At the Lincoln Memorial, beneath the text of the Gettysburg Address, there is a room with an elevator and a door. In this room, while waiting for an elevator that never came, I noticed a sign for the US National Parks Service:
“That’s interesting,” I thought, “Native Americans and bison.” Two groups that my ancestors hunted to the brink of extinction. Yet, today they symbolize the preservation of our wild frontier.
After I made this connection, the looming text of the Gettysburg Address started to feel like a grand contradiction. This speech was given almost three decades before the Wounded Knee Massacre that finally ended the American Indian Wars. When he gave the speech, Lincoln made the bold claim that the phrase, “all men are created equal,” applied to enslaved people, but he made no mention of the other war out West.
Instead, he said that “our forefathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty…” It was an incredible proposition (and it’s a remarkable nation), but our forefathers needed a clean slate for this new, great nation. So they drove away all signs that this wasn’t a new or completely pure endeavor.
Native Americans were quarantined to the remotest sections of this land-rich nation. Today, many residents of the reservations live in poverty, many desire cultural and traditional significance, and many long for the places of their forefathers.
This world wasn’t new when America was founded. Freedom wasn’t truly extended when the Civil War ended. Today, we are living the dreams of Europeans that took a chance.
The rest is complicated/history.