The Other Slavery, Andrés Reséndez

I was going to start this post about The Other Slavery by making a really grim joke about Ir*sh sl*very (asterisked out so Nazi bros don’t find my blog), but then I just got hugely sad about living in a world where that’s still a lie people perpetuate instead of talking about real actual slavery. So instead I’ll start by saying that Andrés Reséndez has produced what feels to me like a monumental work of American history, delving deep into archival records to uncover the hidden story of American enslavement of indigenous people.

The Other Slavery

Reséndez argues that while disease certainly played a role in the decimation of Indian populations in America, it was far from the primary factor. Rather, colonizing powers systematically enslaved American Indians from the earliest days of Spanish power in the Americas. Because Spain outlawed Indian slavery in the sixteenth century, however, Spanish governments in America concealed their enslavement of Indians behind a variety of smoke screens, from debt peonage to trumped-up criminal charges and disproportionate sentencing.

Their methods achieved mixed success in concealing ongoing Indian slavery from the Spanish rulers, but were phenomenally successful in concealing it archivally. Until you know what you’re looking for, it can be hard to spot in the records that what’s going on is the systematic and deliberate destruction of Indian populations, languages, and economic power through enslavement, forced assimilation, and relocation.

Pretty much the definition of genocide. In case you forgot what this country was founded on. And of course none of this stopped as the southwestern and western territories came under American jurisdiction (perish the thought).

Another section [of the Act for the Government and Protection of Indians of 1850] established the “apprenticeship” of Indian minors. Any white person who wished to employ an Indian child could present himself before a justice of the peace accompanied by the “parents or friends” of the minor in question, and after showing that this was a voluntary transaction, the petitioner would get custody of the child and control “the earnings of such minor until he or she obtained the age of majority” (fifteen for girls and eighteen for boys).1

The Other Slavery makes for some grim reading, but it’s incredibly important to know exactly how widespread and insidious these forms of slavery were. Built on the rhetoric of a civilizing mission, enslavement of native peoples lasted throughout the colonization of the continent and well into the establishment of America as a quote-unquote free nation. If the colonizing powers or, later, the United State Congress blocked one avenue of acquiring slaves, slavers would find another way to maintain their access to forced labor.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough. I would love to see its conclusions incorporated into future high school history curricula, because this is nothing I was ever taught, and I should have been.

  1. There’s an endnote here that’s even worse: This law was later expanded so the white person’s custody lasted into the child’s twenties.
  • MumsyNK

    I…can’t handle any more injustice and grief today. But would like to read this when I don’t feel so hopeless about the state of humanity.

  • Oh man, this book is going to make me so angry, but I’m going to have to read it.
    (Also, you must have felt my eyes rolling in the back of my head when I saw someone mention the other *other* “slavery” in a FB argument the other day and how hard it was for me not to jump in with those fact things.)

  • Jeanne

    I believe this is a book I should read, but I’m not getting the implied sinister significance of the quotation about apprenticeship. Weren’t there also “white” apprentices at the time? How is this different from the numbers of “internships” that college students have to work now, in order to apply for jobs later (especially students from other countries, who can’t legally be paid for work they do here)?

    • What disturbed me is that there seems nothing to stop a white person from presenting himself as the friend of a kidnapped Indian child and give the kid away to an “apprenticeship.” This was also forced labor that the children were not permitted to leave, even when they were fully grown adults in their twenties. Plus, of course, Indians weren’t legally allowed to testify against white men, so if someone kidnapped an Indian child and sold him or her into an “apprenticeship” of this type, the real parents would have absolutely no recourse.

  • Katherine Koba

    “(asterisked out so Nazi bros don’t find my blog)”

    how fucked up is it that you have to do this? Ugh.

    Adding this one to the TBR.

    • Very, very fucked up indeed. And it’s probably not necessary! It’s probably an excess of caution. But I’d rather be too cautious, you know? Than have Nazis bros hanging out in my space.

  • Stefanie@SoManyBooks

    Wow, I have never heard about this. I even took AP history in high school and not a word was ever mentioned. Way to sweep it all under the rug. Will definitely have to inform myself and read this book. Thanks!

