Native American Truths You Probably Didn’t Know
Let’s discuss the popular misconception regarding Native American origins. We have all heard the narrative about how the United States was built on genocide and slavery and how Native Americans were the original Founding Fathers. What if I told you that these statements are absolutely, totally, and utterly false? What if I told you that the facts have been skewed and contorted to confuse and divide you?
Consider the idea that individuals with an agenda have pushed almost any movement we have witnessed over the last several decades. Somehow, these agendas seem to only further the divide among the citizenry while never really changing anything short of our progress. This topic is no different. It is the same thing every year, and it gets a little worse every year.
Let me emphatically state that the United States was not built on Native American genocide. Now let me prove it. To do this, we need to get some terms squared away.
“Native American” refers to a member of ANY of the indigenous peoples of the Americas. For clarity, the Americas encompass the totality of the continents of North America and South America. “Indigenous” means originating or occurring naturally in a particular place – which of course, no one truly holds that claim in the Americas because everyone had to walk here. Regardless, the last term we need to cover is “Clovis.” The Clovis culture is a prehistoric Native American culture that first appeared in the archaeological record of North America around 13,500 years ago, at the end of the last ice age. The culture is named for artifacts found near Clovis, New Mexico, in 1932. These artifacts are the original reasoning for many to believe that the Native Clovis Americans were in North America first – somehow giving these people a claim to the land (Lovgren, 2007).
There is just one problem with that. Native Clovis were not the first ones in North America (Schultz, 2017). This also means that they are not really “native” after all. This means the narrative must change, but we need some context before we change it.
It does not take much effort to find that the Clovis were NOT in America first (Day, 2012). There is overwhelming archeological, stratigraphic, DNA, and radiocarbon evidence to conclusively show that humans – totally unrelated to the Clovis, were in North America over a thousand years before the Clovis (University of Copenhagen, 2012). Many organizations (including National Geographic) have published stories on it since it was discovered (Lovgren, 2007).
So why does this myth continue? Perhaps it simply fits a narrative that helps to ensure an agenda. Still, if you want to classify the origin of the people who were in the Americas first, it should be known that the first people in North America would probably look more like ancient Europeans (Powledge, 2013). This should not be that hard to believe, especially considering the discovery of Graecopithecus freybergi – a 7.2 million-year-old pre-human. This discovery proved that our human ancestors were already starting to evolve in Europe 200,000 years before the earliest African hominid and that Europe was the birthplace of humanity (Fuss, Spassov, Begun, & Böhme, 2017).
“But what about Africa?”
It is not the point, but as far as Africa goes, the further you go North, the older the remains get. As of this entry, Morocco (a nation 9 miles from Spain) boasts the oldest African remains found so far (Ritter, 2017). It seems to me that perhaps there was a migration south into Africa instead of a migration North from Africa. For most, this will be the first time you have heard that, but the evidence is suggestive. The point is that we should be willing to accept new information because as we learn more, things change. I digress.
Understand that these first inhabitants of North America were more than likely killed off by the Clovis when the Clovis eventually arrived on the scene. Regardless, and for the sake of this article, I will continue to refer to the Clovis as “Native” to reduce confusion as I address these folks in other ideas.
Next, we will examine the myth that the Natives were some unified people occupying the landscape of the Americas. This is a bald-faced lie. The truth is that in North America alone, there were hundreds (if not thousands) of different languages spoken by natives, and there were hundreds of different tribes that waged brutal wars against one another long before Europeans arrived (Horgan, 2010). The best representation of this that I have ever heard was that “a Mohawk, a Sioux, an Apache, and a Chinook would have been as different from each other as an Englishman, a Frenchman, a Spaniard, and Dutchman, and with the same difficulties in communicating with each other.”
These tribes not only spoke a different language but also had different customs, religious practices, and ways of living their daily lives, much like the nations that comprised Europe. The point I need to make very clear is that the Natives of that time would not have recognized one another as some “cohesive group.” The idea is quite asinine when you think about it.
