(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘Native Americans

“For civilizations, exchange is oxygen”*…

On the worldwide campaign to return sacred objects to the ancestral communities from which they were taken…

… debates about precious artifacts, repatriation and who owns the right to dictate the terms of cultural spaces – and history itself – are not mere academic discourse.

Our cultural narratives have consequences. As the author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie points out, ‘the danger of a single story’ is that it can all the more easily be manipulated and weaponized by political pundits and the autocrats of empire. In the multiplicity of narratives – told from the vantage points of victor and vanquished, rich and poor, proud and meek – we can approach the richness of truth, which Goethe warns us ‘has to be repeated constantly, because error also is being preached all the time, and not just by a few, but by the multitude’. A proverb from the Ewe-mina people of Benin, Ghana and Togo – with variants across the African continent – puts it aptly, ‘Until the lions tell their stories, the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.’

Consider the case of the European enlightenment. After the invention of the printing press in 1450, there were the New World genocides of Indigenous peoples and the bloody rise of colonization, which led to the rapid seizure, trafficking and enslavement of Africans, who were converted into resources to fuel wars. This led to the ascent of so-called enlightenment science and its attendant technologies for navigation, warfare and industry. The commercial imperatives of war thus became inextricably bound with the shaping of the Eurocentric cognoscenti. In The Silk Roads, Oxford scholar Peter Frankopan puts the distorted history we tell about the European contributions to world culture into focus:

The world changed in the late fifteenth century . . . There was a price for the magnificent cathedrals, the glorious art and the rising standards of living that blossomed from the sixteenth century onwards. It was paid by populations living across the oceans: Europeans were able not only to explore the world but to dominate it. They did so thanks to the relentless advances in military and naval technology that provided an unassailable advantage over the populations they came into contact with. The age of empire and the rise of the west were built on the capacity to inflict violence on a major scale.

As Frankopan goes on to describe, the task before Europe in the fifteenth century was to reinvent the past. The fact that France, Germany, Austria, Spain, Portugal and England had nothing to do with Athens and were largely peripheral to the worlds of the ancient Greeks and Romans ‘was glossed over as artists, writers and architects went to work, borrowing themes, ideas and texts from antiquity to provide a narrative that chose selectively from the past to create a story which over time became not only increasingly plausible but standard’. This was no renaissance; it was revisionism for the sake of empire.

The upshot of this rewriting of history is the strange fruit of a white supremacist fetish for claiming the Greeks and Romans as their ancestors. Societies around the globe are witnessing an acute recrudescence of hate and extremism tied to inadequate schema and inaccurate history. In the US, an assorted rally of neo-Nazis and other hate groups converged in 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia, home to a major public university founded by Thomas Jefferson. One of the many erroneous views that their signs and chants promoted is that the Greeks emerged somehow independently from their forebears, as a ‘pristine’ white civilization demarcated strictly to continental Europe. Nothing could be further from the truth about ancient Greek civilization, considering the diverse cultures (particularly African, including what we would now call Algerian, Tunisian, Egyptian, Sudanese and Ethiopian) that formed and fueled the intellectual advancements of the Greco-Roman world around the Mediterranean. Several journalistic reviews, some more tongue-in-cheek than others, have quipped that white supremacy’s love for the Greeks and Romans is more a product of the paint peeling from white marble statues than any real historical analysis…

We must ask whether stewardship in our cultural institutions is just about the capacity to procure, store and display objects, or rather if it is also about making visible otherwise obscured histories. The panjandrums of empire promote facile narratives that fall far short of the latter standard. Instead, true stewardship should represent a commitment to making known a balanced rather than blinkered history, reflecting meaningfully on the atrocities perpetrated by the so-called enlightened.

It has been said that Western domination of Africa, Asia and the Americas was made possible by centuries of practice in building impregnable fortresses. Perhaps inevitably, these empires have failed to recall, in the incisive words of poet Aimé Césaire, that ‘a civilization that withdraws into itself atrophies’, since, after all, ‘for civilizations, exchange is oxygen.’ The fortress builders, intent only on acquisitiveness and self-protection, have barricaded themselves against external assault but have unwittingly cocooned themselves, closed and sealed off, fearful of an enemy that no weapon or wall could possibly defeat.

Talismans of Blood and Memory,” from Philip Kurian, director of the Quantum Biology Laboratory at Howard University.– eminently worth reading in full.

* “I admit that it is a good thing to place different civilizations in contact with each other that it is an excellent thing to blend different worlds; that whatever its own particular genius may be, a civilization that withdraws into itself atrophies; that for civilizations, exchange is oxygen; that the great good fortune of Europe is to have been a crossroads, and that because it was the locus of all ideas, the receptacle of all philosophies, the meeting place of all sentiments, it was the best center for the redistribution of energy. But then I ask the following question: has colonization really placed civilizations in contact? Or, if you prefer, of all the ways of establishing contact, was it the best?” — Aimé Césaire

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As we undertake to understand, we might send rough birthday greetings to Daniel Boone; he was born on this date in 1734. A pioneer and frontiersman, he became famous for his exploration and settlement of what is now Kentucky, which was then beyond the western borders of the Thirteen Colonies; his exploits made him one of the first folk heroes of the United States.

