Educators need to recognize the history of legitimized racism, and its impact on colorblindness in the classroom and history curriculums. Contextual knowledge of the long history of racial stereotypes promoted by white Americans and implemented by the power structure of the Federal government must be revealed. Teachers, and scholars, will learn settler colonialism, sovereignty, treaty violations, white supremacy and the fraudulent narrative written by white Americans.
There are 567 federally recognized tribes and 35 states are still home of Native American tribes.vi Native Americans did not become United States citizens until 1924, and in 1932, federal regulations relegated Native Americans to second-class citizens: “Civilization Regulations” banned Indigenous dances and ceremonies and confined the tribes to reservations. In many areas of the country, Native Americans are still denied treaty and sovereignty rights and face discrimination by state and federal governments.
Since the Revolutionary period, white Americans embraced and encouraged racist troupes of Indigenous people for propaganda, subrogation, blame and profit. In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson added the following in regard to Native Americans: “He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare, is undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.”
Financial wealth, land ownership, a white supremacy ideology and a colonial settler narrative have been passed from one generation to the next among white Americans for over 200 years. With the assistance of the Federal Government and the United States Army, Native American land was taken on the Great Plains and in the West during the second half of the 19th Century and given to white settlers. Indigenous people were omitted from this transfer of wealth, and students need to understand how generations have endured second-class citizenship in our Constitutional Republic and a white-dominated political culture.
At the dawn of the Twentieth Century, white supremacists advocated segregation and promoted Social Darwinism to suppress all minorities, including Native Americans. Across the nation, white Americans attended Wild West shows and Wild “Buffalo Bill” Cody organized and profited off ticket sales of mock battles between the army and Indians. Many Americans embraced the racist account promoted at the shows.
Linguistics also became a rhetorical weapon of white supremacy in order to subjugate Native people. Across all avenues of popular culture, Indians were referred to as “savages,” “pagans,” “injuns,” “braves,” “bucks,” “chiefs,” “redskins,” “thieves” and “squaws” and adjectives—wild, dirty, sneaky and pesky—added to the smearing of the Indians.
Scholar Richard King writes:
“A common belief in the contemporary United States, often unspoken and unconscious, implies that everyone has a right to use Indians as they see fit; everyone owns them. Indianness is a national heritage; it is a front for commercial enterprise; it is a costume one can put on for a party, a youth activity, or a sporting event. This sense of entitlement, this expression of white privilege, has a long history, manifesting itself in national narratives, popular entertainments, marketing schemes, sporting worlds, and self-improvement regimes.”vii
Some of the negative tropes can still casually be heard and embraced by Americans: “Indian Giver” and “On the Reservation” are often employed by whites in casual conversation without even understanding the historical roots of the terms. And racial stereotypes are still accepted among families. “…American children are still socialized into playing Indian. Columbus Day celebrations, Halloween costumes and Thanksgiving reenactments stereotype Indigenous Peoples as one big distorted culture. We are relegated to racist stereotypes and cultural caricatures,” Dwanna L. Robertson stated in Playing ‘Indian’ and Color-Blind Racism.viii
In order to assist educators in augmenting the AP U.S. History curriculum, I have provided historic case studies and learning activities to illuminate colorblindness and legitimized racism in classrooms. Teachers have a variety of options to prepare their scholars for the final argumentative essay assessment: Should Congress pass an Amendment to the Constitution that bans the use of Native American symbols as nicknames, mascots or logos by sports teams? For historic case studies, educators can explore the Carlisle football team at the turn of the 20th Century and Washington Redskins’ owner George Preston Marshall, a white supremist. Both lessons place colorblindness and legitimized racism in historical context for students. For current events, teachers can examine local political debates centered on Native American mascots, nicknames and logos of teams that promote stereotypes and legitimized racism in society.
Also included in my seminar paper are activities that incorporate primary and secondary sources to debunk stereotypes and contest the colonial settler narrative. Students observe the Sioux and Coeur d’Alene histories and experiences in film—Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee and Smoke Signals—as secondary sources of Native American cultures. Two modern writers—Joy Harjo and Sherman Alexie— reveal Native American voices to eradicate racial stereotypes and promote Native American experiences. A primary source by the American Indian Movement, The Trail of Broken Treaties: A 20-point Position Paper, confronts the colonial settler narrative in the AP U.S. History curriculum. All of the historical cases and activities weave together a counter narrative to the colonial settler one embattled in the AP curriculum.