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On Conspiracy, Part 1

A column by Steven Newcomb about conspiracy and how it relates to Native Americans.

It is common to see the term “conspiracy” used in a disparaging manner, especially when it comes to such issues as the JFK assassination and 9/11. I have often said with tongue in cheek, “I don’t believe in conspiracies, but I do believe in long-range plans.” It is often assumed that people who believe in “conspiracies” are probably a little unbalanced, and most likely delusional.

Having given the subject of conspiracy a great deal of thought, it recently occurred to me that the history of U.S. Indian policy provides a great deal of evidence about white men conspiring (planning) to eliminate American Indians. Take the example of Thomas Jefferson’s plan, expressed in a private letter to Northwest Territory Governor William Henry Harrison, regarding the use of trading posts. What did Jefferson propose? Simple: “…we shall push our trading houses, and be glad to see the good and influential individuals among them run in debt, because we observe that when these debts get beyond what the individuals can pay, they become willing to lop them off by a cession of lands.”

What long term goal did Jefferson have in mind? “In this way our settlements will gradually circumscribe and approach the Indians, and they will in time either incorporate with us as citizens of the United States, or remove beyond the Mississippi.” Jefferson saw the first idea (to “incorporate with us as citizens”) as resulting “certainly the termination of their history most happy for themselves…”

In other words, in the event that the Indians became merged “as citizens” into the body politic of the United States, Jefferson envisioned a time when our nations and peoples would no longer exist. How curious that Jefferson saw the prospect of Indians no longer existing as a “happy for themselves.”

When we consider Jefferson’s well thought out plan to run influential Indians into debt and then getting them to part with large amounts of Indian lands to resolve or settle that debt, does this constitute a conspiracy? After all, Jefferson’s envisioning, and a great deal else, was ultimately carried out by white men in the U.S. government. Did they “conspire” to take over hundreds of millions of acres of Indian lands, or did they just “plan” to do so?

How about what was once known as “the Indian System”? Was that system conspiratorial? In 1978, historian David A. Nichols published Lincoln and the Indians, a book that recounts the hanging of 38 Dakota Indians in Mankato, Minnesota in 1862. To set the context for that heinous event, Nichols explained the Indian System as follows:

"The Indian System revolved around the efforts of rapacious white men to commandeer these [[treaty annuity] monies. Again and again, tribes were moved to barren country where they could not sustain themselves, either by hunting or farming. That opened the monetary floodgates, creating a demand for contractors and traders to provide provisions, with payment overseen by the Indian agent. The system featured every conceivable kind of financial corruption—kickbacks, inflated prices, false claims, and payments for goods and services never actually delivered."

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Nichols continued: “most of this money never trickled down to the Natives. Starving Indians became commonplace in the West; such starvation was precisely what touched off the Indian war in Minnesota in 1862” which resulted in the hanging of the 38."

Was that starvation the result of what we now know as “conspiracy”?

The Winnebagos as well as the Dakotas were removed from Minnesota as a result of the 1862 war, which had resulted from the iniquities of the Indian System. The Winnebagos were removed west to the Dakota Territory. As Nichols points out: “There were thirteen hundred Indians, only one hundred and sixteen of whom were males fifteen years or older.” Camped around the Winnebagos were nearly six hundred white people. And what were they doing there? “They all live one way or another from the Governmental appointments.”

Were the 600 white people “conspiring” to feed off the misery of the Winnebagos, or just planning to do so?

Space does not permit a fuller recounting of the heinous crimes committed against Indian people during that period and every other period for that matter. The history of “the Indian System” demonstrates that the fabric of the American society was woven of conspiracy, enabling it to feed off our originally free and independent nations and peoples, while “dancing” on Indian graves in celebration.

Men who conspired to engage in the Revolution, such as George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and others, demonstrate that the wealthiest and most influential sectors of the American society were born of conspiracy. The society they sired has continued to uphold that deadly tradition of secrecy to this very moment. This is not just bad for Indians. It’s bad for everyone.

Steven Newcomb, Shawnee/Lenape, is co-founder and co-director of the Indigenous Law Institute, author of Pagans in the Promised Land: Decoding the Doctrine of Christian Discovery (2008), and the Indigenous and Kumeyaay Research Coordinator for the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaaay Nation.