The following is an essay by Chris Mato Nunpa, Ph.D. He shared this essay with MIRAc, and it is reprinted here with his permission.
Immigration: An Indigenous Perspective
By Chris Mato Nunpa, Ph. D.
On my truck I have a bumper sticker which says, “Immigration Causes Problems Just Ask An American Indian.” It makes for a good conversation piece. However, generally, no one, certainly, most U.S. Euro-Americans, asks our (Dakota People, Indigenous Peoples) opinion of anything, and certainly not about immigration. Our views are considered insignificant. However, this Indigenous person, a Dakota man, does have an opinion, does have a viewpoint. So, I will share some comments about this topic about which many white people, especially Republicans, racists, and anti-Indigenous Peoples, get very excited.
I preface my comments with the statement that I come from a people whose lands were stolen. So, my opinion will differ from those people who stole the lands. Also, I will be contrasting the behaviors of those early immigrants from those of the more recent immigrants. By “early immigrants,” I am referring to those people who came from Western Europe in the period from 1492 to the first half of the 20th century. By my use of the phrase “recent immigrants,” I am referring to those peoples who generally have come from Mexico, Central America, and from South America, and who came in the second half of the 20th century to the present (2010).
The early immigrants certainly did cause considerable problems for the Indigenous Peoples of what is now known as the United States of America. For example, these first “boat people” stole approximately three billion acres of land in the continental U.S. Then, these early immigrants did not pay for these lands, and they still have not. In my opinion, this is indeed a serious problem. We, as Indigenous Peoples, and for my Dakota People, have about only one percent of the 3 billion acres we once had. Thus, we, the Indigenous Peoples, do not benefit from our lands, and the land-stealers, the early immigrants, reap all the benefits.
As I view the recent immigrants (most of whom are Indigenous Peoples), they are not here to steal the lands. The white man has stolen all the land. So, there is no land to steal for the recent immigrants. Thus, from an Indigenous perspective, the recent immigrants do not pose a problem
Another serious problem is the fact that these early immigrants, these land stealers, and their government, the United States government, made approximately 400 treaties with the Indigenous Peoples and violated every one of them. These early immigrants are not honest and are not people of integrity. They are promise-breakers. One cannot trust them.
The recent immigrants, from Mexico, Central America, and from South America, did not make treaties with us, and, thus, they did not violate or break treaties. One point I should make is that only sovereign, autonomous, and independent Peoples can make a treaty. Once our Peoples were strong and, thus, we made treaties with various and autonomous foreign powers, including the United States. Our Dakota People, also, made a treaty with England.
Again, from an Indigenous point-of-view, the recent immigrants are not a problem for the Indigenous Peoples of these lands which currently bear the name of the United States of America.
One of the more serious problems the early immigrants (the Wasicu, the Dakota word for white man) caused for the Indigenous Peoples is what Russell Means calls “a little matter of genocide”, a phrase for the title of one of Dr. Ward Churchill’s book. Around 1500, there were approximately sixteen (16) million Indigenous Peoples living in the continental U.S. Four centuries later, in 1900, the Bureau of Census, counted approximately 237,000+ Native Peoples. This represented a 98.5 percent population decline, if one says it nicely. If one says it not so nicely, this represents a 98.5 percent extermination rate.
The United States and its Euro-American population were efficient killers. In fact, they were so efficient that Hitler learned from the U.S. Hitler, according to Toland in his book, HITLER, supposedly the definitive biography of Hitler, said, a number of times to his inner circle how much he admired the efficiency of the U.S. genocidal programs against the Indigenous Peoples of the U.S. that he saw them as the models and forerunners of his own programs against the Jews, Gypsies, the physically handicapped, and against everyone else he did not like. Stannard in his book, AMERICAN HOLOCAUST, a book about the holocaust of the Native Peoples of the U.S., says that by the late 19th century, there was “almost no one left to kill.”
I do not see the recent immigrants killing our Indigenous Peoples. So, again, from an aboriginal perspective, the recent immigrants are not a problem.
There are many other problems that the white man, the early immigrants, caused for Indigenous Peoples, such as suppression of our languages, suppression of our “religions” (our Spirituality, our ceremonies, etc.), residential boarding schools, concentration camps, bounties, forced marches, mass executions, forced removals from homelands, etc. etc. etc. However, for lack of space, these will not be discussed. Suffice it to say that the recent immigrants did not cause the problems mentioned above.
One last comment I would like to make. Many, if not most, of the recent immigrants who come from Mexico, Central America, and from South America are Indigenous Peoples. That is, they are descended from ancestors who always lived in what is call the American hemisphere. Most of them (the recent immigrants), I suspect, are not from ancestors who come from Europe.
One of our teachings that I have heard from many of our Native spiritual leaders is the fact that the Americas (North, Central, and South) were given by the Creator to the Indigenous Peoples to take care of. And, of course, the Indigenous Peoples did care for the land (“Mother Earth”) for thousands upon thousands of years, and it, the American hemisphere, was a beautiful country when the invaders, the exploiters, the land stealers, the recent immigrants came. Today, we see the destruction, the pollution, the poisoning of the lands (fertilizers, insecticides, etc.) and the degradation of our lands in the past 534 years since the early immigrants (the white man) arrived.
In my mind, all of the Americas are for Indigenous Peoples, and the recent immigrants, most of them Indigenous Peoples, have as much right to be here in the U.S. as the early immigrants (the white man). In my mind, when a U.S. Euro-American expresses his anger against immigration, s/he is expressing his racial hatred of Indigenous Peoples, just as s/he does here in the U.S. against the Indigenous Peoples who not only were here first but were always here.
Yes, immigration causes problems!
If anyone wishes to see documentation for some of the assertions, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Chris Mato Nunpa, Ph.D.
RETIRED Formerly, an Associate Professor
Indigenous Nations & Dakota Studies