Spoiler alert: idealistic liberal Christian pacifist rant ahead…
Last Friday on Sept. 11, when most of the United States was mourning and remembering the 2752 people who perished in 2001 New York, I found myself instead at the Mitchell Museum of the American Indian in Evanston, Illinois, grieving the millions of Native Americans who perished in The New World in the first hundred or so years after the arrival of Columbus and the Europeans.
I don’t follow the crowd. Obviously. The hand-wringing, panicked, Armageddon-seeking, “put America first” crowd who have over-politicized and religionized the WTC event for eight years now. But I’m all out of sincere concern for today, thank you. Except my concern for the Afghans and allied soldiers still dying every day over there, for no good reason that I can think of.
Back over here, the real number of Native Americans (North and South) that perished in the colonization years is impossible to determine, and difficult to even estimate. One reputable Chilean historian I looked at this week puts the likely total at 15-20 million, due to various causes — chief among them disease, followed by violence and the oppression of slavery.
The figure that does hold up pretty well against the historic and archaeological record is this: 80% of the native population, in about 150 years. Gone. 80%. I usually don’t like to compare tragedies, but has there been and will there ever be a more tragic loss than that? Hard to fathom what was lost, culturally and creatively, in addition to the loss of life, of course.
As for me, I’m only beginning to understand why I have this resurgent interest in Native American culture, history and spirituality. It’s like something tribal, …but I have no tribe. I’m European-American to the core. Yet I feel like such a small, pale fish in this big American pond. An apprentice shaman being drowned out by MTV and fire-and-brimstone preachers…
They say Manhattan was acquired in a shady land deal from the natives for $24 in the 1600s by the Dutch. Nowadays it’s become clear that even that was a lie they told me in school, and that another tribe (the Canarsies from Brooklyn) were the ones who actually sold the Manhattan tribe’s homeland out from under them for $24 in beads and trinkets.
Oh, and here’s another significant 80%: 80% of present day Afghanistan is now said to be controlled again by the Taliban. So we appear to have gone backwards in the eight years since 2001. Besides which, on those planes that hit the Twin Towers and the other U.S. sites, there were only Saudi Arabians, a few from United Arab Emirates, one Egyptian and one Lebanese man. No Afghans. And CERTAINLY no Iraqis.
So I gotta ask: how many millions of other lies have been perpetuated on or about that same strategic little island on the Hudson since 1626?