Friday, June 30, 2017

Native Peoples of North America

I am listening to Prof. Dan Cobb of the University of North Carolina.  His Great Course "The Native Peoples of North America" covers the history of the first contact with Europeans up to today.  There have been many treaties between the U.S. and various groups of "Indians" but from the start, there were clearly big cultural and historical differences between the two groups.  

The newcomers had very different ideas of who they were, who the others were, and what a treaty is from those already living here.  I am confident that neither group felt that lying, breaking one's agreement arbitrarily, or murder of men, women and children were honorable, respectable or good behavior. Yet, the history of the interaction of the two groups is filled with newcomers tricking, lying, and murdering.  There were times and places where the newcomers behaved reasonably well but often they did not.

A big part of the problem was that the natives basically used land in different ways from the newcomers.  Some of the natives were farmers before contact but most were approximately what we call hunter-gatherers.  Of course, the introduction of horses and guns had a big effect on both groups.  As with other civilizations, those who had mastered a method of written communication had an enormous advantage.  There were many other differences as well, most of which the newcomers took as signs of their superiority.  It was not uncommon for groups of native people to be murdered and then thanks to given to God for the murderers' clear superiority and ability to kill and control, thanks to God for delivering those killed into the hands of the killers.  

As time has gone of, there have some outstanding examples of native people keeping their practices of thinking, behaving and living while finding ways to live among the newcomers with good success.  Charles Eastman was a native who attended mission schools, Dartmouth College and Boston University where he earned an MD degree.  He was at Wounded Knee where a great massacre of native people took place.  Cobb reports Eastman said that treating the wounded and the dying as a physician took all his self control and concentration.  

The federal Bureau of Indian Affairs was founded in 1824.  It does not look good from the standpoint of its early history.  Some of the Indian Affairs agents were powerful and dictatorial.  I assume they were not well educated in matters of various cultures and ways to work with them.  Cobb mentions that while Buffalo Bill Cody's show was highlighting Indian ways and abilities, the Bureau of Indian Affairs was busily suppressing the same aspects of Indian life. The oft-referred-to concept of "tribal sovereignty", a nation within a nation, has at times conflicted with what is logically possible or politically feasible.

With casinos, native lawyers, and organizations such as A.I.S.E.S., the American Indian Science and Engineering Society, it is clear that native people have endured and make contributions to the life of the nation.

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