Boone was a celebrated player in the “civilizing” (colonializing) project of his time, but he had real regard for North Americas original inhabitants. Some 19th-century writers regarded Boone’s sympathy for Native Americans as a character flaw and altered his words to conform to contemporary attitudes; his image was often reshaped into the stereotype of the belligerent, Indian-hating frontiersman which was then popular. In John A. McClung’s Sketches of Western Adventure (1832), for example, Boone was portrayed as longing for the “thrilling excitement of savage warfare.” Boone was transformed in the popular imagination into someone who regarded Indians with contempt and had killed scores of the “savages.” The real Boone disliked bloodshed. He respected Native Americans and was respected by them. In Missouri, Boone went hunting with the Shawnees who had captured and adopted him decades earlier.

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“Fiction reveals truth that reality obscures”*…

 

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Helen Hunt Jackson is best remembered for her novel Ramona, originally published in 1884. The story of a half Irish, half Native American orphan and her lover, Ramona was a blockbuster success. The book remains in print. At least five movie versions have been made. There have been staged Ramona plays in the Ramonabowl in Hemet, California, since 1923, with hundreds of costumed volunteers. Many credit the novel with giving birth to California tourism.

Jackson called Ramona the “sugar-coating of the pill” of her polemical mission to get Americans to reconsider their treatment of Native Americans. Jackson’s goal was policy reform. She wanted to expose genocide and land theft, the outrages that made the modern West. She wanted Ramona to have a sociopolitical effect like Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The pill wasn’t swallowed. “Californians preferred the sugar coating, the vibrant costumes of a multiethnic past,” writes the literary scholar Lisa Mullenneaux in Ploughshares, not the actual colonial past with all its culpable horror…

Jackson [had been] a crusading investigative reporter. In 1881, she published a damning indictment of the U.S. government’s treatment of Native Americans. A Century of Dishonor was the first work published under her name. She sent copies to every member of Congress. It was, as Mullenneaux describes it, “the first serious study of U.S. federal Indian policy.”

Turner calls it “the first pro-Indian book to make a significant impact on the American reading public.” It did cause a stir, but a stir was not nearly enough for Jackson. She said of her newfound social purpose to help the Indians that “a fire has been kindled within me which will never go out.”

She had few allies in this crusade. The 1871 Indian Appropriations Act had made all Native Americans wards of the state. Removals and reservations made way for white settlers and their descendants who were neither introspective nor retrospective. One journalist described Jackson as being without a “genuine sympathizer” among whites in the entire state of Colorado. Teddy Roosevelt included her among the “hysterical sentimentalists.”

What if she tried a more propagandistic approach? Ramona was the result of that tactic, a novel detailing injustice and romance, full of local color and sentiment, as well as the tragic history of the erasure of California’s native populations. The result was a smash hit—but it failed in its mission even as it became a runaway cultural phenomenon. Instead, Ramona birthed a fantasy of Ye Olde Alta California. This was costume drama instead of history. A Century of Dishonor, meanwhile, was long out of print (though not so anymore). As Mullenneaux writes, it continues to inspire those trying to right historic wrongs…

Helen Hunt Jackson’s Ramona Did What Her Nonfiction Couldn’t“– and vice versa.

See also: “The Story of the Great Japanese-American Novel,” No-No Boy.

* Jessamyn West

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As we muse on methods, we might recall that it was on this date in 1839 that the Liberty Party was announced.  The first anti-slavery political party, it was born from the American Anti-Slavery Society (AASS) to advocate the view that the Constitution was an anti-slavery document.  William Lloyd Garrison, leader of the AASS, held the contrary view that the Constitution should be condemned as an evil pro-slavery document.

The party, which ran its first slate the following year, included abolitionists who were willing to work within electoral politics.  (By contrast, the radical Garrison opposed voting and working within the system.)  Many Liberty Party members joined the anti-slavery (but not abolitionist) Free Soil Party in 1848 and eventually helped establish the Republican Party in the 1850s.

liberty Party source

 

Written by (Roughly) Daily

November 13, 2019 at 1:01 am

“Speech was given to man to disguise his thoughts”*…

 

Bare-handed speech synthesis: “Pink Trombone.”

[image above: source]

* Talleyrand

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As we hold our tongues, we might send exploratory birthday greetings to John Wesley “Wes” Powell; he was born on this date in 1834.  A geologist and ethnologist, he published the first classification of American Indian languages and was the first director of the U.S. Bureau of Ethnology (1879-1902).  In 1869, despite having lost his right arm in the Civil War, Powell outfitted a small party of men in wooden boats in Wyoming, and descended down into the then unknown Colorado River. Daring that mighty river for a thousand miles of huge, often horrifying rapids, unsuspected dangers, and endless hardship, he and his men were the first (white explorers) to challenge the Grand Canyon.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

March 24, 2017 at 1:01 am

“If we ever owned the land we own it still, for we never sold it”*…

 

Between 1776 and 1887, the United States seized over 1.5 billion acres from America’s indigenous people by treaty and executive order.  Watch Native Americans’ land evaporate at The Invasion of America, an interactive map that illustrates how the U.S. took over an eighth of the world.

Produced by University of Georgia historian Claudio Saunt to accompany his new book West of the Revolution: An Uncommon History of 1776, the site is a time-lapse vision of the transfer of Indian land between 1776 and 1887. As blue “Indian homelands” disappear, small red areas appear, indicating the establishment of reservations.

[via the invaluable Rebecca Onion]

* Chief Joseph-Nez Perce

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As we redraw the Caucasian Chalk Circle, we might recall that it was on this date in 1868 that Navajos signed a treaty of capitulation after the Long Walk: Kit Carson had rounded up 8,000 Navajos and forced them to walk from their traditional home in Eastern Arizona more than 300 miles to the Bosque Redondo in southern New Mexico– a “reservation” that to all appearances was more like a prison camp.

Navajo on the Long Walk

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

June 27, 2014 at 1:01 am

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