Some Native American’s are understandably upset over Pope Francis’s canonization of a California Friar. With the main premise being that the mission system led to wide scale abuses and the eventual demise of the Native Americans as a society. There is no denying the mission system put together by Colonial Spain had plenty of abuses associated with it and I doubt anyone could defend the system as a whole. However, that is misunderstood by many is that the Native American’s were doomed from the outset and that having the advantage of hindsight does not provide one with the moral cover to remove the fact, that Native American society was going to be plundered by others.
I imagine the first kneejerk reaction to reading the above would be something along the lines of “If the Native American’s had not been mistreated and their lands taken, then they would have been ok.” Well… no, I am afraid not. Set aside your current Human Rights outlook and look at the geopolitical situation at the time. The fledgling United States were encroaching on one side, Britain on another, a dying Spanish empire another and newcomers looking at starting up as well. Essentially, the Native Americans were caught in the middle.
Now, it is easy to say what happened to the Native American’s were wrong, and to an extent there is plenty of agreement. What is not agreed but should be is that the Native Americans were not capable of withstanding an onslaught by the combined powered arrayed against them. One undeniable fact, is that the technologically superior, United States, had to extend its borders to the coast because it would have been unable to defend a border, that say ended at the Mississippi River. It was just not feasible under the conditions at the time.
The Native Americans were scattered and in no shape to fight a protracted war for generations that would have resulted when the other countries came along to conquer them. Sadly, the other countries or powers at be, at the time, would have taken advantage and destroyed the Native American’s as well.
Here is another way of looking at this. Look at it from a practical standpoint and remove the emotions for a moment. The Native Americans were vulnerable and were going to be conquered by someone. They were the weaker party to an all out global rush for power and prestige. In a situation like that, no matter how much we scream human rights, or declare our admonishment, the weaker nations are always exploited by the stronger.
Of course, that doesn’t make it right but it that is what happens. We have the advantage of looking back, but at the time people didn’t have the same respect as they do, or more appropriately, some do now. The point being, is that we were not there, making decisions at the time and while, if we went back in time, with what we know now, had we been in that position might make a different choice, we cannot travel back in time and judging the past under the current context without at least considering the previous context does not help anyone. It does not make for a realistic assessment of the historical implications of the actions that occurred.
Naturally, I do not support the idea of genocide and abuses that occurred during that time period. What I can do is recognize that it was inevitable that the Native Americans were going to be reduced because they were unable to withstand the outside pressures that were against them. By the same token, I am not going to sit and pass judgement without looking at the fact that it was necessary for the procurement of safety in a geopolitical context of the time for the Native Americans to have their society subjected to the culture of another nation.