Furthermore, just like almost any society in human history, Native Americans as a whole were war hawks. They were as tough as any other warrior society this planet has ever seen. As Native-net.org states: “The art of war was a common part of life for ancient Native Americans” (The Legacy of the Native American Warriors, 2016). Generally, their societies were tough, competitive, and violent – sometimes brutally. From their coming-of-age rituals to their subjugation of conquered tribes, it must be made clear that Natives were not some peace-loving – one with the earth – race that some would have you believe they were.
Yes, Natives lived off the land, but that does not mean they did not do any damage. In fact, they may have completely altered the global climate at one point. Consider this; a team of Stanford environmental scientists believes that Natives may have been responsible for the mini-ice age (Yirka, 2011). At their height, Natives cleared so many trees that when the Natives died in the plague, so many trees grew back that it had a reverse global warming effect that resulted in global cooling.
This usually is where emotions arise, and people begin to think irrationally. When you talk about the disease element of Native Americans, people start saying things like, “see… the Founders brought over diseases and killed the Natives,” and this would be false as well.
Understand that, as humans, we like to explore. We have done it for thousands of years. Natives did it too. It might surprise you that Native Americans “discovered” Europe at about the same time the Europeans discovered the new world (Richter, n.d.). Understand what that means. Just because your people “discovered” something does not mean that other people have not “discovered” it before. Of course, this is true in North America, as well. To be blunt, exploration is how all early civilizations arrived in the Americas in the first place. It is in our nature. Timelines are important, though.
Depending on how you would like to define this, we could say that the United States officially became a nation on July 4, 1776. Some would argue that it was the day before, and some would even argue that it wasn’t until September of 1787. If you wanted to split hairs, you could even go as far as to say it was June 21, 1788. This is about twelve years, and you can use any date that you would like for the following point.
Over a hundred years BEFORE the creation of the United States, the Pilgrims landed near the site of modern Provincetown in November of 1620, eventually moving to Plymouth. I need you to understand that the Spaniard, Christopher Columbus, came around over a hundred years before the Pilgrims in 1492. There is mounting evidence to suggest that the Celts also made their way to North America. Asians are thought to have visited too. Now consider that we have found Viking encampments in Newfoundland dating to the year 1000 (Strauss, 2016). I want you to note how Pilgrims, Columbus, the Celts, the Asians, and the Vikings arrived (in some cases hundreds of) years before the American Founders were even born or before the United States was ever a thought in anyone’s mind. So why (or how) are the Founding Fathers being blamed for this?
We must understand that the entire planet has had a bit of a “bug problem” for hundreds of years – not just in North America. Consider this; the world experienced the Black Death from 1347 – 1351, the Great Plague of London from 1665 – 1666, the Great Plague of Milan from 1629–1631, the Moscow Plague in 1771, and the Great Plague of Marseille from 1720 – 1722. And guess what? Lots and lots of people died. From the Black Death alone, the total number of deaths worldwide is estimated at 75 million people. It was not intentional; it was just something that happened due to ignorance.
You need to ask yourself, “what are the chances that some of these sick people accidentally came into contact with others?” The answer is “probable,” considering that you cannot spread disease without such interactions. To suggest that spreading these diseases had been intentional is naïve or ignorant.
We now know that somewhere between 1500 and 1600, a devastating plague raced across the East Coast of America. Of course, it wasn’t just in North America. Smallpox and other diseases invaded and crippled the Aztec and Inca civilizations in Central and South America in the 16th century (Kukaswadia, Ph.D., 2013).
We need to understand timelines. This devastating plague could potentially be blamed on the Spaniards if you were to blame anyone. However, objectively speaking, you could also potentially blame the Natives that “discovered” Europe. Or, more than likely, both. Regardless, the point is that this happened well over a hundred years before the United States was even a thought in anyone’s mind.
So let us discuss the disease during that time. As you know, 75 to 90 percent of all Indians died during this period. Then temper this with the idea that this die-off more than likely caused the mini-ice age, which killed millions of Europeans right along with them (Mandia, n.d.). Now, attempt to think “bigger picture.”
The narrative is that the deaths of the Natives were at the hands of some “white” guys or Founding Fathers trying to steal land. The TRUTH is that these deaths resulted from disease – not murder. Do not forget that these deaths occurred long before the Founders tried their little experiment. These diseases included smallpox, measles, influenza, whooping cough, diphtheria, typhus, bubonic plague, cholera, scarlet fever, and syphilis (PBS, n.d.). Again, these diseases began showing up around 1520, and the United States did not become a nation until at least 1776. See what I mean? The Founders had nothing to do with it.
