A Native American Chief Should Have Replaced Andrew Jackson on the $20

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On April 20th, the Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew announced an important redesign of American currency.  Most significantly, the abolitionist heroine Harriet Tubman will replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill.  While Harriet Tubman is an excellent choice for an individual whose presence on our money would serve as a reminder of a terrible blemish on our past, a historical Native American leader should have replaced the noted “Indian Killer” Jackson.

Andrew Jackson deserved to be booted from our money.  The 7th President owned hundreds of slaves, was a ruthless soldier and was instrumental in the forceful relocation of Native Americans from their ancestral lands.  He implemented the Indian Removal Act of 1830, and stood by numerous violations of treaties like when Georgia ignored a federal treaty and seized nine million acres inside the state that had been guaranteed to the Cherokee tribe.  Jackson’s support of Georgia in this case resulted in the violent relocation west of tens of thousands Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muskogee, Creek, Seminole and Cherokees.  1838’s Cherokee “Trail of Tears” claimed the lives of approximately 4,000, who died of starvation, exposure and illness.

As there were several bills considered for redesign, it would have been possible to recognize Harriet Tubman and a representative of America’s indigenous people.  Harriet Tubman was a remarkable American, who escaped slavery herself and then helped rescue hundreds of slaves through the Underground Railroad.  Her life is a testament to the possibility of an individual making a difference.  But rather than having her replace Jackson, it would have been a clearer reversal of a historical injustice to replace Andrew Jackson with a Native American leader.

Sitting Bull

Hunkpapa Lakota Chief Sitting Bull

There have been a great amount of Native American leaders whose names are not known as widely as they deserve.  Honoring them the way we honor our Presidents by putting their likeness on the money we use would recognize the complexity of our nation’s creation.  One candidate could be the Nez Perce Chief Joseph (aka “Thunder Traveling in the Mountains”), who resisted the removal of his people and became known widely as a peacemaker and humanitarian. Another great candidate should be the Oglala Lakota Chief Red Cloud, who was a gifted military commander and a fierce defender of his people.  Similarly, the Hunkpapa Lakota Chief Sitting Bull, an instrumental leader during the 1876’s Battle of the Little Bighorn, would be a great presence on our currency.

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