Hey Cancel Culture: What About Buffalo Soldiers?

The high priests of the cancel culture and their Black Lives Matter acolytes seek to erase history. While their first targets were Confederate statues, recently their wrath has targeted America’s Founders, particularly George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, for owning slaves. Black Lives Matter activists even defaced a statue of Abraham Lincoln, the man who freed the slaves, perhaps because his existence destroys their narrative that all white Republicans hate black people (and serves as an uncomfortable reminder that Democrats founded the Ku Klux Klan and enacted Jim Crow legislation).

The logical endpoint of this Orwellian crusade is to make anyone said to be on “the wrong side of history” an “unperson,” removing any positive, or even neutral, references or depictions. Some of the “allies” of this movement have extended the effort beyond the issue of slavery. In New Mexico, Pueblo activists have long complained about statues depicting conquistador Juan de Oñate.

Although I’m not Pueblo, my Choctaw ancestors were the original people forced to march along the Trail of Tears at gunpoint, and I’ve studied Oñate’s barbarity. Since a statue commemorating Adolf Hitler is inconceivable, the Oñate statues have always mystified me. And before anyone accuses me of reductio ad Hitlerum, I would point out that Oñate was convicted of war crimes and banished from New Mexico after ordering the siege of Acoma Pueblo that killed nearly a thousand. Of the 500 captured survivors, he personally sentenced everyone over 12 to 20 years of slavery and amputated the right foot of all men over 25. 

Note to the New York Times’ “1619 Project”: This atrocity happened in 1599 and enslaved 20 times more men, women, and children than arrived at Point Comfort aboard the “White Lion” 20 years later.

While Oñate’s war crimes are not in dispute, his “founding” of New Mexico has been celebrated in the Hispanic community for more than a century, including naming a high school after him a few miles from my house in Las Cruces.

Since agreeing to disagree without being disagreeable is heresy in the religion of “Wokeness,” what will the cancel culture do when a hero to one group of non-whites massacred the ancestors of another group of non-whites? This conundrum isn’t limited to Hispanic conquistadors.

A century before they were recast by Bob Marley as a symbol of black resistance, four volunteer regiments of black “Buffalo Soldiers” were killing Indians during the Indian Wars. While the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African-American History and Culture acknowledges the “irony of African-American soldiers fighting native people on behalf of a government that accepted neither group as equals,” it defends theProud Legacy of the Buffalo Soldiers” and their massacre of Indians because some tribes fought alongside the Confederacy decades earlier. 

Try telling that to descendants of those slaughtered during the Ghost Dance War, which included the infamous Wounded Knee Massacre. Since precisely zero tribes that the Buffalo Soldiers fought against sided with the Confederacy, that lame attempt at justification is further proof that if it weren’t for double-standards, the cancel culture would have no standards at all.

If they had even a shred of consistency, Black Lives Matters and the rest of the cancel culture should call for the revocation of the 18 Indian War-era Medals of Honor issued to black Buffalo Soldiers. Better yet, we could all agree to preserve our history so we can reflect on our past and make sure we never repeat our worst mistakes. 

About Gavin Clarkson

Dr. Gavin Clarkson served in the Trump Administration as a policy and economic development official and is a former associate professor in the College of Business at New Mexico State University. An enrolled member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, he has a B.A. and MBA from Rice University, is a cum laude graduate of the Harvard Law School, and is the first tribal member to earn a doctorate from the Harvard Business School (in Technology and Operations Management). While at Harvard, he was the president of the Native American Law Students Association, managing editor of the Harvard Journal of Law and Technology, and the only doctoral graduate in the history of the Harvard Business School to place in a livestock show.

Photo: MPI/Getty Images

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