The Treaty of We Stole Your Land – It Happened Today, February 24, 2017

To say that we cannot undo history is not to say that we should not recall genuine injustices. For instance the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek, signed on September 27, 1830 but proclaimed on February 24, 1831. The first "removal treaty" under the Jackson-era Indian Removal Act, between the Choctaw and the United States Government, it traded some 11 million acres of fertile land in what is now Mississippi for 15 million acres of barren scrub in Oklahoma. Or else.

Now the Treaty did give those Choctaw who chose to remain in Mississippi U.S. citizenship, the first significant non-European group to receive it. And that is a path that should have been taken far more, and with far better goodwill on the part of citizens and governments in the United States and Canada. But it would also have been essential to leave the Choctaw, as citizens, in possession in fee simple of the land they had once held traditionally. And that was not something the American government was willing to do. Instead, each Choctaw who remained where he or she was got one "section" of 640 acres, plus a half section for older and a quarter for younger children. The rest of the land was, well, stolen.

The Choctaw were the first of the "Five Civilized Tribes" to be subjected to this unfair process and sent along the "Trail of Tears" to Oklahoma where, of course, the land was not of equivalent quality in any case. (The other four were the Creek, Cherokee, Chickasaw, and Seminole.) Around 15,000 of them went to Oklahoma, which is actually a Choctaw word (it means "red people"). And there the Choctaw were promised in the treaty "Autonomy of the Choctaw Nation (in Oklahoma) and descendants to be secured from laws of U.S. states and territories forever" which of course did not happen either. As to the roughly five to six thousand who stayed, they were harassed, abused, and encouraged to move to Oklahoma into the early 20th century.

I believe the rise of the United States to superpower status militarily, economically and culturally has been an enormous boon to the world and to Canada. But there were aspects of it, from slavery to foreign policy misdeeds to the "Indian removal policy", that remain wrong even as part of a story that turned out very well.

One Choctaw chief, George W. Harkins, wrote a letter to the American people that included the poignant phrase "Much as the state of Mississippi has wronged us, I cannot find in my heart any other sentiment than an ardent wish for her prosperity and happiness." I share his sentiment. But surely one should also wish that for the descendants of those who were dispossessed.

Not by restoring conditions of life as they had been in 1830 or 1430, but by compensation to individuals for wrongs to their direct ancestors that can reasonably be demonstrated in court, full citizenship without social prejudice, and frank recognition of the historical wrong as an outrage not only to those directly affected, but to all decent people.