Boys from the Oglala Sioux Tribe and the Rosebud Sioux Tribe are said to be the "first party to arrive" at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania in October 1876. Image: Richard Henry Pratt papers at the Yale University
David Quincy: Indigenous people remember when America was 'great'

Once upon a time America Was Great

By David L. Quincy, MPA-HA

Once upon a time before there was a America – a so called explorer, got lost and “discovered” what would become America, this new world already had millions of inhabitants, with diverse cultures and nations.

In his quest for riches, for gold, justified by Christian righteousness he enslaved, tortured and murdered thousands of Natives, giving over girls as young as 9 years to his men for their pleasure as rewards for their atrocities. Today, that man, Columbus, is remembered as a hero, and even has a holiday, which in some cities, have been changed to Indigenous Day, much to the privileged and entitled outrage of white descendants of European immigrants.

Once upon a time America Was Great – Slavery was legal, with people, most often from Africa or their descendants sold like livestock, treated as animals, with children separated from their families and sold to the highest bidders, for whatever purpose their owners wanted them for.

Even when the law changed and the slaves were no longer, legally slaves, they were discriminated against, lynched, raped, kept uneducated, prevented from achieving equality with their former owners, and viewed as less then human. The bible, was often quoted and used to justify the enslavement of people, whom white Christians considered less then human. This view persists to this day.

Once upon a time America Was Great – The indigenous peoples, or Native Americans, were killed with guns, bounties were paid out to white hunters for every “Red Skin” or scalps that they turned in; entire tribal nations were wiped out when the buffalo were exterminated, and when they were given blankets filled with smallpox, these actions was not considered murder, it was legally sanctioned genocide, justified by the Manifest Destiny of white Americans to dominate and occupy the whole continent called America, a destiny that was justified by good Christians using their bible.

With laws such as the Indian Removal Act, which legally removed Native women, children and men from their homelands in the east to lands west of the Mississippi, precipitating what is remembered in history as the Trail of Tears. Tribal nations and peoples were forced to give up their lands and freedoms and made to live on reservations dependent upon the U.S. to keep their promises made in treaties in order to survive. Promises that were wholly inadequate in their delivery, when they were kept at all.

Once upon a time America Was Great - In their “Christian compassion” for Natives, the concept of “Kill the Indian, Save the Man” had whites building boarding schools where Native children were sent to after being forcibly taken from their families and communities. These boarding schools were often ran by Christian churches who justified their actions with their bible and their belief that they were saving the souls of Native children.

The boarding schools left their mark on so many individuals, families and communities, with the loss of those who died so far from home, and with loss of identity and culture of the survivors, many of whom grew up and turned to substances and suicide. The pain and suffering became inter-generational. This was all part of the American genocide.

Once upon a time America Was Great when Americans of Japanese descent had their property, livelihood’s and freedom taken away from them, when they, without trial or any proof of guilt were put into internment camps for fear that they were enemies, because they or their ancestors had immigrated from a nation that was at war with the United States. With entire families living in poor conditions, treated not as humans, but as animals to be caged, and it was legal.


Today, with the goal of Making America Great Again, there are Nazi’s, the onetime enemies of the U.S. and the world, marching in the streets, with an American president, accused of collusion with another onetime enemy nation state, not only not condemning their words, their marching, but condoning and encouraging them, labeling them as “very fine people”. This same president, enacting a policy that are again ripping families apart, calling them animals and it is all perfectly, conveniently legal, justifying their inhumane actions with the words of their Christian god, quoted from the bible.

I cannot help but reflect and wonder how many of the immigrant children being ripped apart from their families will not be coming back to them until a 100 years have passed. History is repeating itself, and again it is our most vulnerable who is suffering these genocidal acts. These are also indigenous children who ethically have more of a right to be here then the descendants of genocidal Europeans.

The problem is that people, particularly the far right, have lost their own humanity, and because of their hatred, and their fears, do not see the humanity of immigrants, of people of color, indeed, they never have. Theirs is the last gasp, of a dying culture, with one of their greatest fears that they or their descendants will be treated the same way that they have always treated people that they, in their hearts and minds, do not even consider as people.

We the descendants and survivors of slavery, of boarding schools, reservations, internment camps, genocide and assimilation, must not forget what has happened and what continues to occur, we must speak out against what is happening, educate others about history, because at some point, humanity will be restored and only then will America Truly Be Great.

David Quincy is a enrolled member of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe in Northern Minnesota where he resides. He has a Masters Degree in Public Administration - Health Administration from Portland State University. He is a former Tribal Health Director and State/Tribal Liaison with the State of Minnesota. His career focus and interest is in the areas of Native Health Policy and Administration, Tribal Self-Governance and Strategic Planning.

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