• U.S.

The Nation: So Long, 1792

2 minute read

There has always been a great deal of mutual suspicion in confrontations between American Indians and American officialdom, but there was also—at one time at least—considerable dignity and pride. That was in the early days of the Republic, when men like the great Seneca leader Red Jacket could lead a delegation of 50 chiefs to Philadelphia (as he did in 1792) to talk about tribal relations with another powerful sovereign, President George Washington.

The suspicion and distrust remain, but the dignity is fast fading—on both sides. The seizure of Alcatraz three years ago by a number of young militants was an early sign that the more restless, more urban Indians of the 1970s would not share the reticence of their reservation-bred elders. The ransacking of the Bureau of Indian Affairs by 600-odd Indian militants who gathered in Washington to demonstrate for needed changes in federal policy is another indication that the old era of pride has given way to a new—and surprisingly delayed—period of violent protest. Offices were torn apart, furniture was smashed, the walls were covered with aerosol-can graffiti; typewriters, books and some 600 paintings were simply stolen. Now that the full extent of the damage has been revealed ($2,280,000 worth, by the Government’s reckoning), moderate Indian leaders are outraged and fearful of a backlash that could hurt the entire Indian movement. But it was not only the young militants who debased the old traditions. Anxious to bring the whole shabby episode to an end with as little fuss as possible, the Administration hastily collected $66,650 in “expense money” from various agencies, sent the wampum to the bureau in a black leather attaché case and had it passed out to the young demonstrators as they finally ended their siege. That was a very long way from 1792 when, as a token of respect, George Washington presented Red Jacket with a medal.

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