Dehumanization of Native Americans is definitely a thing and, back in the 1870’s, Native Americans were literally considered wild animals. There is a persistent view, to this day, that Native Americans are closer to nature than Euro-American settlers. While it is true that many Native people care about the environment, there’s a difference between seeing them as individuals who care about nature and being lower beings who are more of a part of nature than white people.
In 1879, the Poncha Chief Standing Bear became a civil rights leader when he successfully argued in court that Native Americans are persons under the law.
You can read about Standing Bear’s journey and victory in the book Standing Bear is a Person. Standing Bear had to actually argue for his own humanity, saying before the court, “That hand is not the color of yours, but if I pierce it, I shall feel pain. If you pierce your hand, you also feel pain.”
In times like these, we need to weed out stereotypes and various forms of dehumanization. We can look to brave people like Standing Bear to be our guides.
Native American history is often sad. Standing Bear’s victory did some things for Native people, but bad policies and actions toward Native Americans continue to this day. During Native American Heritage Month, we can learn about Native American heroes like Standing Bear and share in their victories by seeing Native Americans as valuable, unique human beings who should be able to live freely and securely.