The Power of Words

The purpose of words is to convey meaning. How they’re spelled, how they sound differs tremendously. Sometimes they convey the same meaning, such as for a cat or dog. Others are unique and can’t be translated into another language, especially if they’re based on cultural context.

When immigrants come to a country, they assimilate better if they learn the host language. This is not simply a matter of getting along better in society. It integrates them into the culture. America became a “melting pot” as immigrants came from a multitude of foreign nations, then were united in a common language, i.e. English, even if they maintained their ethnic traditions.

When Europeans came to the American continent they encountered indigenous peoples whose languages were entirely foreign. While there’s a similarity in etymology and syntax among Latin-based languages (English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Italian, etc.), those spoken by Native Americans (which were several) had no similarities to European languages. Their culture and society were so different, many words common to Europeans didn’t even exist in theirs and vice versa.

Most of our thoughts comprise words. A person’s vocabulary determines their ability to think and comprehend the world around them. Without applicable words, unfamiliar concepts cannot exist. Emotions, however, exist beyond words. If you see someone laughing or crying, you know they’re feeling something.

Europeans took possession of this country in a less than friendly manner. Eventually, indigenous people became the “Indian Problem.” They refused to cooperate by giving up the land gifted to them by the Creator, a.k.a. Great Spirit. After numerous wars, massacres, and ugly confrontations, those that remained were herded off to reservations. As if that wasn’t bad enough, their children were taken and sent to government boarding schools where they were “reprogrammed.” This comprised cutting their hair, dressing them in “civilized” clothing, and forbidding them from speaking their native tongue. Being caught doing so resulted in their mouth being washing out with soap.

This was not a benevolent gesture to help Native Americans assimilate into European/American society. The intent was to annihilate their culture, identity, and beliefs, an insidious form of virtual genocide. A slight improvement, I suppose, over edicts from the Vatican that gave early explorers and colonists permission to kill them or make them their slaves.

Imagine forcing new immigrants to give up their language and customs. As “guests” in this country, it could almost be justified, a condition of habitation that promotes unity. Instead, just about any document they may need to read is available in their own language at taxpayer expense. Yet, quite the opposite was done to indigenous peoples who were here first.

If you have a difficult time relating to this, consider hoards of Chinese soldiers swarming our borders and forcing us to abandon our way of life, including our language, and adapt to theirs or die.

As intended, indigenous languages began to disappear. Fortunately, some survived. Ironically, helping the current younger generations to learn their native tongue is now a function of the very schools who originally forbade them from speaking it.

Why should they care? Because that is who they are. Culture, ceremonies, and their collective philosophy of life is embedded in their language. They have words with no English analog. Even in English, certain things have different meaning. For example, “All my relations” to a Native American includes all living things as well as the Earth herself. “Turtle Island” is not only this continent, but embodies their creation story.

Why should we care if their culture is lost? Because it’s in the world’s best interest for it to be revitalized. Assimilating it may be the only thing that can save us from ourselves in this war-torn, polluted, technology-dependent world.

This short video (less that 3 minutes) contains the 10 Commandments of Native Americans. As you listen, consider they initially welcomed Europeans to their land. They only became aggressive when the Founding Fathers and those who followed didn’t want to share this country with its original inhabitants.

They wanted them out of their way.

History Books Are Written by the Victors

This is the first book I read as research when I started the Dead Horse Canyon series. That was three years ago in January and I have learned so much since then. It opened my eyes to the fact that history books truly are written by the victors, often to justify horrific deeds, vilify the conquered, or pretend they never happened. Every American History book in print should have this one as an appendix, albeit “the rest of the story.” What follows is the review I wrote in January 2019. –MF

Great Speeches by Native Americans

Edited by Bob Blaisdell

Anyone who thinks they know American history needs to read this book. Those who don’t understand why the white men are hated also need to read it. In a nutshell, it’s a testimonial of exploitation, lies, and aggression, which has been the norm on the part of supposed “civilized” nations for millennia. Seeing indigenous people as inferior, savages, and uncivilized based on their lifestyle and thus treating them no better than animals has a sordid and long history.

