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The Statue of Liberty on Ellis Island in New York City was dedicated on October 28, 1886.

Native History: The Statue of Liberty Stands for a Legacy of Hypocrisy

Christina Rose

This Date in Native History: On October 28, 1886 the Statue of Liberty first shined her light on the American harbors, promising freedom and liberty to all who entered. In fact, all that lay behind her was the destruction of liberty and a tradition of broken promises.

Where were the promises of freedom and justice in 1864 at the Sand Creek Massacre under U.S. Army Colonel John Chivington’s command, as his buffalo soldiers ruthlessly and brutally killed and mutilated 100 of Black Kettle’s innocent band, even as they waved a white flag and an American flag in surrender?

RELATED: Government Seeks to End Claims From 1864’s Sand Creek Massacre

Would Lady Liberty have let President Abraham Lincoln hang 38 Dakota men?

RELATED: Minnesota Works on Forgiving But Not Forgetting Its Native History

By the time the statue was almost complete, near the end of the 19th century, the “California Scalp Industry” had paid $1 million, at $50 to $100 each, for the scalps of Natives. The scalps were said to be best accompanied by the ears lest the bounty hunters cheat and cut the scalp into many pieces. What would the Light of Safe Harbor have said about that? Or of the 12,000 children taken from their families, brought by train across the country to the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, to be “detribalized.” Some never saw home again. The boarding school legacy still haunts the reservations as families try to mend the broken link in their family chain.

RELATED: Carlisle Indian School Descendants Fight to Preserve Part of Painful History

As more than 12 million immigrants arrived at Ellis Island, how many promises had been made to them? If her eyes had been clear, she would have seen that more than half of the immigrants a century before entered this country as servants and slaves.

The poem engraved at the base of the statue was written by the wealthy idealist Emma Lazarus and heralds those coming to the New World: 

“A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles.”

The 1800s meant nothing but exile for Natives in this country. Across the Plains, countless tribes were marched from their homelands—5,000 Cherokee died on the Trail of Tears, the removal of 15,000 Cherokee and other tribes from their homelands to Midwest reservations. The Mother of Exiles also missed the theft of 50 million acres of Sauk and Meskwaki land, and the broken treaty and diminished lands of the Lakota/Dakota/Nakota after the discovery of gold in the Black Hills.

“From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

‘Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!’ cries she

With silent lips.”

Immigrants were told there was land here for the taking. It was offered for free to whites who didn’t know or didn’t care that it was stolen from the Plains Tribes.

“Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”

Were there ever more tired, poor, huddled masses than those killed at Wounded Knee, piled in a mass grave in the winter ice and snow of 1890, a mere four years after the lady opened her welcoming arms?

“Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Perhaps her light shined only for those who saw the glory of a golden door. For the indigenous of this country, the 1800s were a dark time. While the U.S. was welcoming others, it was imprisoning this country’s Indigenous Peoples on reservations.

RELATED: 5 Monuments Guaranteed to Drive Natives Nuts



J Lathrop's picture
J Lathrop
Submitted by J Lathrop on

As a history major, it continually amazes me at how much the US as a whole decries the actions of some while doing the same to others...we've adopted a "Do as I say, not as I do" mentality. It's sad, really, that we fail to at least admit to the injustices and mistakes we've made as a nation. History is written by the victors and from their own perspective to glorify their leaders. It fails miserably in showing folks the bigger, uglier picture of the realities of what happened.

Anonymous's picture
Submitted by Anonymous on

still waiting for the wrongs that cauce so mush misery to the real americans be set right even to admit that all the killings were not for right reasons they were for the greed and selfish that was in all the power of wealth

Anonymous's picture
Submitted by Anonymous on

still waiting for the wrongs that cauce so mush misery to the real americans be set right even to admit that all the killings were not for right reasons they were for the greed and selfish that was in all the power of wealth

Michael Madrid's picture
Michael Madrid
Submitted by Michael Madrid on

This country is sold to immigrants in a complex marketing scheme. How many immigrants came here to face poverty, discrimination and violence? How many continue to face these tribulations? Now, how many actually believed these beautiful words as they came here to find their future? All they needed to see was how the original inhabitants were treated to see how they'd fare.

This country was founded on hypocrisy. The "founding fathers" who have been idolized by the Tea Party as being the scriptors of our values (life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, ALL men are created equal, etc.) were slave owners themselves. When they wrote that all men are created equal under God, they meant THEIR GOD and White-skinned men.

This is the America that the Tea Party wants to return to - the "good old days" when you could buy a Black man and still hunt Indians and Mexicans.

We have a LONG way to go before we even get close to the ideals we're so proud of. We'll never get there unless we open our eyes and look at our country without the blinders of patriotism and nationalism.

Rob Scott's picture
Rob Scott
Submitted by Rob Scott on

People only acknowledge those parts of history that they choose which make their own race look good ........ Open your eyes to ALL of our history.

Anonymous's picture
Submitted by Anonymous on

Looking back at 'my' eperience in a white, secluded, white, protestant, white, rascist, caste system town in the mountains in Oregon "IF" I had asked my white from Nebraska, history teacher 'Does that "send these, the homeoess, tempest-tost - - " phrase pertain to me and my Indian ancestors?' He's have made me write a thousand word essay and then he'd have kicked me out of class -- maybe out of school. I still haven't had an explanation of 'why this did not mean the indians'. Of course there is no 'satisfactory' explantion -- I just want someone to try to explain this bull-chesle`.

Anonymous's picture
Submitted by Anonymous on

I'll go ya one better. the Statue is not even "Liberty!" it is an homage to Isis, first offered to another country and rejected; then offered to, and accepted by, the American Government and designated to "represent our ideals of Liberty". "who are we, really? and, "have we ever really kept a promise to anyone?" AND, by the can you "discover and claim" an entire, FULLY POPULATED continent? it is said the Native "American" was here roughly 16,000 years before the White Man! so, how the hell does he lay claim to this continent?

Anonymous's picture
Submitted by Anonymous on

The real statue of liberty was actually a black women,the shackles and chains are still on her feet

wolf's picture
Submitted by wolf on

This makes my heart race I want everyone to hear and see this I want to shout this outloud

Paul Strome's picture
Paul Strome
Submitted by Paul Strome on

The Excited States of America has proven itself over time to be the most corrupt, dishonest, greedy, hypocritical, ignorant, self indulgent, non-democratic, war mongering, egotistical nation on the planet and I have examples for each of these to back up my statement.