Paul C. Rosier: Native Americans' Enduring Struggle for Justice

Roundup: Historians' Take

[Paul C. Rosier is an associate professor of history at Villanova University.]

In December 2009, the Obama administration settled a 13-year old legal dispute over the federal government’s management of American Indian land trust accounts that date to the late 19th century. The $3.4 billion settlement addressed the frauds and failures of government oversight of Indian monies. It also provided a measure of justice to American Indians, who, despite the poor treatment accorded them in matters such as trust accounts, racial discrimination, and treaty violations, have acted patriotically in the name of an America that champions cultural pluralism, minority rights, and international law.

American Indians demonstrated this patriotism in multiple ways during the 20th century. They served their country in World War I in the name of Wilson’s call to “make the world safe for democracy.” A new generation fought overseas in World War II for the four freedoms proclaimed by President Roosevelt. Yet when they returned to New Mexico in 1945 the Navajo Codetalkers and Ira Hayes (Pima), who helped raise the flag on Iwo Jima, were denied the right to vote.

American Indian veterans and politicians demanded that the United States reward their service as well as uphold 19th century treaties to preserve America’s moral reputation as it assumed a prominent role in shaping post-war international relations....

American Indians’ motivations for serving their country remain constant in the 21st century. Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, Leonard Gouge (Muscogee Creek) explained why he was serving in the army by saying that in “supporting the American way of life, I am preserving the Indian way of life.”...

comments powered by Disqus