GMD Memorial Essay, April 2010: Native Americans by Ahmed Uddin

GMD Memorial Essay, April 2010: Native Americans by Ahmed Uddin
Individuals, who wish to practice pacifism when oppression is placed upon other people, fail to realize that one day the tides of tyranny will reach them. Ugly incidents in history tend to repeat themselves, yet we fail to digest the accounts and avoid such a history.
We fail to act when action is required.

Native Americans suffered a genocide that almost led to their extinction. A race almost wiped out from the face of the earth.

Many Muslims failed to take lessons from our predecessors in combating crimes against humanity; Imam Ali said “To render relief to the distressed and to help the oppressed make amends for great sins.”[1]

It is a disgrace that no nation came to the aid of Native Americans.  To bring this matter closer to heart, it is believed and evidence exists to suggest that many of the Native Americans were part of the Muslim Ummah (community).  We speak of a united Muslim world, yet Muslims have sleep walked away behind the principles of having a Caliphate, purpose should take priority over practice or implementation.

The scholar Imam Ghazali referred to the caliphate as an ummatic umbrella functioning to protect the functional integrity of Islamic thought rather than to govern politically.

Another great scholar Ibn Taymiya on the topic of the caliphate said that the unity of the Muslim community depended not on the symbolism represented by the Caliph, much less on the political authority, but on “confessional solidarity of each autonomous entity within an Islamic whole.”  

The purpose behind the autonomous entities, to work as a confederation of states or global community for the sole purpose of worshipping God.  

The covenant of Medina is argued to be the first constitution to have been written in human history. A state composed of confederations of tribes and religions.

Dr Robert D. Crane[2] presents evidence that the spread of Islam brought the concept of confederation to America almost 700 years ago.  He argues that the principles of the Medina Covenant were transmitted through the Cherokee[3] and Iroquois[4] as the founding principles of the Great American Experiment in the holistic symbiosis of order, justice and liberty.

Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States (1801–1809) was the principal author of the Declaration of Independence (1776). He was one of the most influential Founding Fathers. Jefferson said that he borrowed the American system of government from the Iroquois confederation.[5]

The Native Americans have been faced with near extinction of their people, culture, religion and tradition.

The colonial mentality has yet to recede from Western conceptual thinking even today racism and religious supremacy are tangled within its core.

Racism and religious intolerance played a major role in the European dispossession and enslavement of Native Americans in the colonial period.  

The notion of “natural rights” as well as the concept of white supremacy originate in Aristotle’s works and manifested itself when the European powers went gallivanting around the world to civilize the inferior races.  

Juan Gines de Sepulveda met with Bartholomeo de las Casas at Valladolid, Spain in 1555 in a disputation over the enslavement of the people of the New World.  

Sepulveda argued for the enslavement of the indigenous people on the basis of the intellectual and moral superiority of the Spaniards: “In wisdom, skill, virtue and humanity, these people are as inferior to the Spaniards as children are to adults and women to men; there is a great a difference between savagery and forbearance, between violence and moderation, almost – I am inclined to say – as between monkeys and men.”[6]

Many of the expeditions led to the enslavement of indigenous peoples, where they became a commodity in the open market.

A Cherokee from Oklahoma recalls his father’s tale of the Spanish slave trade “At an early state the Spanish engaged in the slave trade on this continent and in so doing kidnapped hundreds of thousands of the Indians from the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts to work their mines in the West Indies.”

The “black legend” of Spanish ethnocentrism and genocidal cruelty spread like wildfire throughout Europe as a political, economic and religious sentiment which fuelled colonial expansion.

After the great success of the first slaving voyage of John Hawkin, Queen Elizabeth became a shareholder of his second slaving voyage.

Charlestown was founded in Carolina some hundred years later, and enters England into the commercial slave market that made Charleston as the centre of the slave trade for two centuries.[7]

The founding of Charles town in Carolina saw England enter the commercial slave trade. Charleston became the centre of the slave trade for the next two centuries.

The English used the same demonizing rhetoric of “heathens” and “barbarians” as they used against Scotland and Ireland as justification for the rape and pillage of the indigenous peoples.

The colonists used “hostilities” from the indigenous peoples as an excuse for the resulting “Indian Wars”, which was only a cover for the commercial enterprise they embarked upon.

