Miseducation of White Supremacy

This is another example of what White supremacy looks like, what it does, and what it continues to do. 

I grew up in Indiana, a state literally named after the indigenous people who originally lived on this land. I have always lived in Indiana. I currently live in a city that is named “city of Indians” - Indianapolis. There are cities, towns, and historic sites that dot the landscape of this state (not unlike many other states in the United States) bearing the names of the first nation peoples who lived here, grew crops here, raised children here, died here, and were buried here - Mississinewa, Muncie, Salamonie, Miami, Mishawaka, Delaware, Wawasee to name a few. 

As a part of our elementary and middle school education, every child in Indiana takes obligatory classes and units of study the history of Indiana. During these classes and units, we are taught how Indiana became a state, what role the citizens of Indiana played during important moments in the history of the United States, critical events in the development of the state, influential individuals who helped form Indiana and its legacy, and even some of the names of the indigenous tribes who lived on these lands for hundreds of years before the territory became a state. How nice. 

However, what I was never taught was what happened to the people who lived here before my ancestors took the land from them. I was never taught about something I discovered through reading the incredible book Native: Identity, Belonging, and Rediscovering God, by Kaitlin Curtice. Kaitlin is a citizen of the Potawatomi Nation. The Potawatomi first lived in lower Michigan and eventually moved to the northwestern part of Indiana, and their territory extended into central Illinois. 

I had heard about the Potawatomi before. I probably learned how to properly mispronounce the name sometime in elementary school. But here is what I learned for the first time at age 52. Read that sentence again just for effect before you read on. The Potawatomi of Indiana were forcibly removed from their ancestral lands by the government of the United States in 1838. 859 Potawatomi were forced to walk from Indiana, across Illinois and Missouri, to Kansas. This 60 day journey covered some 660 miles and resulted in the deaths of 41 Potawatomi, most of whom were children. This forcible removal was subsequently known as the Trail of Death. The Trail of Death. I read the section of the book again just to make sure I hadn't somehow misunderstood. I simply could not believe that I had never heard of this before. I asked Jennifer, my wife, if she had ever hear of this tragedy. She said, “No. I have heard of the Potawatomi, but never the Trail of Death.” 

You see. That is what White supremacy does. White supremacy erases history. White supremacy erases entire people groups. White supremacy erases individuals. White supremacy kills. It does so not only through physical violence, but also through the violence of selective memory loss. It will only teach its young what will ensure that none of the most important and most difficult questions are asked. It will only teach its young what will ensure that they only know what White supremacy deems important. That is how it clings to its power. That is how it indoctrinates its children into its toxic and deadly way of life. And it does so nearly imperceptibly to those who are a part of its circle.

We can change this. We do not have to repeat this murderous pattern. We must take initiative to educate ourselves. We must learn about our history from the vantage point of those who have been dominated, removed, and erased by White supremacy’s lust for power and privilege. We must break this cycle for the sake of the memory of the Potawatomi who lost their lives, the Potawatomi who proudly live into the beauty of their heritage, and for those whose experiences mirror those of the Potawatomi even today. It is up to us as White people to break this cycle for the sake of all things living. I pledge to do my part to learn, to educate, and to demand change.

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