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Sample Essay on Indian Removal

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In the past few weeks, we have written sample research papers on industrial tourism and why it was such a bad thing for the nation. After all, many trees and forests are cut down just to pave roads for tourists. This has been a debate for many years, dating back to the time of Theodore Roosevelt and his green initiatives. We also wrote about prominent national parks such as the Blue Ridge Parkway. This sample research paper on National Parks highlighted how it was a major turning point for many states to include tourism as a major part of the local economy. However, less has been mentioned about national parks and how it relates to a major issue, Indian removal. The following sample essay on Indian removal shows how the United States wrongly carried out malicious actions. Mark Spence's Dispossessing the Wilderness: Indian Removal and the Making of the National Parks is the major reviewed work. 

Defining the National Park and its Relationship to Indian Removal

National parks are one of the most cherished natural artifacts that nations possess today as it represents a piece of untouched land. The United States began to preserve and monitor the use of lands like Yellowstone since the early 1800’s. Mark Spence, in Dispossessing the Wilderness: Indian Removal and the Making of the National Parks, studied this process of defining and preserving national parks while simultaneously removing the Indians. Spence utilized several case studies in defining and articulating the process of how we perceive these sacred national parks today. However, while Spence did present strong evidence and a convincing argument for his thesis, he tended to generalize the experience and attitudes of Americans with regard to national parks and Indian removal.

Spence's Evidence for Justifying Indian Removal: Case Studies

Spence’s argument consisted of utilizing case studies of Indian removal in order to epitomize American romanticism of expansion, manifest destiny and untouched and uninhabited wilderness. In outlining the background for his argument, Spence argued that in the pre-civil war era, Indians and natural land were interchangeable elements in defining the vast western lands past the Mississippi (11). This represented a more barbaric vision of what the west was like. Next, Spence proposed that the Mexican-American war subsequently changed this viewpoint by introducing the concept of manifest destiny (29). Naturally, this attitude no longer included perceiving the land as Indian Territory but as rightfully natural within the context of American expansion.

Consequently, as tourism in the west became commercialized, the case study of Yellowstone epitomized driving Indians away as not to scare away tourists and to deliver a peaceful and uninhabited view of the land (69). Spence’s next case study epitomized how the National Park service fought tooth and nail to exclude the Blackfeet Indians from being seen at the Glacier National Park after they won several court cases to retain their presence (95). Spence’s final argument proposed that albeit Yosemite Indians were used as bait for tourists, they were generally held out of sight (119). To summarize, Spence argued strongly for the removal of Indians being an integral force in meeting the demands of American tourists who wished to see uninhabited land and generally natural scenic views.

Hypocritical Views on Indian Removal

In criticism, Spence’s theme of uninhabited land conflicted with his own evidence of Indian involvement. For example, Spence called upon George Caitlin’s notions of vast territories where Indians were in their own natural environment and exhibited their traditional life styles before the civil war (3). While Spence used this evidence anecdotally to examine how the American viewpoint of the wilderness has changed, it is important to note that the American perception of the west did in fact include the Indian presence (10). Americans were aware that the land was inhabited by Indians and their lifestyles were based on utilizing the natural resources that were present. However, after the civil war the American population suddenly wished to associate the western lands as natural and uninhabited.

It is a strong generalization not only to argue that American’s envisioned an uninhabited land due to manifest destiny, but also that American’s wanted to see Indians in their natural state before that. The sharp cultural differences between Americans and Indians more likely depicted a much more troublesome relationship. Since Indian culture was seen as barbaric, there was most likely a lack of nostalgia for those values. Therefore, Spence overstated the value of stereotypical American impressions of the west.

Next, Spence’s argument of a vanished Indian presence remains problematic when we evaluate the consistency of the Indian presence throughout his case studies. For example, the Yosemite Indian presence was very strong with their native traditions of dancing, singing, festivals and such even after the military tired to exclude them from the tourist experience (98). This directly conflicted with Spence’s paradigm of a natural landscape without any inhabited Indians (70). Clearly, while the military and park conversation efforts intended to exclude Indians, this was not always the case as Spence’s own evidence suggests.

Moreover, the previously mentioned example of enticing tourists with the notion of a nostalgic vision of a vanishing Indian population remains problematic twofold: (i) firstly, if Indians were truly disassociated from the western perception of the land, why were they there, let alone there as a tool for commercialization (ii) finally, if Indians were truly alienated from their own lands, why didn’t Spence paint them out to be victimized? The answer lies in the fact that the lingering nostalgia of the Indian population was a great marketing tool and that not all Indians were successfully removed and alienated from their lands. Thus, Spence’s argument falls through based on the premise that he generalized both the Indian experience and the American attitudes toward the whole situation.

Conclusion and Discussion

In summary, Spence’s argument does in fact contribute to the study of national parks and Indian removal because he does provide truly accurate accounts of what happened early on. Indians were in fact removed from their lands and they did creatively respond to these efforts with varied success. It is also true that the American attitude and overall paradigm of the National park has changed throughout history. However, it is inappropriate to generalize that Americans viewed the western lands with Indians or without them based on changing events such as the civil war and manifest destiny. Unfortunately, history, as most things in life, is simply not that black and white. Consequently, I would recommend Spence’s work for the basis of historical reference and not wholly his argument. His argument serves as a great example of critical analysis and deserves to be integrated in the general discourse of the subject. Finally, those who wish to have a deeper understanding of Indian removal, its implications and the evolution of the definition of the national park would benefit greatly from this work.

Works Cited

Spence, Mark D. Dispossessing the Wilderness: Indian Removal and the Making of the National Parks. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

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