The Divided States of America|Michael Jansen - GulfToday

The Divided States of America

Michael Jansen

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.


Demonstrators protest after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota. File

Last weekend’s commemorations of the holiday marking the founding of the US 244 years ago was like none which had gone before. Division rather than unity marked July the 4th. Division between Whites, Blacks, and Browns was fanned by Donald Trump in his July 3rd appearance at the Mount Rushmore monument to four presidents and his address on the 4th to loyalists on White House lawn.

The Trump cavalcade on the route leading to Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills of South Dakota was briefly but with high symbolism blocked by men and women of the First Nation, Native peoples initially and wrongly identified as “Indians.” The protesters occupied the road for three hours before Trump was due to arrive at the monument on Friday evening for a $600,000 (Dhs2.2 million) rally and fire-works display billed to taxpayers rather than his re-election campaign.

The faces of two presidents carved on Mount Rushmore, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, were slave owners, while Abraham Lincoln, the liberator of black slaves, ordered the execution of three dozen Natives, and Teddy Roosevelt was an unrestrained colonial expansionist who marginalised the original inhabitants of the land which became the US.

The Natives who protested Trump’s event insist that the US government illegally carved the massive stone faces of the presidents on a mountain sacred to the tribes on land awarded to them by a 1980 Supreme Court decision after decades of litigation. The land was appropriated by the government in an 1873 deal which the tribes never accepted. The offending cliff face carvings were completed in 1941. Protesters brandished signs reading, “Protect SoDak’s First People,” “You Are On Stolen Land,” and “Dismantle White Supremacy.”

Hehakaho Waste, a spiritual leader with the Oglala Sioux tribe, said, Trump “needs to open his eyes. We’re people, too, and it was our land first.” The mainly white South Dakota National Guard, in helmets and body armour, arrested protesters who refused to budge.  Trump accused the protesters of “engaging in a merciless campaign to wipe out our history” although white colonists wiped out the ancestors of the protesters and enslaved Africans.

The Pine Ridge Native Reservation in Oglala Lakota County, is 130 kilometres from Mount Rushmore where the Lakota People’s Law Project stated Trump had no business to be as the entire area is “sacred land.” The reservation is the seventh largest and poorest in the US.  Although its land area is 2.1 million acres, 1.7 million are “held in trust” by the government, allegedly, to benefit the Natives. The reservation’s 18-19,000 inhabitants have the lowest US life expectancy and per capita income. The areas has the highest rates of unemployment (up to 89 per cent) and poverty (80 per cent) in the country. Residents suffer from disease and early death: men at 47 and women at 55. In spite of the dire conditions on the reservation, including a lack of piped water and clinics, lockdown, curfew and manning checkpoints at the borders of the reservation have kept the number of infections down to around 30 cases.

The Lakota people had no other option.

Located near the reservation are parks and monuments commemorating the extinction of Natives. Adjacent to Mount Rushmore National Park is Custer State Park named for Colonel George Armstrong Custer who was deployed to fight the Natives and was killed along with his regiment by a coalition of tribes at the 1876 Battle of Little Bighorn. Wounded Knee, located in the southeast of the reservation, is where in 1890 US soldiers massacred several hundred Lakota tribesmen in an effort to disarm them. Nearby is the Crazy Horse Memorial which depicts the Lakota warrior on his horse. It is significant that work on this monument, which is on private land, was begun in 1948 but never completed unlike the presidential faces at Mount Rushmore.  

The American Indian Movement, founded in 1968 by Dennis Banks, strongly supports the Black Lives Matter movement. A larger percentage of Natives than Blacks are killed by white policemen. Since the May 25 murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Natives, whose sons, brothers and husbands have died in encounters with police, have taken part in nation-wide protests. Melissa Goodblanket, mother of a teenaged victim, told Levi Rickert of Native News Online, “Finally, for the first time, people are waking up. It is for the greater good for all living beings…that’s what is on my mind.”

On July 4, Natives marching in Los Angeles on the West Coast called for de-colonisation of minds and pointed out that Europeans brought a host of pandemics to the US. In the East Coast city of Baltimore, protesters toppled a statue of Christopher Columbus, who sailed to the Americas in 1492, and threw it into the harbour.

This coincided with Trump’s pledge to “protect” the “American way of life” which, he said, began when “Columbus discovered America.” Indeed it did, Columbus enslaved, exploited, and suppressed native populations and launched European colonisation of the Western Hemisphere which involved genocide, war and oppression.

Schooled in the colonists’ version of US history, Trump seeks to preserve not only blatant misrepresentation of events but also the monuments and statues honouring the men who deliberately built a dysfunctional country divided racially, socially and economically. The US is not alone. Native and Black populations in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Central and South American countries suffer deprivation, division and distress. These populations are also raising the banner, “Our Lives Matter” inspired by what is going on in the US.

In this region, the colonisation and ethnic cleansing process which has overtaken diverse peoples who became victims of earlier colonialists continues apace in Palestine where Israel is gradually enclosing natives in shrinking West Bank/Gaza “reservations” controlled from land, sea and air by Israel which is also encroaching on Palestinian lives, land and heritage in East Jerusalem.


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