November 4, 1994 Halifax Herald

Ignoring the lessons of history lays the groundwork for future horror

Renowned Sioux Chief Sitting Bull, the man who soundly defeated a well armed army commanded by US General George Armstrong Custer at Little Big Horn in 1876 and who was later assassinated for political reasons in 1890, while promoting his desire to see accommodated the values of American and European cultures in the political and social fabric of the United States, stated: "Let us put our minds together and see what life we can make for our children."

Itís a pity that these words of wisdom by the Chief, and similar utterances espousing brotherhood and reconciliation by many other Native American leaders, were so studiously ignored by White society because of White supremacist beliefs. One can but imagine the wonderful world that might have evolved had the majority of Whites, instead of adopting a superiority attitude and rejecting out of hand the tenets of Native American civilizations as being inferior to theirs, only co-operated with Native Americans and wedded the best of both worlds together.

If accommodation had occurred, uncountable millions of Native American lives - some estimates run as high as 100 million - would not have been snuffed out by outright genocide, starvation, diseases related to malnutrition, and so on. One can only shudder with revulsion when digesting the tales of horror that went hand in hand with the European colonization of the Americas. Whole civilizations were driven into extinction and entire races of peoples, such as the Beothuk and Mohegan, disappeared from the face of Mother Earth.

The racism that caused the destruction and impoverishment of American civilizations does not take a back seat to the racism which saw the near total destruction of the European Jewish community by the Nazis. The only difference between the two is that the Jewish slaughter is talked about, which is rightly so; while the European rape of the Americas is largely ignored, which is distinctly wrong and unacceptable.

What caused the holocaust in the Americas? (British Scalp Proclamations, Germ Warfare, Spanish massacres, etc.) Personally, I think it had a lot to do with the desire of the European aristocrat to continue with and enhance their privileged positions, and an evil called "mindless and selfish greed." One can easily conclude, when perusing the historical record, that the democratic political structures found in many of the American civilizations did not bode well for the future of the European elite and, as such, had to be contained. However, the seeds of democracy planted in the minds of many Europeans by the politics of the Americas did eventually bring the European aristocratic establishment to its knees and, in the end, rendered it impotent.

The political and social structures of the civilizations of the Americas were greatly admired by many prominent Europeans, Sir Thomas Moore and the great American historian Thomas Paine among them. One of the aspects of American civilizations that truly fascinated these people was the fact that their political order specified that the people ruled, and not the aristocracy. The fact that the Constitution of the United States of America and its Bill of Rights are largely reproductions of the Constitution and Bill of Rights developed by the Iroquois are testament to this admiration.

Many of the social benefits enjoyed by modern society are practices that were well-rooted, prior to European invasion, in Native American societies. Child care, care for the elderly, the infirm, and so on, were well-established customs.

Things such as class distinction, greed, racism, and similar sick practices then common among Europeans societies, were foreign to most Native American civilizations. These strengths of human character were weaknesses when brought face to face with European values, and contributed immensely to the downfall of American civilizations. If, at initial contact, the Nations of the Americas had been afflicted with values similar to those of European civilizations and had been driven by greed, in all likelihood I would today be writing this column in the Micmac language while residing in a strong and independent Micmac Nation.

However, yesterday being yesterday, we now have to live and deal with a legacy created by historical events. This does not mean that we should forget about the wrongs of yesterday; as a matter of fact, we must not. If we use the past to teach our children about the horrors that stem from an unreasonable and senseless hatred of others, based upon their colour, race, politics, religion, sex, and so on, then we can accomplish great things together. If we ignore the lessons of history, then we lay the groundwork for future horrors.

How do we get on the path towards revitalizing the economies of the First Nations and ending the sense of frustration and hopelessness found therein? In my estimation, the governments of this country and its provinces hold the key.

Next, suggestions for a new beginning.

Daniel N. Paul


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