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Politically Challenged, Indian Style: Can You Answer 12 Native History Questions?

Is it fair to ask college students to know Native American history when they don't even know their own? Can you answer 12 Native history questions?

PoliTech, a student project at Texas Tech University, conceived a project nicknamed “Politically Challenged” that has been causing great hilarity across social media and has racked up over two million views on YouTube. Using the roving microphone format on campus, the Tech students asked fellow students the following stumpers:

Who won the Civil War?

Who is Vice President of the United States?

Who did the United States gain independence from?

In what year did the United States gain independence?

The university students found the following much easier:

What television show is Snooki on?

Who is Brad Pitt married to?

Who was Brad Pitt married to before?

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) a yearly survey that bills itself “the nation’s report card,” found that only 18 percent of U.S. eighth graders were proficient in history in 2014, a number that has not improved since 2010.

After we got up from our roll on the floor laughing about the Texas Tech project, the truth sunk in that Indians are always complaining about public ignorance of our history when the evidence is that most kids don’t know their own history—which is also ours from a different point of view. How could they know another culture’s point of view if they don’t know the narrative as understood by their own culture?

What if, we wondered, the same kind of test asked fairly easy questions about Indian history? How would those white and black students do? To be honest, we would also have to ask how Indians—both students and adults—would do if questioned about their history?

For anyone who wants to test their friends or themselves, we offer a dozen questions on history asked from the Indian point of view.

True or False?

1. There were no cities in the Americas before white people built them.

2. The Pilgrims arrived in North America just in time to save hungry Indians from starvation by introducing scientific farming methods.

3. Chief Seattle founded Starbuck’s

Multiple Choice

4. If you were at West Point teaching a very basic course in cavalry tactics as understood in 1876, you might say that George Armstrong Custer lost his last engagement because of what tactical error?

a. Engaging when his assignment was reconnaissance.

b. Splitting his command in the face of a superior force.

c. Ignoring the best intelligence available, which led him to underestimate his adversaries.

d. All of the above.

5. What explorer of the American West discovered that wind and water had carved the heads of U.S. Presidents on Mount Rushmore?

a. John C. Frémont

b. Kit Carson

c. Davy Crockett

d. none of the above


Mount Rushmore, as seen from the viewing plaza.

6. The Greasy Grass Fight is known in American history as:

a. the Battle of New Orleans

b. Tippecanoe

c. Custer’s Last Stand

d. the triumph of F Troop

7. Who was on the other side of what the history books call the French and Indian War?

a. New Jersey

b. Georgia

c. Texas

d. Great Britain

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This painting of a conference between French and Indian leaders around a ceremonial fire was done by Emile Louis Vernier before 1887.

8. The famous Cherokee George Guess aka Sequoyah invented:

a. 4-wheel drive

b. helicopters

c. a writing system

d. the automatic transmission

9. The Three Sisters are:

a. Florence Ballard, Mary Wilson, and Betty McGlown

b. Pocahontas, Sacajawea, and Sarah Winnemucca

c. corn, beans, and squash

d. Cherokee, Choctaw, and Chickasaw

10. Which of the following would have been associated with the phrase “ethnic cleansing” if the phrase had existed at the time?

a. The Potawatomi Trail of Death.

b. The Navajo Long Walk.

c. The Cherokee Trail of Tears.

d. all of the above

11. Which American military leader commanded the colonial forces in the third great battle with the Seminole Nation that resulted in the defeat of the combined forces of the Seminoles and the African-American escaped slaves being sheltered by the Seminoles?

a. Andrew Jackson

b. Stonewall Jackson

c. Michael Jackson

d. none of the above

12. Name either three of the Six Nations or two of the Five Tribes?


1. False. The Spanish colonists had to fight to take control of cities in the Aztec and Incan Empires. The archaeological record reveals earlier cities inhabited by Mayans.

It took archaeologists longer to admit the size of the populations and therefore the agricultural surplus necessary to build the Mississippian Mounds discovered in many places along the river. Early colonial speculation attributed the mounds to space aliens.

According to materials found in the ruins of Chaco Canyon in what is now New Mexico, the ancestors of the modern pueblos built their city athwart trading routes that stretched west to the California coast, south to the land of the Aztecs, and east across the Mississippi River to Cherokee country.

2. False. It was the other way around. Indians shared enough food to allow the Pilgrims to survive the first winter in spite of an unfortunate incident involving theft from Indian graves recorded in A Relation or Journal of the Beginning and Proceedings of the English Plantation Settled at Plymouth in New England, first published in 1622. It was all downhill from there.

3. False. Sitting Bull founded Starbuck’s.

4. All of the above. Many historians believe Custer also yielded high ground—a grave tactical error when outnumbered—when he attempted to charge into the Indian camp and seize women and children for hostages, only to be repulsed up what the colonists call Last Stand Hill.

5. None of the above. The feature the colonists call Mount Rushmore is part of the Pahá Sápa, sacred to the Great Sioux Nation. The faces are not natural but rather a desecration by the colonists.

6. The colonists call the Greasy Grass Fight Custer’s Last Stand or the Battle of Little Big Horn.

7. The French and Indian War was spillover from a European disagreement called the Seven Years’ War. French Canadians call it La guerre de la Conquête, The War of Conquest, and as a result of the war the British permanently exiled French Acadians for the purpose of taking “their” land, which they had taken from the First Nations. Many of the Acadian exiles ended up in Louisiana, where today they are called Cajuns. Indians fought on both sides according to their immediate tribal interests, but most sided with the French. The French and Indian War was fought before the United States existed.

8. Sequoyah invented the Cherokee Syllabary, resulting in a literacy rate in the Cherokee Nation before Removal in the high 90th percentile, a much higher literacy rate than among the yonega who engineered the Removal to appropriate Cherokee lands and the gold at Dahlonega.

Painting by Charles Bird King, 1828/

Sequoyah and the syllabary he invented quickly changed Cherokee life. In 1828, Cherokees published the first American Indian newspaper, the Cherokee Phoenix.

9. Corn, beans, and squash are staple crops grown together because their differing needs make them ideal for what the colonists called “companion planting” after they discovered the scientific basis for the method and quit calling it heathen superstition.

10. All of the above. These three are merely examples and are not all the ethnic cleansing that took place or all that left generational scars on the survivors. The motive in all cases was to take Indian land. The Potawatomi were ethnically cleansed from what is now Indiana in 1838, the Navajo from what is now Arizona in 1864, and the Cherokee from what is now the Southeastern U.S. in 1838-1839.

11. None of the above. There were three Seminole Wars, not three big battles. The wars mostly involved colonists marching around in armies while the Indians practiced what we now call guerilla warfare. The Seminoles did take in escaped slaves who fought alongside the Indians, but the entire Seminole Nation was never defeated on the battlefield. They simply disappeared into the swamps and Seminoles live in Florida to this day.

12. The Six Nations aka the Iroquois Confederacy aka the Haudenosaunee are the Mohawk, Onondaga, Oneida, Cayuga, Seneca, and Tuscarora Nations. They are believed to represent the oldest living participatory democracy on the planet and some historians claim the U.S. Constitutional Convention was influenced by the political methods of protecting separate interests within a confederation invented in the Six Nations.

The Five Tribes—the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole—originally dubbed the Five “Civilized” Tribes by the colonists, are not all of the same language groups but share a history of being ethnically cleansed from the Southeastern U.S. and resettled in Indian Territory, which was promised to be their property forever but is now called Oklahoma.


This map shows Indian Removal from 1830-1836. Oklahoma can be seen in the light yellow-green color.