Furthermore, genocide is the deliberate killing of a large group of people, especially those of a particular ethnic group or nation. This definition does not match the popular narrative because most Europeans did not realize they had such diseases. On the other hand, an epidemic is a widespread occurrence of an infectious disease in a community at a particular time. Furthering that idea, a pandemic is an infectious disease epidemic that has spread through human populations across a large region, for instance, multiple continents or even worldwide. The point is that what the Native Americans were experiencing (along with the rest of the world) was either an epidemic or a pandemic, not genocide – and yes, that distinction is essential because the deaths were not deliberate. People did not understand how to stop the spread of disease. Even then, you might have noticed that disease still spreads and kills to this very day. So even if they did have a general idea, they wouldn’t have been equipped to stop it. Again, and at least as far as our Founding Fathers were concerned, NATIVE AMERICAN’S WERE NOT VICTIMS OF GENOCIDE! You can also look up “Colombian Exchange” for more information.
This is usually when someone says something about “whites” conquering the land and killing Natives. Sure, it happened. The Spaniards did it to Natives, and other Europeans did it to Natives. So are you aware that the Natives did it to Natives as well?
It was common among Natives that the stronger of two tribes or people (nations) would conquer and subdue the weaker tribe. This happened more than you might think, especially with powerful tribes like the Sioux (Nebraska Educational Telecommunications, n.d.). I could probably write volumes on this, but too many others already have. The point is that this has been commonplace throughout human history, and NO ONE is immune. A history book will point out many conquered people and nations worldwide. I want you to understand that it was also commonplace in the Americas long before (and during) the arrival of Europeans.
Many will concede to my earlier points but suggest that Europeans killed more Natives than Natives killed Natives. This is also a wildly inaccurate assumption. Considering my previous points, consider how long Natives occupied the land before the Europeans re-arrived. Furthermore, I would argue that Native Americans were vastly more brutal to other Natives than whites ever were.
For example, human sacrifice was performed by many South American cultures at that time. You have probably heard about the Mayans. Come to think of it; the Aztecs are particularly famous for the many victims that were also subjected to horrible deaths. In reality, the Aztecs would go out of their way not to kill warriors on the battlefield because they wanted to take prisoners that would be sacrificed as payment to Gods like Huehueteotl (Maestri, 2017).
This is a great story to help prove my point. Huehueteotl was their fire god. When the Aztecs would make sacrifices for him, they would set their victims on fire, burning them alive (aztec-indians.com, n.d.). In a twist, they would remove their burning bodies from the fire before they died… only to rip their still-beating hearts from their chests to throw back in the fire.
Think about this; the practice was so brutal that neighboring tribes felt it necessary to form alliances with the Spaniards when they arrived (Antrosio, 2013). Does this not clearly demonstrate that the Aztecs were worse than the “evil” Spaniards? Neighboring tribes figured out that teaming up with the Spaniards was the only way to defeat the Aztecs, who were murdering all of their people. Sadly, this is just one example of many and rarely taught.
Brutality was not just a South American practice, though. Let me offer an example from the North just for the sake of argument. Let us talk about scalping – the tearing apart of the human scalp from the head of a live enemy, with the hair still attached as a trophy. Before I get to my main point on this, I want you to understand that in the American military, war trophies are illegal because they can lead to barbarism (extreme cruelty or brutality).
Historian Mark van de Logt wrote, “Although military historians tend to reserve the concept of ‘total war ‘for conflicts between modern industrial nations, the term nevertheless most closely approaches the state of affairs between the Pawnees and the Sioux and Cheyenne. Noncombatants were legitimate targets. Indeed, the taking of a scalp of a woman or child was considered honorable because it signified that the scalp taker had dared to enter the very heart of the enemy’s territory” (Van de Logt, 2010).
