All my life the United States has been known as the land of the free. People travel from all over the world to embrace our culture and participate in the freedoms we take for granted every day. Freedom is more than just a quality for us. It is a symbol of all we stand for. And yet, I can’t help but wonder at the irony of it all.
We all know about women’s suffrage, civil rights movements, distaste and hatred toward immigrants (past and present). But what about the things we don’t know?
Today I was horrified to learn that in 1862, the day after Christmas, 38 Dakota Native Americans (more commonly known as Sioux Indians) were hanged in a mass execution. These 38 were given trials that lasted no more than ten minutes. There was no evidence brought forward. This was the biggest mass execution in U.S. history. It was a marked incident of injustice.
The executions were the result of a conflict that broke out in Minnesota because treaty after treaty after treaty was broken by the U.S. government. Long story short, the Dakota signed treaties with the U.S., the government did not hold up to their end of the bargain, the Dakota began to starve. And so, the Dakota tried to do something about it. The entire history is long and complex. The point is, today was the first I had ever heard of these executions, let alone the reasons behind them.
Throughout my career as a student in the public school system, I have taken American History at least 3 or 4 times. And yet, these executions were never mentioned. It makes me wonder what else the history books left out. It has been said many times that history is written by the victors. For a long time I didn’t want to believe this sentiment, wishing to believe that in my country at least, the depiction of events included all sides, as far as this was possible. It has been a slow bubbling, I suppose, of this hope being replaced by the realization that history is indeed written by the victors.
Aside from these executions following practically non-existent trials (no white men involved in the conflict were tried, by the way), there was a time when it was legal to forcibly sterilize someone if he or she did not match up to the ideal as a human. This was part of the eugenics movement, the “evidence” for which Adolf Hitler used to justify his actions towards the Jews during the Holocaust.
We can’t undo history. We can’t remove the mistakes of our fathers and those who ruled our country in the past. But why do we bury true events? Is not the point of history to learn from it? To avoid repeating what has already passed? We call ourselves the land of the free and yet an omnipresent thread has been one of hate, fear, and suppression of a group of some sort. Whether it be the Irish or the Italians or the descendants of slaves or Native Americans or women or the Mexicans or Indians or the Japanese or the Chinese, we have always found someone to hold down.
Why does this happen? Why do we as a country not put into practice the ideals we hold so dear to our hearts and simply fawn over on July the fourth? Once again, we cannot undo what has already occurred. But we can honor the injustices that have passed and the people who fell victim by teaching our citizens; teaching the whole truth.
Otherwise, the irony of it all is just plain painful.