The old rule of divide and conquer that has been repeatedly used in history, was employed to play pawn with the Native Americans against each other.[8]

A significant change took place in 1619 with the arrival of twenty Africans aboard a Dutch man-of-war.  American slavery shifted from the “tawny” Indian to the “blackamoor” African over a period that reached its peak between 1650 and 1750.  

During this transitional period, the colonial “wars” against the Westo, Tuscarora, Yamasee and numerous other indigenous peoples led to the enslavement and relocation of tens of thousands of Native Americans. [9]

The first phase of eradication of the Native Americans that lead to the genocide was when the younger generation sided with the British against the encroaching American settlers.  The older generation realized what was taking place and initially opposed war, and did not wish to take part in foreign wars.[10]

To cause division and to make the task at hand easier for the Carolinians, they formed alliances with coastal native groups.

The natives were armed and probed to make war on weaker tribes.  This internal warfare led to further enslavement of the natives, as by the late seventeenth century, caravans of Indian slaves were making their way from the Carolina backcountry to forts on the coast, just as slave traders persuaded the Africans to sell their own people on the African continent.  
Once they got their human “commodities” to places like Charleston or Savannah, the slave traders exported them on ships through the “middle passage” to the West Indies or northern colonies such as New Amsterdam and New England.[11]

An interesting development took place, the common status of being a slave meant both Native Americans and African slaves worked together, lived together, produced recipes and herbal remedies and also intermarried.

Due to the tradition of Native Americans being primarily matrilineal, African males who married native women became incorporated into his wife’s clan and nation.

As mentioned earlier, racism was the calling card that allowed colonists to go on their exploits.

This mentality also seeped into the Native American culture. Prior to the colonists, the concept of race as an identifying component did not exist in the Native American culture and tradition.

In Cherokee cosmology there is no mention of race, and their legends emphasized a common human origin. Only a few years after the introduction of Christian traditions and the idea of race as a component within human interactions, would a Cherokee myth of multiple origins and racial hierarchy be developed.[12]

The unity of natives with blacks alarmed the colonists, as historian William Willis states that one of the main reasons that they cut down on Native American slavery was white fears of an alliance between Native Americans and African immigrants.

Again let us not forget here that many of the slaves brought over from Africa were of Muslim heritage and practicing Muslims. Again we can see the concept of the caliphate escaping our thought processes and hearts, not only failing to protect our brethrens  but selling our brethrens into slavery.

The colonists acted upon the fear of unity and developed mechanisms to differentiate between Africans and Native Americans. Miscegenation laws were passed to restrict the intermarriage between them. Native Americans were used to quell slave revolts and  African slaves used against “Indian uprising”. The colonists engineered hatred amongst the two groups which became an enduring element in the relationships between the natives and blacks.[13]

In 1803 Thomas Jefferson set the precedent for the “colonization” or “removal”. He appropriated fifteen thousand dollars for this project, and this would become inextricably linked within liberal rhetoric over the next fifty years.  

The Treaty of New Echota was signed by some individual Cherokees, but not by the principal officers of the Nation.  It called for an exchange of eastern lands for lands west of the Mississippi River in Indian territory, and for the payment of $15,000,000 to the Cherokees.

Although the leaders of the Cherokee Nation, including Chief John Ross, pro-tested the treaty, it was eventually implemented.  The land of the Cherokees which had once been so immense was now under threat. In 1838 the Cherokees, in the middle of winter, were forcefully expelled from their lands by the United States Military all the way to Oklahoma. General Winfield Scott was sent to oversee their removal.

Mooney summarizes some of the events of the relocation:

“The history of this Cherokee removal of 1838, as gleaned by the author from the lips of actors in the tragedy, may well exceed in weight of grief and pathos any other passage in American history.

Even the much-sung exile of the Acadians falls far behind it in its sum of death and misery.

Under Scott’s orders the troops were disposed at various points throughout the Cherokee country, where stockade forts were erected for gathering in and holding the Indians preparatory to removal.

From these, squads of troops were sent to search out with rifle and bayonet every small cabin hidden away in the coves or by the sides of mountain streams, to seize and bring in as prisoners all the occupants, however or wherever they might be found.

Families at dinner were startled by the sudden gleam of bayonets in the doorway and rose up to be driven with blows and oaths along the weary miles of trail that led to the stockade.

Men were seized in their fields or going along the road, women were taken from their wheels and children from their play. In many cases, on turning for one last look as they crossed the ridge, they saw their homes in flames, fired by the lawless rabble that followed on the heels of the soldiers to loot and pillage.

