Men! And, yes mostly white men of Anglo descent, the ones who took Indian lands away with treaties and wars, lies, legislation, disease, and depleting food stocks, who brought the slaves and wrote the Constitution and engaged in a Civil War over Black men and women as property—commodities to be bought and sold.
These white men manned the pulpits and kept women quiet and hung some of them as witches. (No wonder some women and girls “captured’ by Indians refused negotiated releases.) They set our nation on its course.
Ben Franklin—maybe the smartest of the white men at the beginning of the nation, wondered about that. And wondered why brown men could peacefully run tribes for centuries while the British colonists disagreed ardently on so much. One trick of the Brown Haudenosaunee Confederacy’s Peace Plan was that the women chose the leaders of the five tribes charged with keeping the peace.
Indian tribes across the continents had complicated and differing attitudes and customs regarding gender—the cultural ways in which biological differences are worked out in societies. In Origin: A Genetic History of the Americas, author Jennifer Raff says that “Out of 27 individuals buried in late Pleistocene and early Olocene sites with toolkits for hunting big game, that were possible to sex morphologically, 11 have been sexed as physically female.”
There are more recent stories of Native female warriors and two-spirited people with ambiguous gender identities. So much for the strict male-female rhetoric the WASPs in those early days espoused and passed on to the generations. They wrote their own stories—and they wrote down the stories of Native people as they interpreted them or feared them or wanted them to be.
Maybe I am stretching things, but it seems to me that everywhere I turn in thinking about today’s problems, I see the handprints of WASP men who set the nation on its course and seem to dominate it still from their graves. Oh, they have help now in the form of other whites-again mostly men, with complicated European roots. German and Scandinavian immigrants were maybe the first to become White, but during and after WW II, Italians, and Slavs, Greeks and Poles, some even Catholic and Eastern Orthodox in their religious roots, became White as well. The War had mixed them up from coast to coast, thrown them into the same foxholes during the War and the same GI Bill programs after it was over.
Blacks and Asian-Americans did not fare so well, even those decorated for War service, after it was over. And Native Americans, who had served honorably in the War, who had been decorated as Code Talkers, were met with the last great attempt to do away with them as Indians. In the 1950s, the Eisenhower Administration promulgated the “Termination Program” and the “Relocation Program.”
Termination meant to cash the Tribes out, dismiss old treaty obligations regarding health and education, and sell away tribal lands—in our state the Klamath lands went to timber companies. Relocation meant that young Indians were given bus tickets to cities, a few dollars, and the BIA’s pledge to help them find housing and employment. It proved a huge disruption to Tribal life across the country.
And now the “white supremacy” movement, with its own deep roots in the old Southern Anglo-American KKK and the early twentieth century KKK that thrived on Anti-Semitism and Anti-Catholicism, seems to be rearing its head.
They are the loud echoes of the old WASPs. The quieter but ultimately more powerful echoes sound in Congress and the Supreme Court. Congressmen and some women (now, that the old WASPs’ notions of “all men” got expanded in a constitutional amendment) cater to a base that is afraid that Blacks, Browns, and Yellows (to use an old pejorative for Asians that I never did understand), will “replace” them.
And the men—and one woman—on the Supreme Court preach “originalism,” a doctrine that today’s rulings must be based on the “original intent” of those WASP founders who wrote the Constitution.
Yes, bow now to those old white men who didn’t think women should vote—or, for the most part, be educated or hold property; who were still taking Indian lands as they wrote their Constitution—and didn’t allow the ones already subdued to be citizens; who owned non-voting African slaves and counted them 3/5 for population numbers to ensure the slavers’ grip on the country.
It took a Civil War to do away with slavery and give Blacks the vote, and then a hundred years of further hurdles aided and abetted by a stream of new White Men serving as a Supreme Court to make that vote actually available.
Indians could get citizenship back in the 1880s if they agreed to own land individually rather than tribally—and paid taxes on it. The “surplus” lands not allotted to individual Tribal members were then sold off to white settlers—a massive land heist that punctuated a centuries-long acquisition effort.
The ”originalists” now find ways to defend individual ownership of military weapons—not yet tanks or bazookas, but who knows—that could not have been dreamed or conceived of by those original WASP men. And they will control women’s bodies as surely as the WASP preachers of our earliest days controlled them, as surely as the six—yes six—members of the first Supreme Court had not a thought about women voting or serving on their illustrious body.
I find my comfort today in Indian Country, in people tied to lands they’ve lived with for thousands of years, and, while doing so, have retained words, practices, and ceremonies WASPs have tried so hard to erase.
As for “originalism,” I’ll look to Deb Haaland at the Department of the Interior for guidance—and maybe some of the two-spirted sages as well; and I’ll suggest that Congressional and State Department officials look to the Haudenosaunee’s Great Law of Peace for roads away from the knots of turmoil and conflict that seem more overwhelming today than even the Covid pandemic.