This book chronicles the treatment of the Indigenous Americans from the first contact by the Pilgrims in the 1600s through the 20th century. The lies and aggression are nothing short of shameful and an embarrassment to any honest person. Those of us who grew up playing “cowboys and Indians” and watching similar TV shows were not seeing things as they really are.

In most cases, the Indigenous Americans only wanted peace. Some had the foresight to see the problems that were coming. They saw the land as sacred, given to them by The Great Spirit, and they treated Mother Earth with respect and gratitude. They may not have had the white man’s technology, but their societal norms were often far more advanced than “civilized” nations. The wholesale slaughter and exploitation of these people in the name of Christianity is a national disgrace.

Besides the actual slaughters, their children were often taken away, essentially kidnapped, and sent to boarding schools where their native culture was derided while they were indoctrinated with supposedly white civilization’s values. Their women were often sterilized without their knowledge. There is no doubt the intent was genocide.

If you think things have changed today, think again. Power and control by those with selfish and evil intent still prevails. Corporate power subdues the rights of individuals. Nothing has changed.

I cried more reading this book than any novel. It’s a very sad commentary on the foundation of the United States. These Native Americans were highly intelligent, moral individuals. In the vast majority of cases, they were only aggressive when they’d had enough of being lied to and could see the intent was their annihilation.

Read it. More people need their eyes opened to the truth that is our history and how it relates to what’s going on today.

You can pick up a copy on Amazon here.

A Quizzical Glimpse of Native American History

Most people are familiar with the saying “To the victor go the spoils,” which includes writing (or rewriting) history books to justify defeating the enemy.

With that in mind, see how many of the following questions you can answer correctly.


1. True/False King Ferdinand was given permission to kill indigenous people or make them their slaves by the pope.


2. How many tribal nations have a formal nation-to-nation relationship with the U.S. Government?

a. 14

b. 567

c. 173


3. How many federal and state-recognized American Indian reservations are there?

a. 492

b. 39

c. 334


4. How many states have a recognized American Indian reservation?

a. 35

b. 9

c. 17


5. True/False The Founding Fathers were sympathetic toward Native Americans and recognized their rights under the Declaration of Independence.


6. True/False The Declaration of Independence’s statement that “all men are created equal” included Native Americans.


7. What was the reason for the majority of U.S. Government – Indian wars?

a. White settlers occupying Indian land in violation of treaties

b. U.S. Government ignoring existing treaties due to westward expansion.

c. Loss of livelihood and hunting grounds to encroachment by white settlers.

d. All of the above


8. Indian people are categorized by culture and geography. Which of the following are NOT considered culture areas?

a. Arctic, subarctic, Northwest Coast, Plateau

b. Great Basin, California, Southwest, Mesoamerica

c. Great Plains, Northeast, Southeast, Caribbean

d. None of the above


9. In the early 19th Century, Sequoyah, a Cherokee polymath from the Little Tennessee Valley created:

a. A list of treaty violations to present to the U.S. Congress

b. The allotment system to assign land to individuals

c. A syllabary of 86 ornate characters


10. Which of the following places are based on Native American names?

a. Allegheny, Alaska, Adirondack

b. Biloxi, Caddo, Chattanooga

c. Hatteras, Erie, Huron

d. Wyoming, Winnebago, Wichita

e. All of the above


ANSWERS

1. True. The first papal bull issued for King Ferdinand in Spain after Columbus returned from the Caribbean stated: “All people of North America are no better than feral animals and may be slaughtered at will.” 

And that bull was followed by another that accompanied the North American land grants: “All land grants will be governed by the same rules as the land grants in Spain, to which you have been accustomed. Thus, as usual, any people populating your land defined by the land grant here issued are your slaves.”

