Monday, December 06, 2021

New Narrative #18: Where Are We So Far?

[Graphic Mound-builder village of Native people in Florida.]
This series has provoked a bit of interest, as well as a few questions. What are you trying to do? Where are you going with this?
These are good questions, and for some, I don't have good answers, at least not yet. I'm exploring, on a journey of sorts, to see what we can learn, about ourselves and all else concerned on 'Turtle Island', or North America. Here's what I think we can say so far:
1. North America was never a pure 'wilderness', a land without people, as least in the time frames we're using, since 12,000 BCE or so, but more pointedly since the 1400s CE
2. It was the home of many peoples at various levels of civilization, from hunter-gatherer, agricultural (some quite advanced), and feudal with great cities, libraries, and centers of art and science. It was never 'a land without people' in need of a new people to make it their land from 'virgin soil'.
3. The many peoples who lived here were never in full harmony. There were tribal rivalries, armed conflicts, and alliances of all sorts, and often fluid. In the larger empires, there was class struggle, and anti-empire popular resistance. With the arrival of the 'Great Canoe' peoples from Europe, they were brought into these rivalries and alliances--and the Europeans contended within themselves--Protestant vs Catholic, English vs Spanish vs French vs Dutch vs Swedes--all leaving their marks on how all the peoples of the continent changed and evolved.
4. The Europeans came here mainly to get rich, and also to gain land and power if it helped them get rich. If religion was a concern, it was secondary to that main purpose. There were three main ways to get rich.
5. First, outright theft and looting of existing treasures. Countless gold, silver, and other bejeweled artifacts were taken from palaces and places of worship, and sent back to the 'mother country.'
6. Second was extractivism via trade, especially in furs but also from mining for gold and silver. The latter required both enslavement and, in some cases, the creation of wage labor among the native peoples. It soon meant the expropriation of large numbers of African captives brought to work as slaves, and the development of cash crops of tobacco, sugar, rum, indigo, rice, and cotton. We can call this a period of 'war capitalism' since it was the expansion of mercantilism at the point of a gun, the edge of a sword, or a barrage of cannon, on land and on the sea.
7. Third was settler colonialism, where the aim was not simply to extract wealth with plunder and expropriated slave labor, native or African. Here the aim was to import land-hungry Europeans, largely as indentured servants or unwanted disruptive minorities. These included Puritan theocrats against the established Anglican church or the extreme 'leveler' and 'digger' wings (often Quakers) of the Cromwellian Revolution, or Irish and Scots Irish troublemakers when jails were overcrowded. If they managed to thrive in the New World, they could be taxed and become a market for goods, rather than filling a London poorhouse. Naturally, this meant class struggle within the settlements of European peoples, and well as rivalry among them.
8. There was conflict and encounter with Native Peoples. It took three main forms. One was to establish a moveable 'frontier,' at first only 100 miles or so inland from the Atlantic, and to push the Native People on the other side of it as 'spawn of the devil' in their 'wilderness.' The endpoint was violent expulsion and extermination, growing into ethnic removal and genocide. The second was to negotiate land sales and other types of trade, in a fluid 'peaceful coexistence.' (This was mainly the Quakers, the Moravians, and the French to a degree). Native peoples often found themselves severely weakened by disease and stealing of their people for enslavement, and succumbed to some of these 'treaties' involving their 'hunting ground' lands. And third was a small but still notable number of Europeans and Africans who decided to join the Native tribes and share their way of life, which they often found much better than the misery they faced otherwise.
The history we learn in our schools ignores much if not all of this. The anti-CRT people would like it to stay that way, or rewritten to move back to an even 'whiter' version.
What you can see most often depends on where you're standing. And our official history stands mainly in the shoes of successful settlers and enslavers (the latter called 'planters' in the textbooks), and land stealers (called 'surveyors' in the same books) and celebrates their constant 'manifest destiny' expansion from sea to shining sea.
So these contrarian narratives will continue for a while, and I'll do my best to put us in the shoes of the Native peoples, the enslaved, and the exploited of all hues of skin, both Native and European. We will try rescuing a greater number of stories from the well-designed obscurity some would like to maintain. We'll see where it goes. More to come.

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