I’ve been hearing the terms de-centering and re-centering a lot in the anti-racism webinars, books, presentations, you-tubes and trainings I’ve been attending and reading. Essentially, it refers to putting someone new in the center of a narrative and letting them tell the story. It yields a whole new perspective. So, for this Third Thursday article, I offer you two narratives of the history of the United States – one told with the traditional White male European centered perspective and one told with Indigenous Peoples at the center.
From: An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States 2014 by Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz pp. 1-30
“As a birthplace of agriculture and the towns and cities that followed, America is ancient, not a “new world.” Domestication of plants took place around the globe in seven locales during approximately the same period, around 8500 BC. Three of the seven were in the Americas…”
“North America in 1492 was not a virgin wilderness but a network of Indigenous nations, peoples of the corn.”
“…the Americas were densely populated when the European monarchies began sponsoring colonization projects there. The total population of the hemisphere was about one hundred million at the end of the fifteenth century, with about two-fifths in North America…At the same time, the population of Europe as far east as the Ural Mountains was around fifty million.”
“Origin narratives form the vital core of a people’s unifying identity and of the values that guide them. In the United States, the founding and development of the Anglo-American settler-state involves a narrative about Puritan settlers who had a covenant with God to take the land. That part of the origin story is supported and reinforced by the Columbus myth and the “Doctrine of Discovery.”
“US policies and actions related to Indigenous peoples, though often termed “racist” or “discriminatory,” are rarely depicted as what they are: classic cases of imperialism and a particular form of colonialism—settler colonialism.”
“Precolonial Caribbean cultures and cultural connections have been very little studied, since many of these peoples, the first victims of Columbus’s colonizing missions, were annihilated, enslaved and deported, or later assimilated enslaved African populations with the advent of the Atlantic slave trade. The best known are the Caribs, Arawaks, Tainos, and the Chibchan-speaking peoples.”
“What European colonizers found in the southeastern region of the continent were nations of villages with economies based on agriculture and corn the mainstay. This was the territory of the nations of the Cherokee, Chickasaw, and Choctaw and the Muskogee Creek and Seminole, along with the Natchez Nation in the western part, the Mississippi Valley region.”
“To the north, a remarkable federal state structure, the Haudenosaunee confederacy—often referred to as the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy—was made up of the Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, and Mohawk …. This system incorporated six widely dispersed and unique nations of thousands of agricultural villages and hunting grounds from the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River to the Atlantic, and as far south as the Carolinas and inland to Pennsylvania. The Haudenosaunee peoples avoided centralized power by means of a clan-village system of democracy based on collective stewardship of the land.”
“The system of decision making was based on consensus, not majority rule. This form of decision making later baffled colonial agents who could not find Indigenous officials to bribe or manipulate.”
From: History of the United States 1998 by Douglas Brinkley. Ch 1: Setting the Stage, starts in the 1490s.pp. 1-22
“ ‘Your Highnesses have an Other World here, by which our holy faith can be so greatly advanced and from which such great wealth can be drawn.’ So wrote Christopher Columbus to the king and queen of Spain on October 18, 1498, after his third voyage across the ocean.”
“Yet he didn’t have any real idea of what he found and what he had started – how could he have? Who could have imagined the vast lands that stretched thousands of miles beyond anything he had seen, the tens of millions of people living there, and the death and devastation he and his successors had already begun to bring upon them, and the future empires that would grow up on the lands they inhabited? Who, above all, could have imagined the new kind of civilization, the world’s first experimental civilization, that centuries later would arise as the United States of America?”
“The human spirit had begun to stir in Western Europe in the late fifteenth century, and Europeans had begun to reach outward – down and around the coast of Africa, far to the distant East, and into the unknown Atlantic…. At the time, it was hard to imagine political and social power developing anywhere else. After all, since the early medieval era eight centuries earlier, western Europe had been divided between the world’s two mightiest entities – the nobility and the papacy… .
“… bold mariners ignored the daunting risks and opened the way to the forging not only of new nations but of a new civilizations… .
“On the morning of Oct 12, Columbus sighted the Bahamas and landed on Watling Island, which he named San Salvador. From there he sailed on to Cuba and then to Haiti, trading with the natives on each and even persuading some to take the voyage back to Europe with him. When Columbus returned to Spain in March 1493, his ships’ logs, many of them falsified, created a wave of public interest…even if the accounts were far from the truth.”
“After Columbus’ [four transatlantic voyages 1492–93, 1493–96, 1498–1500, and 1502–04], wealth from the New World began pouring into Spain.”
“Throughout the early sixteenth century, more expeditions were launched and settlements established on the eastern coasts of Central America and South America, from whose natives gold was seized and sent back to Spain.
“Thanks to these and other conquistadors who braved the unknown in Peru, Venezuela, and elsewhere throughout Central and South America, Spain would become the dominant power in the New World just a half century after Columbus first stepped ashore in San Salvador.”
Anne Hoenicke, a member of the Racial Justice Working Group
Judy Arnold, Will Burhans, Sarah Gallop, Jonathan Goodell, Anne Hoenicke, Jerry Mechling, Kaye Nash, Julianne Zimmerman