‘Treat the earth well: it was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children. We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children.’ – Ancient Native American Proverb
We build our world around ourselves, sealing our existence up into a cocoon plastered by that intangible earthen material we know of as familiarity, regularity and routine. We are nestled in the womb, cradled in our prams, cared for in our village schools and enveloped away on a cloud of academia and employment – from embryo to adult, for most our cocoon widens without once collapsing. It is thus the universal privilege of he who wanders errantly, to free himself from this cultural cocoon- with one step, swim or flight, he may leap from the exorbitant luxury of the familiar into an otherworldly realm. Yet even if the explorer’s body may depart his cultural roots, his mind is unwittingly still entrenched in them and hence, as history has taught us, all that is exotic and unknown may terrify as much as it enchants.
So the annihilation of civilizations may be explained, for in reality, an igloo is no more exotic to an Eskimo than a bamboo shoot to a panda, but as an outsider peering into these peculiar worlds, we watch on with bewilderment and fear, we seek to destroy that which we cannot comprehend. To the wandering Englishman on American shores, a feather headdress becomes as foreign as an igloo to a panda, to the spaniard mooring on Peruvian coast, the cave dwelling Incas become merely sophisticated savages immersed in treasure.
Throughout human existence, man has sought to dismantle all that he classes as alien, material greed has prevailed over cultural comprehension to the detriment of entire ethnicities and of these cultures, Native Americans have perhaps suffered most of all under history’s unrelenting fist. We scorn Hitler‘s inhumanity whilst the Founding Fathers are heralded as heroes; loss of land, forced emigration,15th century raping, ‘scalping’, infection with smallpox (wiping out 96% of American Indians inhabiting Massachusetts Bay) right through to the ‘Indian Removal Act‘ of the 1830’s and the ‘fertility management’ programs of the 1970’s, which hoodwinked native American women into signing ‘sterilization forms’ so as to eradicate America’s indigenous race – Native Americans have experienced the hand of fascism quite unlike any others before them.
Perhaps we may forgive the early whiteman his ignorance, but as learned beings exposed to the rich historical archives of social media, internet, radio and television, it is harder to exonerate the modern man. Today, most American schooling does not teach of the violence inflicted by the country’s English predecessors, land ownership issues are still rife and while Native Americans make up 2% of the United States of America with their 562 tribes, they have the highest suicide rate in the country and between 24% – 25 % live below the poverty line.
Should more be done to preserve the culture traditions of Native Americans? Must the United States government atone for the past through education and re-division of land to its original inhabitants? The cause of much early deforestation, are we presented with an overly romanticized view of Native Americans and their oneness with nature? Given the constant inter-tribal warring, could Native Americans ever have found peace, or would their country have been wrought with unending civil war had the Europeans not intervened? Ought American law be changed to support a still underprivileged struggling population, or since tribes are able to rule with their own laws and governments, are Native Americans no longer political victims of the United States?