Indians vs. Settlers – Letter from a Concerned Parent
An in-class supplement from the desk of SeanG
(Updated 1/2015 | Published here 7/2010 | Originally published 4/2007)
First and foremost, the reason behind this paper is not, let me repeat, is not to incite parents to call the school and complain about what our kid’s are being taught. We must keep in mind that the teachers only teach what they are told to teach. The purpose of this paper is meant as a supplement for those who wish to deepen their conversation of history with their son or daughter that reveals both sides of the historical coin. I do not wish this paper to be viewed as an apologetic for the atrocities that some in the name of religion or greed inflicted on the New World. We hear of these all the time, however, this truth can be twisted and misrepresented in a way that is a tool for special interest groups as well as being a means towards a political goal, which, in California, is par for the course.
I was somewhat troubled when I was going over my child’s in class social studies notes and homework. His notes were gleaned from an in class video and discussion (the social studies book does a decent job at staying neutral on the subject, so this critique deals primarily with the in class discussion and video). Below (fig. 1) is an exact reproduction of my son’s notes (cannot reproduce for this posting).
At first glance, to some, this may sound standard, and some may even believe that the European man was this horrible, and that the Native-American is angelic and at “one with nature.” This assumption that one is indoctrinated with needs a critical look however. And afterwords, you, the parent, can decide what is relevant to discuss with your kids, as I have done.
The first two columns on the Native-American and Explorers side will take some time to deal with. The Native-American certainly did believe that the land was a gift from their Creator; however, the litany of tribal elders in the video speaking of the land as not being “owned” is merely semantics. Most tribes did – I repeat – did fight for territorial rights and hunting grounds. Some tribes, after depleting an area of its natural resources (dealt with more in-depth later) would pack up and move, only to battle for more resources elsewhere. They may not have set up picket fences, but they sure did act as if this land was theirs. The video also portrayed contradictory statements by the elders of the various tribes, in one quote it was said that the Native-American did not own the land, and in another, we are told that the Comanche owned 600 million acres.
This comparison of the Native-Americans respecting nature so much that they thought it immoral to “own land,” (column #2) compared with the column to its right mentioning that the explorers “own[ed] humans,” is another play on words. Not only a play on words, but devoid of important information that could balance the times in which these two peoples tried to co-exist. The video makes it seem like slavery was the invention of the European settler, and only he was vile enough to practice such. The video showcased Native-Americans expressing their distaste for the white-man in a virulent manner. For example (and bear in mind this quote – directly from the video – can be applied to this entire thesis):
“The white-man has always had the philosophy that they are thee dominant race. That it is their manifest destiny to take over the world, so to speak. Indians did not accept this idea. They were here as stewards of the land. They were here to take care of it while they were here, but they never owned it.” (Emphasis added)
The video is conveniently silent on the matter of Native-Americans owning slaves, and not only that, but treating them horribly (e.g., separating other Native-American couples and forcefully taking the women as wives [rape], murder, etc). Choctaws, Chicasaws, Cherokee, Creeks and Seminoles are just a few examples of tribes that owned slaves. To be fair, the social studies book did mention that the Aztecs, at least, owned slaves (p. 67).
There were, to be sure, peaceful tribes in the pre-Columbian America, like the Hopis of the Southwest and the Slaves (not to be confused with slaves) of sub-artic Canada. Most Native-American tribes, however, were familiar, long before Columbus, with the kinds of wickedness that had beclouded European (and the Asian and African continents) history for centuries: aggression, warfare, torture, persecution, bigotry, slavery, and tyranny, just to name a few. This isn’t pointing fingers; it is merely a comment on the nature of man. Historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., comments,
Not only did they own slaves prior to the European settlers coming to the New World, when West Africans were introduced to the Americas, the Native-Americans even took (acquired in raids, trading, or simply bought) them as slaves. Yes, you heard me; Native-Americans owned other Indians and Blacks as slaves, even some Whites after raids. The Seminoles were somewhat tolerant, and in the nineteenth century an Afro-Indian community, via intermarriage, in the state of Florida was generated (a gorgeous mix by the way, Seminole/African-American).
The column under that (#3a, and b) deals specifically with the Christian faith. Now, mind you, the video did mention that the explorers committed horrible acts against the Aztecs only after witnessing their ghastly sacrifices of other people (it didn’t mention that this included babies). After this the European explorers went about destroying those who wouldn’t become Christians – that is, rejecting their horrible religion that included human/baby sacrifice.
Although the video mentioned this in passing, it made the explorers seem worse than they were. I am all for discussing the blight of Western-man and his religion, but in all fairness, this should slice both ways. From what I can tell from my child’s notes, and after viewing the video for myself, the in-class work chose “to focus on the Native Americans as the ‘victims’ because they lost their lives and culture as a result of European progress. In doing so… [it]… completely ignores a large portion of history in which both Native Americans and Europeans ‘matched atrocity for atrocity’.” This is an important distinction that was made in my sons fifth-grade class, that is: a moral position was chosen and advanced, rather than history being taught as just that, history.
The last blurb in the “Explorers” side of the column (row 4, side b) reflects as well the videos hatred for the European settler, and again, the video is very sure in its quoting Native-Americans who are vehemently “anti-white-man.” We want to take over the world still, or so the video seems to say. What can you do? The last column (Row 5, side a) on the “Native-American” side mentions, “They were stewards of the land.” This is another long one, and mind you, I will list some web sites to visit for some short commentary as well.
We, of course, have all heard of the Native-Americans using every part of the buffalo, not wasting, caring for Mother Nature and the like. However, the whole story is conveniently left out. The entire buffalo was only used in times of want. In times of plenty, some tribes would run entire herds of buffalo off of cliffs, killing hundreds to thousands at a time just for their tongues. Some tribes would burn entire forests killing many species and sometimes, entire herds of buffalo. A commentary does well to expand on this theme:
Another interesting item that came up in the video was that of the “white man” bringing his diseases, as mentioned above and in the video. However, little is ever said about the normal lifespan of the Native-American, which was around 35 at the time due to the already present poor health, disease, dysentery and hygiene, or, lack thereof. The photo’s we have all seen of the Native-Americans during Civil War times are older mainly due to the introduction of medicine and hygiene by the European settler. New information in a paper written by Richard Steckel, a professor of economics and anthropology at Ohio State University, and published in the journal Science, has shown that the health of the Native-American was in drastic decline prior to the settler coming to the New World.