Perhaps it’s the times in which we live. Or maybe it’s something else that joggles my memory to recall things I’ve read, things I’ve experienced. And my mind turns over and over again to Native America. To all the things that are a part of our heritage as Americans, each and every one of us, regardless of whether or not we have a drop of American Indian blood running through our veins or not.
But what exactly did the Indians give us. If you’re at all like me, I don’t recall learning any of these things in school. This all comes from research. Yes, we hear of Thanksgiving and of other Indian ceremonies. But what else did the American Indian contribute to our society that we live in right this very moment? Can you guess?
Now before we go any further let me mention that I’ll be giving away a book to some blogger today. All you have to do is come on in and join the conversation.
Okay, so what did Native America give to our society? Well, probably the most obvious gift is that of names…Mississippi…Iroquois…Illinois…Kansas…Dakota…Iowa, Ohio, Missouri — how about phrases like “bury the hatchet,” we council together,” or organizations like “boy scouts,” “girl scouts.” Their names for places, their ideas and many of their ideas on government remain with us to this day.
It was the Iroquois who gave us the game of LaCrosse — the Indians of the plains who taught us our most common swimming stroke — the Indians who gave us corn, beans, squash. Even some of our ceremonies date to the American Indian (Thanksgiving was one of the seasonal celebrations of the Iroquois and Eastern Indians.)
Probably one of the most important things that the American Indian gave to our culture was the idea of liberty of individuals and the sovereignty of the individual. Remember that the European who came to this continent was escaping oppression and tyranny. But here in America he met a new being. A man who considered himself free of all government ties.
In fact, not too many people are aware that the Iroquois had probably the longest running “republic” on this planet. Yes, the Greeks strived for it, wrote about republics, so did the Romans. But these attempts were relatively short lived. How many people are aware that the Iroquois founded and enjoyed a true “Of the People, By the People, For the People” government (1140 A.D. — dated by the elders of the Iroquois to around 1778 — when they lost their Independence just as we gained ours).
Interesting, too, that after the Iroquois Confederation was formed in 1142, it lasted in a peaceful fashion up until the European invasion. Europe was at war — often Native Americans were recruited to fight those wars on behalf of the European powers. But even more important than war — that changed the face of the continent — was that was trade. Europe had gadgets and things that Native America couldn’t manufacture on their own. Gadgets that made life easier.
Tribes went to war to secure that trade because whoever had the best trade with the European powers, could control the continent and keep their people free…and most of all, enjoy the comforts that Europe brought.
Personally, I think it was a high price to pay. Some trinkets, pots, pans, material for clothes. All, in the end, bought for the price of enslavement…or if not enslavement, then at least banishment from one’s home grounds. As a result, the Iroquois who so grandly postulated the peaceful end of war forever in this part of the world (America) were scattered all over the American Continent after the Revolutionary war, their land bought up by the large corporations that were already starting to spring up on the Eastern seaboard.
To my mind it was a high price to pay. Too high. But then, aren’t we involved in a similar situation today? Is the price of gadgets and “things to make life easier or more enjoyable” to be paid by the surrender of one’s sovereignty? Perhaps it’s a mute question — perhaps many have already paid this price already. But there are still some — maybe us romantics — who remember their history, who remember a time when we were truly free, free to choose our own way, free to speak and to be heard, free to think as one sees fit. As Nathanial says in THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS, — “I don’t call myself subject to much at all.” Indeed, there were no subjects to be found on the American continent. At least not at this time period in history.
Perhaps this is the greatest gift that the American Indian gave to us: the memory of a truly free, independent, and happy people. But more than that, perhaps the idea that America would lead the world to peace — to a world without war, a world where grief was ended forever, and a world where nations could live with one another without the need to try to “change” them into the image of oneself.
These are true gifts. We carry that heritage in our bones, each one of us. And it’s in the West, the cowboys and Indians, where that tradition is carried on to this day. Ah, how I love the Indians … and cowboys.
So come on in a let’s chat!