Kamala Harris has broken many barriers in her election as vice president of the United States. But the first biracial and the person of color to become vice president was Charles Curtis, who served under Herbert Hoover in his single term. Curtis’ mother was a Native American of the Kaw Nation, and he spent his childhood with his maternal grandparents on their reservation in Kansas, and then his teen years with his paternal grandparents who wanted him to assimilate into white society. He was a longtime member of Congress, but there are reasons Curtis’ legacy is not embraced by Native Americans.
In Washington, Curtis was known for his winning personality. He wrote down and memorized the names and families of everyone he met, so he could always ask about a colleague’s wife or children by name. His colleagues just called him “Indian.” A 1900 Washington Post article used offensive language to describe Kaw men and women celebrating his reelection as “Big Chief Charles.” They would “dance for hours” around a photo of Curtis, the article claimed.
He was also on the House Indian Affairs Committee, and drafted multiple bills to “protect” Native Americans that actually further eroded their sovereignty. He continued to support the assimilation policies of the era, and advocated for Native American boarding schools. In 1902, he wrote the very bill that “legally obliterated the [Kaw] tribe,” according to the Kaw Nation website.
Read more at The Washington Post.