The Price of Colonization

The terms colonization and European tribe don’t often come up in every-day language.  Imagine my surprise when I discovered that these terms are being used by First Nations people to describe my race, my ancestry, me.    I felt really insulted at first but the more I educate myself the more I understand the label.  I’ve learned I am descendant from a European tribe that colonized around the world and was instrumental in decimating the culture, livelihood and inevitably the spirit of the inhabitants.  I used to feel pride in history class when I learned that my homeland, the Netherlands, colonized far off lands filled with savages, untamed wilderness and natural resources galore just waiting to be plundered for Queen and country.  We were taught in school that the explorers were heroes, “Indians” were godless savages, facts backed up by Hollywood’s portrayal of “Indians” on the silver screen.  In researching this article I am sickened by what I learned.  First, consider the words spoken by Tatanka Yotanka (Sitting Bull) at the Powder River Council, 1877:

“Behold, my brothers, the spring has come; the earth has received the embraces of the sun and we shall soon see the results of that love! Every seed has awakened and so has all animal life. It is through this mysterious power that we too have our being and we therefore yield to our neighbors, even our animal neighbors, and the same right as ourselves, to inhabit this land. Yet hear me, my people, we have now to deal with another race – small and feeble when our fathers first met them, but now great and overbearing. Strangely enough they have a mind to till the soil and the love of possessions is a disease with them . . . They claim this mother of ours, the earth, for their own, and fence their neighbors away; they deface her with their buildings and their refuse. They threaten to take [the land] away from us. My brothers, shall we submit, or shall we say to them: ‘First kill me before you take possession of my Fatherland.’”

For the most part the history of the colonization of North America, as taught in schools, is riddled with omissions, lies and half-truths.  I couldn’t find anything specific regarding how the Dutch conducted themselves, but take a look at good old Christopher Columbus, hero, conqueror, intrepid explorer and friend to the crown of Spain.    When Columbus and his sailors came ashore the Arawak’s of the Bahamas Islands ran to greet them, brought them food, water, gifts. Columbus wrote of this in his log:

“They brought us parrots and balls of cotton and spears and many other things, which they exchanged for the glass beads and hawks’ bells. They willingly traded everything they owned…. They were well-built, with good bodies and handsome features…. They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane…. They would make fine servants…. With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.”

In another entry in his log, Columbus wrote:

“As soon as I arrived in the Indies, on the first Island which I found, I took some of the natives by force in order that they might learn and might give me information of whatever there is in these parts.”

Of course the “whatever there is in these parts” was gold that Columbus would trade for glass beads, in the name of the Spanish monarchy.  His description of the inhabitants tells the story:

“The Indians are so naive and so free with their possessions that no one who has not witnessed them would believe it. When you ask for something they have, they never say no. To the contrary, they offer to share with anyone….”

Here is a horrifying eye witness account of the Spaniards’ conduct by Barloeme de Las Casas:

“Their reason for killing and destroying such an infinite number of souls is that the Christians have an ultimate aim, which is to acquire gold, and to swell themselves with riches in a very brief time and thus rise to a high estate disproportionate to their merits. .. Spaniards have no more consideration for them than beasts. And I say this from my own knowledge of the acts I witnessed. But I should not say “than beasts” for, thanks be to God, they have treated beasts with some respect; I should say instead like excrement on the public squares. And thus they have deprived the Indians of their lives and souls, for the millions I mentioned have died without the Faith and without the benefit of the sacraments… never have the Indians in all the Indies committed any act against the Spanish Christians, until those Christians have first and many times committed countless cruel aggressions against them or against neighboring nations. For in the beginning the Indians regarded the Spaniards as angels from Heaven. Only after the Spaniards had used violence against them, killing, robbing, torturing, did the Indians ever rise up against them….”

Yet another report by Las Casas:

“They (the Spaniards) attacked the towns and spared neither the children nor the aged nor pregnant women nor women in childbed, not only stabbing them and dismembering them but cutting them to pieces as if dealing with sheep in the slaughter house. They laid bets as to who, with one stroke of the sword, could split a man in two or could cut off his head or spill out his entrails with a single stroke of the pike. They took infants from their mothers’ breasts, snatching them by the legs and pitching them headfirst against the crags or snatched them by the arms and threw them into the rivers, roaring with laughter and saying as the babies fell into the water, “Boil there, you offspring of the devil!” Other infants they put to the sword along with their mothers and anyone else who happened to be nearby. They made some low wide gallows on which the hanged victim’s feet almost touched the ground, stringing up their victims in lots of thirteen, in memory of Our Redeemer and His twelve Apostles, and then set burning wood at their feet and thus burned them alive.”

In the mid-eighties the media ramped up its coverage of Environmental issues and a thought started to form in the back of my mind.  If we do not heed the warnings we are being given, Mother Earth will be forced to use the mightiest weapon in her arsenal, extinction.  She will raise her oceans and give herself a cleansing and us a tsunamic slap to extinction.  We need the help of the Frist Nations people to undo the centuries of destruction.  I wonder what the face of the world would look like had we adopted the aboriginals’ ways instead of forcing our ways on them.  What if all the colonists had first encountered less passive tribes, like the Mayans or Incas and had just gone home?

William Commanda, Mamiwinini, Algonquin, Quebec, said:

“Traditional people of Indian nations have interpreted the two roads that face the light-skinned race as the road to technology and the road to spirituality. We feel that the road to technology…. has led modern society to a damaged and seared earth. Could it be that the road to technology represents a rush to destruction, and that the road to spirituality represents the slower path that the traditional native people have traveled and are now seeking again? The earth is not scorched on this trail. The grass is still growing there.”

An Unknown Wintu Woman, in the 19th Century, said:

“When we Indians kill meat, we eat it all up. When we dig roots, we make little holes. When we build houses, we make little holes. When we burn grass for grasshoppers, we don’t ruin things. We shake down acorns and pine nuts. We don’t chop down the trees. We only use dead wood. But the white people plow up the ground, pull down the trees, kill everything. … the White people pay no attention. …How can the spirit of the earth like the White man? Everywhere the White man has touched it, it is sore.”

I can’t tell you how emotionally exhausting this research has been.  There are many more horror stories throughout the centuries, too many to mention in a thousand word article.  I’m left feeling hurt, shame, and empathy.  Hurt because my ancestors left such a terrible legacy, shame because I’m a light skinned colonist, and empathy for our First Nations people.  Mahatma Gandhi said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”  I hope that in sharing this truth I am being that change.

References:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniel_N._Paul

http://www.firstpeople.us/FP-Html-Wisdom/MourningDove.html

http://www.nativevillage.org/Libraries/Quotes/Native%20American%20Quotes%2019.htm

http://www.danielnpaul.com/index.html

http://www.danielnpaul.com/ChristopherColumbus.html

http://www.greatdreams.com/wisdom.htm

http://www.lauraleekharris.com/

 

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