The land we call America is like no other. The people we call Americans encompass countless good and caring human beings. And though the past few decades have seen the American government drawing more voiced displeasure than praise from neighboring lands, countless people would still give all they have to be able to come and live here. On the world scene, you cannot best our natural beauty, our interesting history or our potential for goodness, but America was founded on a mistake of cosmic proportions and on this 4th of July weekend, I would like to take a moment to reflect on what happened and what might be done to begin righting past wrongs.
As you travel about this weekend, enjoying the pageantry of flags and fireworks, please pause to remember that where we are today, in terms of our history and accomplishments, did not start from honest beginnings. The theft of the lands, often by brutally violent means, from Native American residents makes the founding of the United States a sorrowful and shameful one. I have noticed that people who don’t want to confront this seem eager to dismiss the facts of the conquest of America as being “so long ago”. However many centuries pass, the fact that the country was taken by force at the cost of countless Indigenous lives will not change, and the benefits enjoyed by non-Native residents will continue to stem from this initial violence.
We can’t undo the past, but if we want something to truly celebrate, I believe the people of America can work towards a new understanding that is worth waving a flag for. Native Americans continue to have the lowest life expectancy, worst health and most complicated social problems of any group in the population. They have not ever really recovered, as a whole people, from what happened to them. Similarly, there are many historians and anthropologists who put forward the theory that problems plaguing the African-American population have their roots in slavery. The devastation of any culture casts a long, long shadow into the future.
No, we cannot undo the past, but this doesn’t mean we can’t make a better choice today, right now, and I believe the state of California is in a unique position to begin to recognize that we have an opportunity to dignify the Indigenous suffering that occurred here between the arrival of the Spanish and the madness of the Gold Rush. Most historians agree that no other American Indians suffered more than those of California – we have the absolute worst record when it comes to hate crimes against Indigenous people. Consider that.
Right now, the state government is planning to close 40% of California’s parks. In my view, frequent visits to open lands are one of the only activities many modern Californians participate in that connect them to the old ways of appreciation that were basic to most Indigenous Californian Peoples. If we cut everybody off from the wild lands, how can we expect them to learn sane behavior here? If all we know is asphalt, we do not really know California and will not understand how to love and protect it.
As an act of sanity, and of recognition of the theft of California, I would like the state government to approach California Indian Tribes with a plea to take over the management of the parks slated for closure. I will gladly pay taxes for this and do whatever else I can to ensure that the California Indians have whatever support they might need to keep the parks clean and safe for all people to visit.
It is an Indigenous custom to share everything, and first European visitors to this country were almost always met with an inclusive, brotherly welcome. It is my fond hope that, despite everything they have suffered, California Indians would still be willing to share the land with everyone else, provided that everyone else recognizes that the tribes have the longest knowledge and greatest understanding of how to care for the land. I believe that, in the spirit of their ancestors, modern California Indigenous Peoples, would take far better care of the parks than state agencies have done and that they would welcome everyone to come walk the land, knowing that this would create a more loving and educated whole society.
Independence and liberty from long ago despots is something worth celebrating, hundreds of years later, but we cannot pride ourselves on justice while holding fast to stolen lands without making even the slightest effort to acknowledge that a major mistake was made so long ago. The Native Californians are still here, still our neighbors, and still dealing with the fallout of long ago actions. California can ask them to take back some of the land, if they would like to, and tend to it in their own ways.
As I see it, this action could start something new, and this good action today would also ripple out into the future, leading to good and just outcomes for future Californians, and future Americans.
I have no idea if tribes like the Yuroks, Pomos, Karoks, Miwoks, Cahuillas, Ohlones or others would be interested in such a plan, but I feel very strongly that they should at least be asked. What do you think?