So keen were these outlaws on the scent that in some instances they were driving off the cattle and other stock of the Indians almost before the soldiers had fairly started their owners in the other direction. Systematic hunts were made by the same men for Indian graves, to rob them of the silver pendants and other valuables deposited with the dead.” [3]

It is in their natural rights to resist, and the Cherokees did so in large numbers. Many were ambushed and taken away like animals; their hands were bound and tied before being brought out of their homes. The following is an account of an African American member of the community:

“The weeks that followed General Scott’s order to remove the Cherokees were filled with horror and suffering for the unfortunate Cherokees and their slaves. The women and children were driven from their homes, sometimes with blows and close on the heels of the retreating Indians came greedy whites to pillage the Indian’s homes, drive off their cattle, horses, and pigs, and they even rifled the graves for any jewellery, or other ornaments that might have been buried with the dead.

The Cherokees, after having been driven from their homes, were divided into detachments of nearly equal size and late in October, 1838, the first detachment started, the others following one by one. The aged, sick and young children rode in the wagons, which carried provisions and bedding, while others went on foot.

The trip was made in the dead of winter and many died from exposure from sleet and snow, and all who lived to make this trip, or had parents who made it, will long remember it, as a bitter memory.”[14]

The United States Military gathered individuals up and placed them in concentration camps where they were kept as “pigs in a sty”, soldiers forcibly seizing horses and cattle, taking possession of houses from which they had ejected occupants.

Among them were Indians, Africans and other members of the Cherokee Nation.  The cruelty unleashed on the natives even stirred the conscience of a volunteer, he said:

“I fought through the civil war and have seen men shot to pieces and slaughtered, but the Cherokee removal was the cruellest work I ever knew.”[15]

It infamously became known as the “Trail of Tears” where they were forced to march to the West. The Cherokees were initially rounded up into small stockades, they were brought to three points for their removal west: Old Agency on the Hiwassee River (near Calhoun, Tennessee), Ross’s Landing (Chattanooga, Tennessee), and Gunter’s Landing (Guntersville, Alabama). Most travelled overland in thirteen recorded groups averaging about 1,000 people each.[16]

It is reported that 4,000 people died during the removal, a third of them died en route while the federal troops watched. For the Cherokees, the Trail of Tears was the last of the great acts of ethnic cleansing that began with the American Revolution.[17]

Many suffered from diseases on their journey, they suffered “colds, influenza, sore throat, pleurisy, measles, diarrhoea, fevers, toothache and, among the young men, gonorrhoea” also dysentery, whooping cough, and cholera. Others died from accidents, cold of winter, hardships of the journey, and gunshot wounds; still others from inadequate food and starvation.

The figure 4,000 is a disputed figure as many of the deaths occurred upon arrival of their new location. What has not been accounted for is what took place upon arrival.

They began dying in great numbers, for they had no doctors or medicine to combat disease, many died of simple starvation.[18]

In fear of the success of the Christian and U.S. governmental drive to stamp out the Cherokee religion in Oklahoma, and to preserve their religion and lives, three groups broke off from the Trail of Tears, one going to Ohio and two to Indiana. It is there the Cherokee religion was best preserved for more than a century.[19]

What began as an orgy of slave dealing  lead to the decimation of entire peoples. It is unfortunate that we as human beings are capable of such crimes, and yet many who were responsible fail to even apologize for past acts of their government.

In 2006 then Prime Minister Tony Blair said he feels “deep sorrow” for Britain’s role in the slave trade, and that it had been “profoundly shameful”, but Blair stopped short of issuing a full apology.[20]

In 2009 The U.S. Senate issued a resolution that called upon President Obama to formally apologize for the historic violence and injustices inflicted upon Native Americans by the federal government.

Many commented such an apology is unnecessary, while others say it’s not enough.[21]

It is shameful, that we even refuse to apologize for our past crimes or even complicity in it. I wish to leave you with a statement read by a Native American.

The world was glued to the screens in shock when on March 27, 1973, a young woman named Sasheen Littlefeather took the stage during the Academy Awards to decline Marlon Brando’s Best Actor Oscar for The Godfather.

“For 200 years we have said to the Indian people who are fighting for their land, their life, their families and their right to be free: ”Lay down your arms, my friends, and then we will remain together. Only if you lay down your arms, my friends, can we then talk of peace and come to an agreement which will be good for you.”

When they laid down their arms, we murdered them. We lied to them. We cheated them out of their lands. We starved them into signing fraudulent agreements that we called treaties which we never kept.

