Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Native American History and my Anger

My Native American History class is every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday morning right after water aerobics. We study the events that took place on the American continent after 1492 up through (so far) the early 1830s. We've read excerpts from Columbus' journal, stories of battles (written by Conquistadors), Puritan accounts of war with Native tribes, a story of the kidnapping of a Puritan woman by a native people (written by her after she was released), and so far only one document written by a native person about the native view on English colonialism, which was written and published centuries later in the 1830s.

I decided to take this class because it seemed like the least of all the "evils" I could fit into my schedule, but now it is so much more than just the lesser evil. I feel so angry in this class every day. Today I could barely keep myself from yelling in rage in the middle of class about what I was hearing.
I never wanted to admit that I knew very little about the building of North America by European settlers. Of course, I learned as a kid the cute story about the first Thanksgiving, the Disney Pocahontas story, and how awesome it was that Columbus managed to overcome so many obstacles and to make such a fortunate error in "discovering" America. Through my teenage years, I slowly learned that there was another side to the story, but I only learned generalizations like "we kicked Indians off their land" and "settlers killed lots of Indians" and somesuch nonsense, but I never actually knew.

In this class we read actual documents from the era--journals, books, ads, propaganda--that are all from the European point of view, and it disgusts me to read about actual battles and wars and hear not a note of sympathy or regret on the part of the settlers. Reading about these events, it is painful to realize how terribly the Europeans treated the native people, individually and collectively, how much they thought they deserved this already populated land... to see the justifications and excuses they made for selling into slavery, raping, betraying, murdering, lying to and otherwise manipulating and destroying the native people. I cannot (perhaps I do not want to) understand how such terrible things could be perpetrated by people who claimed to be creating a land of freedom, equality and liberty and for the advancement of Christianity. The selfishness of the settlers and the naivete and eventual desperate anger of the natives stirred into action such atrocities that I cannot understand. It makes me sick and furious.

I have felt growing anger about this subject for more than a year, since I took a Native American Literature class with Theresa Williams here at the University, but I haven't been comfortable with the anger. My anger insists that I act, but how can I act to right these wrongs? I cannot change the pages of history, nor can those of us living in this country now just get up and leave and give back the land--nothing would be fixed, nothing could make this better.

I know these are things I should be writing about in stories and poetry, but I cannot figure out how to harness my anger (rage? perhaps) about this subject. I am too up in the air right now and too uncomfortable with the level of my anger to see how I could put it into words. Writing about it here is hard enough--even now I am crying because my anger fills me up so much that it leaks out in tears--sadness is easier for me. I suppose this is a good start, and I suppose this will be something for me to write about my entire life. I need to find a more truthful, ugly expression of my anger, or it will stick to my insides and rot me slowly.

I am a woman and I am angry!

Learning lots,

1 comment:

  1. Monica,

    I share your anger. During the fall I witnessed a speech that linked every social wrong this country has to the destruction of the native americans. I found no one to blame, no fingers to point, and no way to come back at the years of torture society has pressed upon engraining the opposition into my mind.

    I think I have an outlet for you, with very different moral values at risk near the Mexican borders. I read an article in The NY Times last week about a southern AZ reservation that has hundreds of US troops invading their land to keep illegal immigrants from entering the country.

    Ragan's "Live Poetry" had me considering my values for a great while, and I think there are several poems to come out of this situation. If we are to speak of the temper of the times, the both of us need find ways to connect over a hundred years of wrongness and lies to these people torn apart by the arms of justice.

    Of course I have no idea how you feel about the boarder patrol, or the Army. But I see a connection for the both of us with what is going on in AZ no matter how anyone feels about these issues.

    Here is the url for the article:

    Good luck! I hope this helps you focus your anger on a similar issue.