I came across, I don’t remember how, an interesting interactive map quite a few months ago. I didn’t fiddle with it much, but its premise has sort of been lingering in the rearward reaches of my consciousness ever since. After recently writing about our “convenient realities“, the map demanded attention.
When it comes to Western ways of “dealing” with natives in the New World, one common — the most common? — approach has been: we won and they lost, so it’s time for them to move on. (Another favorite posture — “That was years before I was born, why should I have to pay for it?” — will have to wait for another post.) For a long time that was my default response, too. The reality is European settlers conquered North America. End of story. Ergo, adapt or die.
But there seems to me no fewer than a couple of reasons that, as an adult, that’s not a supportable stance.
For one, it’s wrong.
Second, it’s lazy, illogical, and hypocritical reasoning.
If Canada or the U.S. or any other land in the New World were invaded and pillaged we citizens imagine that we would not stand without a fight. Great swaths of our culture are about just that kind of guts and tenacity, in which we battle everything from foreign invaders to alien invaders. Indeed, we glorify the fight. Quit is not in the vocabulary. That is the reality.
Fighting does not equal victory, of course. And losing is very much in the realm of the possible. But taking that loss, rolling over, and adapting is not in the realm of the acceptable. We would expect each other to resist our conquerors, now and forever, and we imagine that we’d make any who didn’t into instant pariahs. That is the reality.
And yet giving up is what we expect natives to do today. We expect them to accept, forget, and adapt.
To the extent they don’t — or to the extent they struggle with that push to forget and pull to remember, or to find some balance, or to form some hybrid culture — they are condemned. Condemned for not giving up altogether, and condemned for taking some modern conveniences instead of forsaking them and embracing completely the traditions they claim to love and cherish.
This is all an easy reckoning of a difficult subject, and as we should expect it doesn’t help anyone.
So in addition to recognizing the innate hypocrisy of this approach, as a non-native I also try to think about this current reality from another perspective, from their perspective, even just a bit (because my imagination can’t do it justice).
To me, this seems essential to finding any way forward. To understand, to appreciate, and ultimately to assist it is necessary to learn about and remember what was in the past. The paths to that understanding are both easy and hard, but they all run through the real world.
And of course they are underfoot. The map (with some background and excellent thoughts from Open Culture) is an incredible wake up call from those who were here before any of us. It is a reminder that this land was not given up without a fight, and that platitudes to “move on” are as empty as they are easy to mouth. Exploring the map reminds us that history deserves not to be erased by the lazy.
As a property owner, how do I feel about all this? I’m not sure yet. That’s a tough one. But it doesn’t change the reality. I have to be the one to work on reconciling my status and the facts of history. My discomfort can’t be an excuse for quitting that pursuit or ignoring it entirely. Nor can it undermine the efforts of those bringing the past into the present. Their work, and the challenge it presents all of us, is proof — if we take up the challenge — that we can advance our species.
Top image by Jennifer Adomeit