Friday, March 18, 2022

A Native American Renaissance?

It’s hard to watch and listen to the daily news, witnessing the brutal crimes against humanity in Ukraine, inflicted by a little Russian psychopath, and not think about the greater slaughter-house of history. But something is new this time around. This time, even if we’re thousands of miles away from the horrors, thanks to gutsy reporters and their phones and cameras, we are brought up close and personal to what’s happening. This could have an impact on the evolution of war.


Trying to eat something around dinner time yesterday, I glanced up at my TV screen, and watched the corpses of children, wrapped in rags, being thrown into a long ditch that was their ad hoc burial ground.  A short while before that, I listened on the radio to Ukrainian women sobbing as they described how they were torn away from home, family, suddenly, in the middle of the night.  I could hear the pain in this woman’s voice and I could hear her gasping as she struggled to put into words her shattered sense of reality.  


This called to mind another group of women closer to home whose people have suffered grievously.  I had recently watched a series of documentaries on PBS about the history and revival of Native American culture and its budding renaissance.  There are 574 Indian tribes and traditions that have survived in the U.S.   A major theme of the documentaries was to inform present viewers of the biological and cultural genocide inflicted on Native Americans.  It was not enough to steal their land; in addition, they sought  to wipe out their history, cultures and languages, and turn them into facsimiles of the conquering invaders.  As for the situation today, one out of two or three native women have suffered rape, mostly by non-Indian men.


The European invaders managed to wipe out some one hundred million North and South ‘American’ native peoples (see David Stannard’s American Holocaust). But they were unable to turn every Indian into a dead Indian.  So they tried to isolate them on reservations, as if they were wild animals torn out of nature and put in zoos.  Another method designed to contribute to the extinction of the people whose land they stole was for the state to forcibly abduct children from their families in the reservations and put them in Christian schools or allow white families to adopt them and, if need be, beat them into their proper state-defined identity.  It was not until 1978 that forced native adoptions became illegal in the U.S..


The films were not just meant to educate us about the physical and cultural genocide of native Americans; they were also about a looming renaissance of native culture: the philosophy, spirituality, arts and crafts. One of the most important lessons we can learn from native culture is a different model of how to relate to the natural world and other living things. 


Most obvious is the contrast between native and scientific-capitalist attitudes toward nature. Nature for the conquering white culture became a treasure-trove of raw materials for the purpose of gratifying the insatiable needs of consumer societies.


The selfish exploitation of nature to serve the manufactured needs of one species is supremely stupid and, as we’re learning from the onset of climate catastrophe, suicidal.  The indigenous peoples everywhere who have adapted to their environment and survived for thousands of years have much to teach us.  I believe we all stand to gain from the fruits of the burgeoning Native American Renaissance.






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