    • Honestly, I don’t think my high school teachers knew. It sounds like this just hasn’t been studied nearly as much and isn’t a part of the cultural conversation, partly because the people practicing it concealed it behind other names. But yeah, I seriously think we need to be learning about this in schools.

  • Jeane Nevarez

    I knew about natives being forced to assimilate into white culture- children made to go to schools and forbidden to speak their own language- but I’ve only ever read once about native being enslaved, and that was in a j fiction a long time ago. Looks like something I ought to read but I think it will make me feel angry and/or morose…

  • I have never read anything on this topic, which is why I will surely add it to my TBR. But I have a feeling that this one will make me very very angry, so I will just have to ensure that I am in the right frame of mind for it.

    • Yeah, that’s always the trick when you’re reading history books, I think. Sometimes I am okay to read about super grim topics, and sometimes I need a break and to read something that makes me feel okay about the state of humanity.

  • Read Diverse Books

    Thank you so much, Jenny. This book is immediately going into my 2016 TBR. I am actively seeking books written by and about Indigenous people. Most of what I have found are novels, but I need to incorporate nonfiction into that list as well.

    • Yay! I hope you’re able to get a copy and read it. I almost mentioned it to you on twitter the other day when you were talking about reading more books by indigenous people, but since I wasn’t sure if the author himself was an indigenous person, I wasn’t sure it qualified. But it’s super good, and well worth a read.

  • I knew the Spanish enslaved American Indians from the very earliest days of colonialism, but I didn’t know it continued in the US after the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo. I did read a novel middle school—can’t remember the title—with an Indian main character who was forced to buy products at the mining camp’s company store at inflated prices, and was thus basically endentured to the company forever, but it wasn’t framed as slavery. Although it sounds quite like it! We really need to educate ourselves on slavery and be aware of its many expressions.

    • Yes! Resendez makes the case that a lot of the practices like the one in your middle school book were effectively slavery because the Indians didn’t want to be doing this work and were not legally permitted to leave. It’s just a really eye-opening book.

  • This is one of those books I know I need to read, but I avoid because it’s hard going stuff. It reminds me that I need to read more about what the English did to other nations, because it’s not a history I got taught in school (luckily I studied it at Uni). I had no idea American Indians were made slaves, a lot of “knowledge” about this era is informed by Westerns and Dances with Wolves (which I know are inaccurate).

    • Well, if it makes you feel better, I don’t think most white Americans know that American Indians were made slaves either. From what Resendez said in his introduction, this is a topic that hasn’t gotten a lot of scholarly attention by comparison with the African slave trade, and it’s definitely nothing we learned in school.

  • This sounds like it will make me angry, and that’s probably why I should read it. Adding to the possibilities for Nonfic November methinks.

    • Katie took the words out of my mouth. Thanks for sharing this one with us.

      • Nonfiction November, oh, that’s such a good idea! I’ll have to keep it in mind when November rolls around as a possible recommendation.

  • Sarah Says Read

    “Spanish governments in America concealed their enslavement of Indians behind a variety of smoke screens, from debt peonage to trumped-up criminal charges and disproportionate sentencing.”

    Ah, I wonder if the Jim Crow/War on Drugs creators got their inspiration from this. Yeah I’m going to have to read this. Instant add to my “buy and read” list.

    • I doubt they even needed to get their inspiration from somewhere, honestly. It seems like everywhere I read about oppression, the people in power use the same tired old tactics. :/

  • Alley

    this sounds very important and very depressing. But one I should most definitely read.

  • Aonghus Fallon

    The film ‘Rabbit-Proof Fence’* explores similar ground, albeit at a much later date – in Australia in the early Thirties, aboriginal children were being taken from their parents with the long term goal of turning them into domestic servants.

    *The idea of a rabbit-proof fence spanning the width of an entire continent still does my head in.

    • Oh man, yeah, I don’t think I can watch that. I’m okay to read nonfiction because it lets me maintain a degree of critical distance, but I have a really hard time with fictional representations or movies of any kind. I think with nonfiction I can avoid imaginatively identifying with anyone involved, but that’s harder with movies and novels.

  • How depressing. But I’m so glad you read it and brought it to attention. My mother loves reading books like this, so it’s a good candidate for a gift that I can later borrow. 😉

  • This definitely sounds like one everyone should read. On my TBR list now. Thank you for bringing it to my attention!