2. b. 567 tribal nations

3. c. 334 reservations

4. a. 35 states with reservations

5. False. George Washington was known as Town Destroyer in the Seneca language based on the decimated cornfields and razed villages he promoted. Thomas Jefferson as Governor of Virginia, ordered a war of extermination against the Shawnee.

6. Following that “created equal” statement it states “except the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes, and conditions.

Yes, it really says that. The Natives were accused of being savages for defending their homeland while as one example, at Sand Creek the U.S. Army slaughtered innocent Native Americans who were literally flying the U.S. Flag with a white banner of surrender.

Custer did, indeed, have it coming.

I find it ironic that following WWII the U.S. was more than generous helping to rebuild war zones of former enemies in Germany and Japan, yet few promises made to this country’s original residents have been kept.

7. d. All of the above are reasons for the U.S. – Indian Wars.

The “Manifest Destiny” attitude of America’s early European explorers and subsequent settlers toward the country’s native population was overtly hostile. Land that was virtually stolen, deceptive treaties of which the Indigenous signers were not advised of their true content, and treaties to which both signatories agreed but Congress never ratified are but a part of the sordid tale.

Too many members of the Native population live in substandard conditions with many reservations comparable to a Third World Country and comprise some of the poorest counties in the United States. Yet now the government proposes giving hundreds of thousands of dollars to illegal aliens for being “inconvenienced.”

What’s wrong with this picture?

8. d. None of the above. All represent designated cultural areas.

9. c. A syllabary of 86 characters based on the sound of syllables in the Cherokee language

10. e. All of the above. Hundreds, more likely thousands, of places in the U.S. and Canada retain their Native American names.


SCORES BASED ON NUMBER CORRECT

9 – 10 Cheated or has a college degree in Native American History.

7 – 8 Assumed this was an open-book quiz.

5 – 6 Fan of Longmire series on Netflix.

3 – 4 A few lucky guesses.

0 – 2 Don’t waste your money on lotto tickets.


Swallow your pride and leave your scores below.

Thoughts on Indigenous People Day

“Powwow” (Photo by Laura Hamilton courtesy Pixabay)

According to USA Today, if you live in Alabama, Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Vermont and Wisconsin – plus the District of Columbia and more than 130 cities, then you observe Indigenous Peoples Day instead of (or in addition to) Columbus Day. To the others, including the U.S. government, it’s still Columbus Day.

When I went to the post office in my small Texas town to mail some books on that day it was closed. I mentioned this to a friend, but referred to it as Indigenous People Day. His response was a crack about revisionists. That got me thinking.

There’s been a lot of ruckus this year about discrimination, racism, and the darker side of United States history. Destroying national monuments and tearing down statues because some group finds them offensive as part of a violent protest of the past reflected in the present displays generations of anger and righteous indignation.

But it doesn’t change a thing.

Most law-abiding white people see only violence, disrespect, and lawlessness.

They don’t get the concept of generations of visceral resentment.

“Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

It’s important to consider the context of those times. With 20:20 hindsight it’s easy to see how events and situations that were acceptable centuries ago are now recognized as barbaric and reeking of white supremacy.

More often than not, this is a factual statement.

By today’s standards they were wrong.

Please pause a moment to watch the following video of Marlon Brando saying it far more eloquently than I ever could.

When I was in school many decades ago history class provided biased information. Any journalist knows that a story must contain who, what, when, where, why, and how. Back then history textbooks left out a critical element:

WHY!

We were taught to regurgitate events and dates, perhaps the location, but that was it. BORING! Furthermore, we were not taught to think about what happened, much less why, but simply to accept it as fact.

Fact?

Let’s talk about facts.


History books failed to mention that Native People were here first, had no understanding of the principle of property ownership, often held higher moral and spiritual values than their conquerors, and were defending territory given to them centuries before by the Great Spirit.


