voice is weak; you can scarcely hear me… [I]t is not the shout of a warrior, but the wail of an infant. I have lost it in mourning over the misfortunes of my people’’ (Black 77-8)

The Chickasaw resisted the idea that God granted Euro Americans the right to remove them by stating, “We hope to be let alone where we are, and that your people will be made to treat us like men and Christians, and not like dogs” (Black 79). They often quote from the Declaration of Independence that by God, “All men are created equal.”

Blacks essay is an excellent source to prove the Native Americans were not savages by any means.  They quickly adapted in every way to resist removal by the Euro American populace.  They were required to embrace the language, dress, and even religion of the US citizenry in order to have the voice to resist removal. Some tribesmen became almost indistinguishable from the European settlers.  The Cherokee even fought a legal war with the state of Georgia and won, only to have their victory completely ignored by then president Andrew Jackson. Greed was the only language of Indian removal for which there was not a sufficient defense.

This topic of the 19th century is one I hold dear to my heart. Slavery was abolished, women were given their rights, and yet today, we still have not solved the problem created by the Indian Removal Act.  Indians want to be able to live free and share the American dream in a way that doesn’t come as charity or a gift.  Many are still stuck between the world of the White man and the Red.  Many are still living in poverty on reservations. I’m not sure we can ever make right what was done to their ancestors.  My biggest question is where we go from here. How can we address the poverty without stealing their Native Pride?  How do we allow them to become a part of us, without them losing their identity?  I don’t have the answers.  I wish I did.  I strongly believe that all men are created equal. I pray that one day soon, all men and women who live inside the boundaries of this great nation, will feel they are treated as equals.

Works Cited

Black, Jason Edward. “Native Resistive Rhetoric and the Decolonization of American Indian Removal Discourse.” Quarterly Journal of Speech 95.1 (2009): 66-88. Web. 10 October 2012.

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