With our daily headlines pinpointing problems in Europe, the near East, and elsewhere around the globe, it is easy for us to concentrate on these admittedly important problems, and forget a portion of our own population that is few in number but truly worthy of more attention than the casual and infrequent thought we give it. This is the American Indian, who has been very much in the news in recent months but rarely in the headlines.
An AP dispatch with a Miami, Florida, dateline calls our attention to what most of us would regard as a legitimate request of a portion of the Seminole Nation, namely, that they be given title to the lands they have occupied in Florida for generations.
The Seminoles were one of the five tribes which the federal government removed by force from the southeastern U.S and dumped them into what is now Oklahoma more than a century ago. This Florida band refused to surrender to white man’s force. They fled into the swampy Everglades, and there they have made their home ever since. Recently, members of the tribe met with the present Commissioner of Indian Affairs, and asked two things: 1. That they be given title to the lands they occupy (actually they have a very good claim to virtually the whole state of Florida); and 2. That the federal government recognize as legal their tribal government. The dispatch says merely that the commissioner, Glenn L. Emmons, “promised that the U.S does not intend to destroy the customs or traditions of the tribe.”
But unfortunately the American Indian has learned, often by sad experience, that the white man’s promises may well be double in meaning and not carried out in practice. Let us hope that Mr. Emmons means by his promise that justice in full measure will be done to these people who have all too long suffered injustice in the land which they occupied before the white man came.
I happen to know a little at first hand about a few of the Indian groups, having lived among the Dakota tribes for three or four years, and worked in the U.S Indian Service for eight or nine. At no time have I known the Indians to ask for more than elementary justice in the matter of their property, their governmental rights, and their civic capacities. They have volunteered for military service far beyond their proportion in the general population; the vast majority of them earn their own living and pay their debts; most of them affiliate with some branch of the Christian faith; and yet, while all Indians are citizens and have voting rights, they find themselves hedged in by special federal laws that apply only to Indians, not to the white man; their lands, funds, or other property is often subject to supervision and control by the Indian Service; and they are, in many cases, isolated on reservations that represent areas which the white man once considered undesirable for homesteading.
Unfortunately, the Indian has become something of a political football. Each changing administration feels that what its predecessor has done with the Indian is wrong, and it proceeds to encourage, sometimes indirectly to force, the Indian to go in another direction. Ofttimes, administrations, both Democrat and Republican, have pursued the courses they wished without regard to what the Indians themselves wished. Two extreme views are often crossing swords with each other over the Indian. One looks upon him as a picturesque, romantic figure, and would, figuratively at least, send him back to the blanket and keep him as nearly all Indian as possible. The other often uses the slogan, “Turn the Indian loose,” which, for many, would in effect, mean to put him at the mercy of unmerciful white men who would take what few remaining possessions the Red Man has. The answer is not so simple, but in varying degrees lies somewhere between these two extremes.
Certainly, a few things are clear with regard to the Indian. First, he is a citizen and has all the rights of citizenship. The Indian Service and the American people should never lose sight of this, and I suspect that constant vigilance on the part of the latter will do much to keep the former mindful of its obligations in this respect.
Second, the Indians have varying cultural backgrounds, and their customs, traditions, and desires should be respected insofar as such are compatible with national welfare, and I can personally think of none of these that are not so compatible. There is room in this country for cultural diversity and at the same time for the maintenance of national unity with such diversity. Only a minority of Americans, thank goodness, look with suspicion upon people who are different from themselves.
Third, the Indian deserves, and he should get, all the education he can profit by; education that will fit him to find occupational pursuits in whatever field he desires to enter. Federal schools have all too often looked upon the Indian child as a sort of guinea pig upon which to try out any crackpot theory of education that happened to be the fantasy of the service at the moment.
And last, like any other citizen, the Indian has a right to be respected and accepted for individual merit and personality traits, without regard to race. There is no such thing as a “typical” American Indian, any more than there is a “typical” American white man. Indians are individuals, just as you and I, and they have a right to be accepted or rejected as individuals, not as members of particular minority groups. Until and unless we have done these things, we will not have applied our principles of democratic society to our predecessors in migration – the American Indian.
Here is a roundup of the week’s religious news, by United Press Radio.
Bethlehem: The faithful flocked to the birthplace of Christ this weekend by plane, automobile, and on foot. An estimated six thousand are visiting Bethlehem during this Christmas season. And Arab Jordan has laid down the red carpet for the tourists visiting the holy shrines. Where they’ve only been tolerated in the past, they’re being given a friendly welcome today. Under a cloudless sky, Jordan’s Arab government greeted arrivals through the bullet-scarred Mandelbaum Gate with guides and tourist facilities. The Gate stands on the United Nations Truce Line dividing Israel and Arab Jordan.
The observance in Bethlehem is Roman Catholic, and the Christmas Mass has been celebrated by his beatitude, Alberto Gori, the Archbishop of the Holy Land. There are two Protestant services in Jerusalem, one at the YMCA and one at the American Church of the Holy City.
Vatican City: Ailing Pope Pius XII broadcast Christmas blessings to the peoples of the world (Friday). The 78-year-old Roman Catholic spiritual leader spoke for seven minutes in a Christmas Eve message recorded from his bedside in the Vatican. His voice was weak at first. It grew in strength and then showed signs of fatigue at the end of the 600-word message. In the message, the pope called on the rulers of the world to maintain peace and prayed for those who have been imprisoned because of their faith in God.
Concern of Americans today is with service men and women not at home for Christmas. But substitute family gatherings have been given to many. At homes near their stations in Britain, France, and West Germany and in other places in Western Europe, in Korea, North Africa and elsewhere, Americans away from home have not been forgotten. They are having Christmas services, Christmas trees, special dinners and programs.
Tokyo: Two top-ranking leaders of the Protestant and Roman Catholic faiths are visiting American troops in the Orient.… Dr. Eugene Carson Blake, President of the National Council of Church of Christ in the U.S.A, also has held Christmas services in Korea. Members of the U.S First Marine Division have been his congregation. Dr. Blake, who is the administrative head of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A, declared in a Christmas Eve message in Korea, “Our hope out here is illumined by this knowledge of God’s love which extends to all mankind with intimations of peace and good will [unreadable] despite…the world’s darkness and fear.”
Dr. Eugene Blake, President of the National Council of Churches, is visiting all major commands in Korea. He said he wants to convey the greetings of 30 million American Protestants to as many servicemen as possible during his visit. He toured United States bases in Hawaii, the Philippines, Okinawa, and Japan before going to Korea. He will wind up his 20-day tour and return to the United States Monday.
Francis Cardinal Spellman, the Catholic archbishop of New York, is spending his fourth consecutive Christmas with United States forces in the Far East. Today (Saturday), he has scheduled to say Christmas Mass for troops of the United States Seventh Division. Earlier, he made a round of calls on top United States military and diplomatic authorities in Tokyo, and visited patients at the Army hospital there.
Nor have the U.S soldiers forgot the children near their … stations. From their own pockets they have bought bags of toys and … [unreadable].