An article by Doug George-Kanentiio, Akwesasne Mohawk, that the Two Row Times has broken up into several sections that will run through the next few weeks. Part Two,
What constitutes a lie? There are the obvious verbal and written distortions of the truth, but what is not said may also be deemed a lie. Take this as an example:
Mr. Thompson goes to the A-1 Used Car Dealer. He is told that the vehicle he is interested in is in top shape, will pass inspection and is safe to drive. Based upon this assurance he buys the car and is driving home when the accelerator sticks. Despite his best efforts to slow down the car speeds up. When he tries to apply the brakes nothing happens. He tries to shift gears but the transmission does not work. He races into an intersection, swerves to avoid another car and crashes into a telephone pole, suffering many injuries.
The A-1 dealer is not only sued, but indicted on a number of charges. He is held liable not because of what he said but his failure to tell Mr. Thompson about the car’s defects. In this case, silence had dire consequences.
So too, the deliberate exclusion of Native history from U.S. and Canadian schools along with the outright fabrications, distortions and omissions which have formed the basis upon which both nations have built their respective laws, social policies and economies. There is no doubt that these actions have caused demonstrable, permanent and extensive harm to Native people.
The late Mohawk teacher, Ray Fadden-Tehanetorens was among the first to challenge the lies the colonists used to demonize Natives and thereby justify the theft of a continent. Writers and historians brave enough to strip these myths bare and reveal uncomfortable truths have followed his historic work with the Mohawks. Books have been written ( “Lies My Teacher Told Me”, “1491””A People’s History of the United States”, “Indian Giver”, “Lies Across America”, “American Indian Holocaust and Survival”, “The Forgotten History of America”) which tell a story quite different from the standard history texts used in high schools and colleges.
From these, and from Mr. Fadden, I have compiled a list of 10 of the many great lies in North American history.
- Natives came from Asia. This teaching is not only stupid, but a denial of physical and biological fact. No group of humans would be so dumb as to cross thousands of kilometres of tundra then risk their lives across a massive bog before being confronted by massive glaciers three kilometres high and hundreds of kilometres long. That was the Bering Strait during the Ice Age 15,000 years ago. The “theory” of this crossing is contradicted by the latest DNA tests and omits one obvious fact: there is no physical evidence to support this myth yet it is cited today as a rationale to undermine indigenous ownership to our ancestral lands and is often used by our critics to label our people as immigrants just like the Europeans.
- The continent of North America-Anonwarakowa was a howling wilderness, under populated by roaming bands of Stone Age nomads. Another stupid, nonsensical lie in the face of hard facts. There was no place in the Americas where Native people did not live and in the millions. As the anthropologist Henry Dobyns writes; “ ..the size of the aboriginal population of the Americas directly affects their interpretations of New World civilizations and cultures”. Believing in a nearly vacant land justifies not only its theft but also the murder of its inhabitants. Dobyns places the pre-contact population of the western hemisphere at 112,000,000 with an estimated 9,800,000 living north of Mexico. In what is now Mexico there were more than 30,000,000 natives. By the year 1900 less than 400,000 indigenous people survived in North America, the remnants of hundreds of nations and societies systematically slaughtered, starved, hunted, confined and contaminated by the colonists.
- Natives did not have science, were primitive and bound by superstitions. The first step towards subjugating a people is to de-humanize them. By denying Natives intellect, reason and capable of complex thought the Europeans rationalized their killing. In truth, Natives were master builders, agriculturalists, foresters, mathematicians, astronomers, urban planners, political theorists, biologists, artists and writers. They designed and built cities, conducted trade, entered into treaties and established societies in which humans were able to live without adversely affecting their environment. Native spirituality was based upon natural law, which in turn required a formidable knowledge as to the world in which they lived. But one example from Ray Fadden: Native physicians had mastered the art of surgery hundreds of years before the Europeans and there is not one herbal plant in the Americas unknown to Native pharmacists.
- Christopher Columbus, Italian, was a brave sea captain who used the pawned jewels of Spanish Queen Isabella to discover America. All lies: there was no Italy at the time of the explorer’s birth. A man named Cristolo Columbo was born in the latter part of the 15th century in the city state of Genoa but this was not the explorer. He was, according to self-identification from Barcelona in Catalonia, now part of Spain. His name was Cristobal Colon. He spoke, thought and wrote in Catalonian, a distinct language. He never spoke in the Genovese dialect of Italian. He came from an upper class family and had red hair, a distinctive characteristic of the Catalonians. He paid for his 1492 voyage with funds stolen by Isabella from the Jews she expelled from Spain. His ships were all named after prostitutes and he was never lost since he possessed sea charts, which clearly showed a land mass at a specific distance west of the Azores. He was an incapable governor who brought slavery to the Caribbean and engaged in the selling of children for sexual exploitation. Not until long after his death was the name “Columbus” made popular. He discovered nothing.
- The pilgrims came to American to find religious freedom. This lie has become a cornerstone of American history and is often cited by self-serving politicians. The pilgrims arrived in 1620 in a region where, a year before, tens of thousands of Natives lived. The Europeans had been trying for a century to colonize the eastern coast of North America only to be turned back by the hundreds of thousands of Natives who would not permit this. The Pilgrims were highly intolerant of other spiritual traditions and ventured to this continent so they could continue their repressive, highly orthodox ways. A few months before they landed at Cape Code an epidemic swept through the region killing most of the inhabitants. Only then were they able to land and then endure by stealing Native food. Only when friendly aboriginals taught them Native plating techniques were they able to survive. A generation later these same Pilgrims would launch a series of military attacks on their former hosts in which tens of thousands of Native men, women and children were exterminated.
Doug George-Kanentiio, Akwesasne Mohawk, is a co-founder of the Native American Journalists Association and the former editor of the journal Akwesasne Notes. A former member of the Board of Trustees for the National Museum of the American Indian he is the author of “Iroquois on Fire” among other books. He may be reached via e-mail: Kanentiio@aol.com.