We turned them into beggars on a continent that gave life for as long as life can remember. And by any interpretation of history, however twisted, we did not do right.

We were not lawful nor were we just in what we did. For them, we do not have to restore these people, we do not have to live up to some agreements, because it is given to us by virtue of our power to attack the rights of others, to take their property, to take their lives when they are trying to defend their land and liberty, and to make their virtues a crime and our own vices virtues…”[22]
[1] Ahlul Bayt Digital Islamic Library Project ‘The Infallibles Sayings of Imam Ali (A.S.)’ (Online), Available at  LINK [Last Accessed 29 March 2010]

[2] Dr Robert Dickson Crane is a Resident Scholar at the International Institute of Islamic Thought, a co-founding board member and former Chairman of the Center for Understanding Islam, and Director for Global Strategy at The Abraham Federation: A Global Center for Peace through Compassionate Justice. In 1962 he co-founded the Center for Strategic and International Studies. From 1963 to 1968, he served as Foreign Policy Advisor to Richard Nixon who appointed him as Deputy Director of the National Security Council in 1969. Since 1982 Dr Crane has been a full-time Islamic scholar and activist. He was Principal Da’ii (religious instructor) at the Islamic Center, Washington, D.C (1983 -1986). He was Director of Publications at the International Institute of Islamic Thought from 1986 to 1988. He was a Founding Member of The American Muslim Council, and in 1993, he was elected president of the Muslim American Bar Association.
Crane, R (2009) Islamic Social Principle of the Right to Freedom (Haqq al-Hurriyah): An Analytical Approach, (Arches Quarterly) London: The Cordoba Foundation, p. 14

[3] North American Indians of Iroquoian lineage who constituted one of the largest politically integrated tribes at the time of European colonization of the Americas. Their name is derived from a Creek word meaning “people of different speech”; many prefer to be known as Keetoowah or Tsalagi. They are believed to have numbered some 22,500 individuals in 1650, and they controlled approximately 40,000 square miles (100,000 square km) of the Appalachian Mountains in parts of present-day Georgia, eastern Tennessee, and the western Carolinas at that time.

Encyclopedia – Britannica Online Encyclopedia ‘Cherokees’ (Online) Available at LINK  [Last Accessed 29 March 2010]

[4] any member of the North American Indian tribes speaking a language of the Iroquoian family
Encyclopedia – Britannica Online Encyclopedia ‘Iroquois (Online) Available at LINK  [Last Accessed 29 March 2010]

[5] Crane, R (2009) Islamic Social Principle of the Right to Freedom (Haqq al-Hurriyah): An Analytical Approach, (Arches Quarterly) London: The Cordoba Foundation, p. 5

[6] Minges, P ‘Beaneath the Underdog: Race, Religion and the Trail of Tears’ American Indian Quarterly, Vol 25, No 3, pp. 453-479, Summer 2001

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Al-HudaFoundation ‘Reviving the Classical Wisdom of Islam in the Cherokee Tradition’ (Online). Available at LINK[Last Accessed 29 March 2010]
[11] Minges, P ‘Beaneath the Underdog: Race, Religion and the Trail of Tears’ American Indian Quarterly, Vol 25, No 3, pp. 453-479, Summer 2001
[12] Ibid.
[13] Ibid.
[14] Ibid.
[15] Ibid.
[16] Thornton, R ‘Cherokee Population Losses during the Trail of Tears: A New Perspective and a New Estimate’ Ethnohistory, Vol. 31, No. 4, pp. 289-300, Autumn 1984

[17] Al-Huda Foundation ‘Reviving the Classical Wisdom of Islam in the Cherokee Tradition’ (Online). Available at  LINK [Last Accessed 29 March 2010]

[18] Ibid.

[19] Al-HudaFoundation ‘Reviving the Classical Wisdom of Islam in the Cherokee Tradition’ (Online). Available at LINK  [Last Accessed 29 March 2010]
[20] BBC (200) “Blair ‘sorrow’ over slave trade” BBC News online, 27 November 2006, Available at LINK [Last accessed 29 March 2010]

[21] NPR ‘U.S. Apology To Native Americans: Unnecessary Or Not Enough?’ (Online). Available at  LINK [Last Accessed 29 March 2010]

[22] Native Village ‘Marlon Brando’s Unfinished Oscar Speech’ (online). Available at LINK  [Last Accessed 29 March 2010]

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