A History Of Native American Activism & Policy

Oct 8, 2018

Monday is Indigenous Peoples' Day in parts of the U.S. In others, it’s Christopher Columbus Day — a fact that many Native American activists take issue with, given Columbus' crimes against native peoples, including enslavement, murder and genocidal acts.

Although Native American history predates the U.S. history by thousands of years, many textbooks condense it to a few paragraphs. But throughout the history of the nation, native people have fought for their rights through battles, legislation and demonstrations. 

Heather Bruegl is a member of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin and a historian and lecturer on Native American activism and policies. 

She says, "People tend to think of indigenous people or native people, you know, being at one with nature and harmony and all of the good things. But what they fail to realize is that we are activists, as well. We are resisting, we are trying to decolonize, we are trying to embrace our religions again."

"People tend to think of indigenous people or native people, you know, being at one with nature and harmony and all of the good things. But what they fail to realize is that we are activists, as well. We are resisting, we are trying to decolonize, we are trying to embrace our religions again."

As part of her lecture, Bruegl discusses some of the policies that governed native people as white settlers moved west. She specifically mentions the work of President Andrew Jackson, who broke treaties with tribes and signed the Indian Removal Act. The act allowed the government to steal land that had been promised to Native American tribes and led to the death of thousands of people during their evacuation, dubbed the Trail of Tears. 

President Donald Trump has been a vocal admirer of President Jackson. President Trump made a pilgrimage to Jackson's tomb to pay his respects to the late president and he has a painting of Jackson hung in the Oval Office. Bruegl says that Trump's praises ignore historical facts.

"I think that’s one thing that we do in history, is we try to sugarcoat it.  I don’t sugarcoat it, and I don’t feel like I need to because I feel like history speaks for itself. And the history says Andrew Jackson was not a good man. It hurts my heart, it hurts my spirit, when I hear people sing his praises," she says. 

Heather Bruegl is a historian and lecturer who will be in Milwaukee Tuesday, Oct. 9, for the Lunch & Lecture series at the Milwaukee Public Museum