Style: Documentary & True Crime
Average Episode Length: 40 min
Many folks will be celebrating Thanksgiving in the states this week so I thought it timely to recommend a podcast that will give you insight into the history of the dealings between Native Americans and the US Government. Spoiler alert: it’s not a pleasant one. Like so many, I grew up being fed a one-sided narrative of the origins of Thanksgiving. The whitewashed story was always told from the perspectives of white colonists who landed near Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts. This version paints a picture of a peaceful, friendly meeting of English settlers and the Indigenous people living in the area for three days of feasting. The honest truth is a lot more complicated than that, which is why I recommend that you take a listen to the podcast This Land.
This Land starts out like a typical true crime podcast... with a murder, but it quickly turns into so much more. In 1999, Patrick Murphy, a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, killed a fellow tribe member, George Jacobs, and confessed the crime to Jacobs’s girlfriend. Murphy was arrested and tried for the killing, where he was sentenced to death. Soon after the trial, his attorney, a public defender named Lisa McCalmot, lodged an appeal. According to McCalmot, the killing took place on a Native American reservation, not in the state of Oklahoma, as the police and the State’s attorney argued. If McCalmot is right, Oklahoma would lack the required legal jurisdiction to try Murphy, much less sentence him to death. Although the podcast starts out with a murder, the Host Rebecca Nagle takes a detour off the typical “true crime” road and into a detailed history on the Creek Tribe, the reservation system, and the interactions between Native Americans and the US government more broadly.
Throughout season one of the podcast, Rebecca Nagle reports on the murder trial that led this case all the way to the Supreme Court. She discusses previous Supreme Court cases involving Native Americans and the brutal 1839 murder of two Cherokee leaders. I particularly like how this podcast takes its listener on a journey to show how the past impacts the present. There are some very clear lines drawn. Nagle also delves into the Trail of Tears, land allotment, and mistreatment of Native Americans by settlers and Presidents Andrew Jackson and Donald Trump. She takes us on a deep dive into topics old and more recent with great insight, offering a glimpse into the side of history our history books omitted.
Every good podcast teaches you something while telling a good story. This podcast made me re-think my opinion that Ruth Bader-Ginsburg could do no wrong. Listen, I'm not denying that the women did incredible things for women’s rights and I’m indebted to her for the privileges I take for granted today. I’m not coming for RBG, but I also think her Supreme Court decisions (including authoring majority opinions) as they pertain to tribal law and Native American sovereignty put a blot on her legacy. Like I said, a good podcast teaches you things. This Land underscores the importance of the Supreme Court decision that the Murphy case is tied to (listen to the podcast to get the full scoop).
It’s important to recognize that for many Native Americans, Thanksgiving is a day of mourning and protest since it commemorates the arrival of settlers in North America and the centuries of oppression and genocide that followed after. This Land is well worth the listen not only for its legal analysis of the Murphy case, but Rebecca Nagle’s thorough and thoughtful exploration of Native American history, the atrocities they have endured, and their resilience in spite of all of it.
In addition to listening to the podcast, I also recommend reading 6 Things Every Non-Native Should Do on Thanksgiving.