Carol A. Hand
As William Blake wrote,
“What is now proved was once only imagined.”
I choose to imagine a future based on the best of the past.
“The forests have never failed the Ojibway. The trees are the glory of the Gitchi Manito. The trees, for as long as they shall stand, will give shelter to the Anishinabe and the Animal Brothers. They are a gift. As long as the Ojibway are beneath, the trees will murmur with contentment. When the Ojibway and the Animal Brothers are gone, the trees will weep and this will be reflected in the sound of the si-si-gwa-d”. My grandmother told me this is so, and her grandmother told her. When the forest weeps, the Anishinabe who listen will look back at the years. In each generation of Ojibway there will be a person who will listen and remember and pass it on to children. Remembering our past and acting accordingly will ensure that we, the Ojibway, will always people the earth. The trees have patience and so they have stood and have seen many generations of Ojibway. Yet will there be more, and yet will they see more” (Ignatia Broker, pp. 32-33).
Photo Credit: Lac du Flambeau Photo Credits: Lac du Flambeau
This is a profoundly different future than the one Columbus envisioned.
“Christopher Columbus introduced two phenomena that revolutionized race relations and transformed the modern world: the taking of land, wealth, and labor from indigenous peoples, leading to their extermination, and the transatlantic slave trade, which created a racial underclass” (Loewen, p. 60).
Taino men and women greeted him with gifts when he landed on the shore of the Caribbean islands. His ruminations were simple.
“They would make fine servants…. With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want” (Zinn, p. 1).
Bartolomé de las Casas wrote about what he witnessed later in Cuba.
“Endless testimonies … prove the mild and pacific temperament of the natives…. But our work was to exasperate, ravage, kill, mangle and destroy; small wonder, then, if they tried to kill one of us now and then…. The admiral, it is true, was blind to those who came after him, and he was so anxious to please the King that he committed irreparable crimes against the Indians (Zinn, p. 6).
“Spaniards hunted Indians for sport and murdered them for dog food” (Loewen, p. 62).
Photo Credit: “Columbus and his men hunted natives with war dogs.”
“What Columbus did to the Arawaks of the Bahamas, Cortes did to the Aztecs of Mexico, Pizarro to the Incas of Peru, and the English settlers of Virginia and Massachusetts to the Powhatans and the Pequots” (Zinn, p. 11).
As always, there are choices. We can continue to believe the manufactured myths of heroic characters, or recognize we have a responsibility to be honest about the past. Without grounding in truth, we will be unable to find the way to a future that is based on the best we can imagine, walking beneath trees that murmur with contentment because we recognize that all life is sacred.
Photo Credit: Tree of Peace by Artist John Fadden
Ignatia Broker (1983). Night Flying Woman: An Ojiway narrative. St. Paul, MN: Minnesota Historical Society Press.
James W. Loewen (1995). Lies my teacher told me: Everything your American history textbook got wrong. New York, NY: Touchstone.
Howard Zinn (1990). A people’s history of the United States. New York, NY: Harper Perennial.