Historian studies complex role of Native Americans PDF Print E-mail
Written by PETER KUEBECK Sentinel Staff Writer   
Monday, 13 May 2013 09:34
Walter Hixon speaks as the 2013 Gary Hess Lecturer. (Photo: Enoch Wu/Sentinel-Tribune)
As historians consider the history of diplomacy in the United States, a large piece of the puzzle seems to be missing.
That piece: the place of the Native American in governmental relations, and their impact on the subject.
Recently, noted historian Walter Hixson attempted to redress the balance in his talk as the 2013 Gary Hess lecturer in Diplomatic History at Bowling Green State University.
Hixson, a scholar at the University of Akron, noted that the relationship between the white settler and the Native American has been portrayed variously as the valiant pioneer against the savage, or the active explorer against the passive native.
The reality, Hixson argued, has been frequently more complex throughout American history, with degrees of what he termed "ambivalence" - times, places and circumstances where the lines between Native American and pioneer could not be so carefully drawn.
The violence between whites and Indians during the early days of the American experience is, he said, perhaps the most familiar, but also least understood, issue. While settlers overall sought the removal of indigenous peoples as part of their colonization efforts, "(Native Americans) shaped the colonial encounter at the same time they were shaped by it."
Native Americans, he said, were not merely reacting to white entrance into their own lands, nor was that issue always central to their interactions: they often had other matters on their mind, including their own complex and often widespread political, economic and cultural networks with other tribes, and they worked towards their own political goals.
"A lot of the violence of the frontier, it's not all perpetrated by whites versus innocent Native Americans," contrary to depictions often seen in modern scholarship.
"The European-American settler had no monopoly on violence."
Hixson also pointed out that the kinds of "scorched earth" tactics - including the deliberate destruction of settlements and lands - utilized by settlers against their native opponents had an unexpected consequence - carryover into other conflicts.
He drew a link between those tactics and the use of similar acts in the Mexican War of the 1840s, the Philippine-American war early in the 1900s and, perhaps most telling of all, the Civil War, in which the doctrine of "Total War" against the South, espoused by Gen. William T. Sherman, yielded successful results, but also engendered hard feelings decades later.

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