I want to emphasize that Natives were waging total war on EACH OTHER and killing women and children – something most “white” cultures frown upon – since before recorded times. I would also like to point out massacres carried out by Natives on other Natives. The book “A Population History of North America” by Michael R. Haines makes it clear that many tribes of Native Americans practiced scalping and that (for example) of the roughly 500 bodies found at the Crow Creek massacre site, 90 percent of the skulls show evidence of scalping (Haines, 2000). It is important to note that this event took place around 1325 – over a hundred years before Columbus got lost.
So life, before the Europeans arrived, was hard. This much is clear. Natives waged brutal wars on each other, killed women and children, and so on. I know… the narrative needs to blame everything on the “white people.” So surely the Founding Fathers or people of the United States did something terrible, right?
This usually is where the argument turns to guys like Andrew Jackson and the Trail of Tears. If you are unfamiliar with this event, it was a series of forced removals of Native American nations from their ancestral homelands in the Southeastern United States to an area west of the Mississippi River that had been designated as Native Territory. Essentially, it was the subjugation and removal of Natives, much like the Natives had done to each other for thousands of years.
Yes, it was a terrible time and a bad deal. However, it should also be known that it was a legal deal and a deal that the Cherokee leaders willfully engaged in for the sake of personal gain. Understand that these leaders turned their backs on their own people (Nix, 2016). Let this be another reason (in a very long list of reasons) why you should never make a deal with the government when sovereignty is on the line.
It is regrettable and unfortunate that roughly 840 Cherokee died on the Trail of Tears (Higginbotham, 1988). In my opinion, it was a horrible and unnecessary loss. It is also my opinion that Andrew Jackson was not a good person. None of these points are in dispute. Honestly, the only thing I liked about Jackson was his war against the Central Bank.
The Trail of Tears is often discussed when the evils of the “colonizers” are shoved in the faces of English ancestors. However, while sad, I try to temper the sadness of what happened on the Trail of Tears as I ponder how many people the Cherokee killed roughly 20 years later, trying to keep their over 4600 slaves as they fought for the Confederacy against the North (Oklahoma History Center, 2009)(Parker, n.d.). Of course, the Cherokee were not the only ones. Still, the point is that for whatever reason, educators seem reluctant to discuss slave ownership by the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek (Muscogee), and Seminole tribes (a.k.a. “Five Civilized Tribes”).
These facts do not mean that the members of these tribes are bad people. Furthermore, it does not mean that those tribes are somehow responsible today. We must understand that it is just something that happened, like white slavery. History is a funny thing when you look at it objectively. Let me give you an example of what I am talking about.
It has been said that Native Americans are the “original Founding Fathers.” Also, not true. “Founding,” by definition, is to establish or originate (an institution or organization) or to construct or base (a principle or other abstract thing) according to a particular principle or grounds. What “Founding Fathers” represent are those who “Founded” the United States based on the Constitution (the idea). It is not referring to those who “found” North America. Even if it did, it would still be inaccurate, as already demonstrated.
If the argument was “who owned it longer, “then sure, Natives win that, hands down. We must remember that the first English colony was founded in 1607, and people from around the world have flooded in ever since. By the time the “Founding Fathers” started thinking about a “New Nation” in 1763 (over a hundred and fifty years later), lots of people in America were already getting tired of the English tyranny, including some Native tribes. While some Natives sided with the English, some sided with the Colonists during the Revolution (Ojibwa, n.d.). So much for a unified people… on either side.
Again, it is a sad truth, but nations are conquered all the time. If anyone knows this, it is the Native Americans, as their people have been doing it to each other for thousands of years. Some Natives (like Powhatan) used Europeans to gain even more power over their weaker neighboring tribes. Of course, you probably already knew this because this is (I believe) still taught in high school. At least, it was when I was there.
Yes, bad things eventually happened between the Europeans and the Natives (from BOTH sides). Some good happened as well, and it is a shame that it has all seemingly been forgotten because of our self-inflicted divisions; it works both ways.
Think about the obvious for a moment. The Native American image, as you know it today, would be entirely different if it weren’t for Europeans. Almost everything iconic about the Native Americans in the United States today came about because of the Europeans. Don’t believe me? Then exactly where did the Natives get things like horses, beads, rifles, and so on?
