We are taught at too young an age to disregard Indians

I”Black people yellin’ racism, white people yellin’ reverse racism, Chinese people yellin’ sideways racism … but ain’t nobody got it worse than the American Indian… .” – Chris Rock It seems we are bred from our first years of schooling to disregard the plight of the American Indian. Elementary schools whitewash – no pun intended, but definitely something intended – gloss over and “forget” to teach it. We don’t want our children hearing about the atrocities committed because we wouldn’t want them getting the wrong idea about the great men who founded this great country. We don’t want them hearing morbid stories of deception and destruction, raping and pillaging, and the near extinction of an indigenous culture.

I remember an instance from my elementary school days. When I was in fourth grade, a Milwaukee-area member of the Cherokee Indian tribe visited my school. He gave a rather impressive and colorful presentation in the gym and then asked for two representatives from each class to remain while the rest left. I was one of the chosen few.

After everyone else left, he outlined the little deal he was going to cut with us. If we signed a sheet of paper, he would give everyone in the class $5 and a bag of candy. So, like little Tony Montanas, we decided the world was ours and we wanted to grab it. We signed the treaty, neglecting to even think about the indecipherable Cherokee it was written in, and returned to our classes triumphantly.

After bragging to all my buddies about the sweet deal I’d just made, I was told to return to the gym to collect. When I arrived, the man asked for my allowance. I had no idea what he was talking about. He explained that we had signed a contract, and he was there to collect.

I was appalled – as appalled as a fourth grader can be. What was he talking about? He showed me the treaty and told me that right there, plain as day, it stated that I, and every other member of my class, owed him our allowances for the next five years. We all whined that that was not what he had told us; we called him a cheat and a liar. He told us that this was the same thing the U.S. government did to the American Indians many years ago.

Later that day, I asked my teacher about this guy and the raw deal he brokered. She brushed it off. Then she and another teacher told me about how he seemed really bitter. Even then I could hear the indifference in their voices, like he was complaining over spilt milk or something. And I accepted it. I accepted that he was bitter and disregarded the exercise he had used to inform me of the hypocrisy that pervaded and enveloped my education. And the teachers were fine with it. They were as ignorant as I was. They shared the same indifference of an entire race that an 11-year-old did.

We need to teach kids the truth about the history of our country, which, while great, is far from infallible. We have come a long way, but as long as indifference stands and is engrained in our minds from such a young age, the plight of the American Indian will remain outside the public consciousness. If we shelter our children all their lives from the realities of our nation’s history, they will grow up shocked and awed at the injustice that surrounds them. No one ever said, “Lies will set you free.”

Neil Munshi is a guest columnist. He welcomes comments at [email protected]