We had one side, that of the victors. The Baby Boomer generation grew up thinking Native Americans were savages who were simply in the way. This was further reinforced by movies and westerns on TV to say nothing of backyard games of cowboys and Indians.

History books failed to mention that Native People were here first, had no understanding of the principle of property ownership, often held higher moral and spiritual values than their conquerors, and were defending territory given to them centuries before by the Great Spirit.

Can you begin to see how offensive a holiday celebrating Columbus’ “discovery” of American would be to First Americans after generations of oppression in the supposed “land of the free and the brave?”

At the time of westward expansion–Manifest Destiny, if you will–these atrocities reflected the prevailing attitudes of the western world. The deeds and behavior now recognized as evil were considered normal, even heroic. And sadly, still are, in some parts of the world.

Fort Robinson Massacre

In many cases, Native American cultures were more advanced back then than the United States is today. Granted some were barbaric by western standards, such as the Maya and Aztec, but it’s important to remember that we invaded their land. Most tribes in North America were far more peaceful.

Treaties with First Americans were (and still are) broken as a matter of course. Chiefs would sign a document in good faith, often having no idea what it said, only to have what they thought was agreed upon never occur because Congress refused to ratify it. As far as they were concerned they had agreed to its terms and couldn’t understand why the white men who signed the document didn’t have the proper authority to guarantee their side of the agreement.

And it’s obvious that when indigenous people refused to give away their country, then genocide became the logical alternative.

Did you know that the Pope granted explorers permission to kill or enslave indigenous people? To the Catholic Church’s credit, this opinion eventually switched to missionary and education efforts, except the intent initially was to annihilate their culture and Anglicize them by forcing Native Americans to cut their hair and punishing them for speaking their own language. Thankfully, that has changed. Today’s curriculum includes respect for their culture and history as well as retaining their native languages. The private schools today are doing penance for the past, which is more than can be said about anyone else.

Pike’s Peak Goldrush Map

Indigenous people in the United States were murdered and those that remained driven off their land, usually to reservations in locations no one else wanted. At least until gold or silver was discovered, in which case they were driven off again. Many today live in conditions comparable to those of a Third World country.

How is this okay?

Consider this: The USA helped Europe defeat the Nazis in World War II. Our troops decimated Germany in the process, but we helped them rebuild. Adolph Hitler was a vile threat and avowed enemy. We bombed the hell out of them.

Then stepped in after the war and helped them recover! And did the same thing for Japan, who attacked our fleet at Pearl Harbor!

Seriously?

Photo by David Mark (Courtesy Pixabay)

Yet, for First Nation people, from whom we literally stole this country, we do little to nothing. Rather, we continue to steal and desecrate their sacred sites, then hover somewhere between ignoring their situation and the typical narcissistic response of placing the blame on them.

“Sorry, guys. You were in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

How would today’s Americans respond to Chinese hoards swarming their borders? How would you respond? Would you welcome them with open arms? Or defend your country by embracing your 2nd Amendment rights?

Columbus should be remembered. The sea voyage alone at that time was incredible. He led the way for Europeans to be free and escape oppression. Ironically, this came with a price that imposed far worse circumstances on the First Americans, when millions were slaughtered and brushed aside as vermin. Columbus belongs in the history books, but the effect his “discovery” had on the First Americans needs to be told and acknowledged (as well as some of his less than stellar personal deeds).

The USA has a long way to go before they quit being defensive and admit this behavior was antithetical to what was supposed to be a Christian nation espousing “liberty and justice for all.” We must balance the history books and acknowledge the darker side. It takes a big person (or country) to admit when they were wrong. It doesn’t change the past, but it could heal the present and certainly the future.

Meanwhile, the least we should do is eschew Columbus in favor of Indigenous People Day.

It’s not much, but it’s a start.

Recommended reading: “Great Speeches by Native Americans” edited by Bob Blaisdell. I suggest you buy it here, from the Southwest Indian Foundation.