This is not to say that Natives should not have a bigger presence in the United States. I have already shown that different Native tribes helped either side during the Revolution. Many do not realize that Natives have served in the United States armed services in more significant numbers per capita than any other ethnic group and in every major conflict since the Revolution (National Museum of the American Indian, 2015). Talk about national pride.
Understand that, ultimately, we have all had horrible things happen to our people in the past. Slavery, murder, war, disease, and so on. Welcome to life, friends. Life is hard, and bad things happen, but our ancestors were strong; that is why we are here. And to be quite honest, none of us should bear the burden of what happened hundreds of years ago. That is simply outrageous.
Now with all that being said, let me address the calls to celebrate “Indigenous People Day” instead of Columbus Day. I am all for it. Remember what I just said a moment ago: Natives have served in the United States armed services in more significant numbers per capita than any other ethnic group and in every major conflict since the Revolution. Of course, they deserve a holiday, which everyone in this nation should be proud of.
I do not particularly understand why we celebrate a Spaniard who had nothing to do with the Founding of the United States – especially considering that if we are going to celebrate pale-skinned people discovering the Americas, we should probably be celebrating the Vikings or the Celts instead (Klein, 2014).
Regardless, “Indigenous People Day” sounds fantastic – especially if we set the record straight on history. Natives deserve their own day. They deserve awareness and inclusion. They are a strong and beautiful people, and I am honored to have lived my life so close to so many of them and to be able to call them my friends.
Something else to think about is that the military already celebrates them. The military has named at least 20 aircraft, helicopters, and missiles after Native American tribes or weapons (Model Designation of Military Aerospace Vehicles (DoD 4120.15-L), 2004). It is because of the Natives’ influence on military culture and tactics throughout our history. Let that one sink in for a moment, and then compare it in your mind with the narrative that Native history was peaceful.
We all have a long, rich, and entangled history together in this nation. Many people here today are here because we came from a long line of formidable warriors. The cool part is that this topic merely gets us started. We need to start acting like we share the heritage that we do. Sure, our bloodlines come from across the globe, but we all originated from the same place (not Africa). People from all over have worked very hard to create a place that has the potential to be unlike anything the world has ever seen. The divisions we allow today and the crying many are doing only impede our progress. What sense does that make? We are entangled. We should embrace that.
Speaking of entanglements… let me throw another interesting idea at you. Have you ever heard of the Tallegwi and the Skidi Pawnee? These were said to be Indian tribes with Celtic blood. That is probably hard to prove at this point, but some interesting facts support that claim. Dr. Robert Meyers, a professor of Celtic Studies, has stated that Algonquin (one of the most populous and widespread North American native language groups) was said to have contained Celtic or Gaelic words.
Furthermore, several tribes dating back to the 1100s are said to have been found, with some who had reddish hair and light skin. How is that possible? Citing articles from The Atlantic Monthly in January 2000 and from the 1925 Kansas Historical Society Collections, anecdotal, archaeological, and ethnographic accounts suggest Celtic sailors may have left genetic fingerprints in America before 1200 CE. Consider the ramifications of that for a second.
I point this out to demonstrate that the narrative changes with information and that we are a lot more intertwined than anyone has told you. You may not have heard the term “Scoto-Indians” either. As it implies, it means the Scottish Indians. These are people found in the Americas who are part Scottish and part Indian. One has to recognize the interesting things these two groups share, such as shared cultural similarities, social structures, naming practices, burying practices, and many other aspects that have existed for as long as either has been around. These traits, of course, were around LONG before the Europeans flooded the Americas. Not surprisingly, the two groups were so similar that unique bonding occurred when the two groups met. That is often overlooked today. The joining of these two tribal cultures resulted in some of the greatest warrior heroes the world has ever seen. And yet… you are not told about the bonding and benefit. Why not?
ADDITIONAL: “…the so-called Clovis-first model has fallen apart over the last two decades with the discovery of several ancient human settlements dating back two or three thousand years before earlier (Hood, 2020).”
Hood, M. (2020, July 22). Humans in America 30,000 years ago, far earlier than thought. Retrieved July 23, 2020, from https://news.yahoo.com/humans-america-30-000-years-ago-far-earlier-160114498.html