Thoughts by Richard Bleil
Happy Native American Heritage Day. While I’m not exactly a fan of the president who started the ground war in Iraq, the war in Afghanistan and nearly collapsed the entire international monetary system, George W. Bush did, in fact, sign into law the Native American Heritage Day, with legislation introduced by Joe Baka (D-California), a day to celebrate the Native American people annually on the day following Thanksgiving.
Yep, we celebrate our Native American Brothers and Sisters on Black Friday.
The reality is that America would have never been settled had it not been for the assistance (and permission) of the Native Americans. If they had suffered from the same fears and prejudices as our society seems to suffer today, they were more then strong enough to simply push the settlers back off of the continent. Instead, they welcomed the settlers, and their strange ways of building permanent structures rather than moving with the seasons and food, and despite the history books telling us of atrocities, they even helped the settlers adapt to their new surroundings.
The Native People introduced natural medicines to the settlers, including Spiraea such as certain trees that contain salicylic acid, found in modern day aspiring, and fertilization which they attributed to a gift for Mother Earth, a kind of offering for the plants in the form of fish heads planted with the crops. Thanksgiving is purported to have been a feast between the Native People and the Settlers to celebrate the harvest and share in comradery, but sadly, it didn’t last.
I’m not saying that one side was somehow better than the other, but the Native American war began somewhere around 1609 and lasted until approximately 1924. The war was spurred on by nations that opposed the British settlement of the new continent. For example, probably the most brutal act associated with the Native Americans is the practice of “scalping”, that is, removing the skin from the top of the skull, but as it turns out, this was not a practice native to these people until it was introduced them by French settlers. In the hopes of carving out part of the new land for France, they taught the Native people how to scalp, and then offered a reward for every settler scalp brought to them.
It’s unfortunate the number of bad things the settlers introduced to the Native people. Ships with settlers brought with them disease and plagues that would have otherwise not been known by the native people, and introduced them to at least distilled alcohols, although no doubt they already knew of fermented fruit as this is a naturally occurring phenomena enjoyed even by wild animals.
As late as the 1950’s, native children were abducted off of reservations in the middle of the night and forced to go to white boarding schools. If you’re wondering who would perform such heinous acts, it was us, as these kidnappings were carried out by the FBI. Today atrocities on native land, despite treaties guaranteeing their sovereignty as a nation, continue as we plow through their holy land for pipelines and withhold funding guaranteed to them.
The Native People have been the victims of a smear campaign on their character as long as the history of the settlers. I’ve written before about the Lewis and Clark expedition, where their account of the “native savages” were full of heroism against violent and untrustworthy savages, while other accounts portray the Native People as warm, welcoming and actually very helpful. If you wonder which account could be the true one, simply ask yourself how far Lewis and Clark could have possibly survived if, indeed, so many of the Native Americans didn’t want them there. The “heroism” and “thievery” described by Lewis and Clark is in contrast to other accounts that describe simple cultural misunderstandings between the representatives of the US army and a gentle and warm people.
I am fortunate to have lived in the midst of the Native American people living in the Black Hills. I’ve seen their warmth and hospitality and I have been broken-hearted to see their struggles. I’ve seen native people who are bad, and I now have a Native American brother. All in all, the native people are just that, people. As it is all too common to try to categorize them in generalities, they are as diverse a group of individuals as anybody else. The major difference is their persecution, a persecution that we see all too often in the treatment of minorities and based on religion. I wish we could finally learn and move on from this kind of hatred.