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Archive for May, 2013

New Mexico History Museum, Santa Fe, New Mexico

New Mexico History Museum, Santa Fe, New Mexico

This post about what European history would look like if it were told like Native American history typically is has been getting a lot of well-deserved attention on social media lately. It’s quite well-done, and worth a look. Here’s a sample:

Most pre-contact Europeans lived together in small villages. Because the continent was very crowded, their lives were ruled by strict hierarchies within the family and outside it to control resources. Europe was highly multi-ethnic, and most tribes were ruled by hereditary leaders who commanded the majority “commoners.” These groups were engaged in near constant warfare.

The whole blog is quite good. (And I’m not just saying that because it has me on the blogroll, although that is how I first discovered it.) The author, a college undergrad named Kai, seems to be very well-informed about Native American history and to have a perceptive and nuanced approach to the issues involved in it. I particularly like this post discussing the sources of information for indigenous history. I agree entirely with both the three main sources mentioned (archaeology, ethnohistory, and oral tradition) and the assessments of their strengths and weaknesses. My own approach with this blog is very similar in the types of information I draw on and how I evaluate them. The goal, however, seems to be slightly different from my own:

Personally, my ultimate goal is returning the power to indigenous people to tell our own histories. We are deprived of control of our own history on so many levels: through government and private ownership of ancestral remains and objects, through the lack of Native voices in popular history, through the poor education given to indigenous youth, through the delegitimization of indigenous ways of telling history. The only place we have kept sovereignty over our own history is amongst ourselves, in the stories our grandparents tell us and we tell each other. For that reason, I tend towards the view of using archaeology and written records to illuminate the oral and written traditions of Native people, rather than the other way around as many academics do it. Because at the heart of it, indigenous history belongs to indigenous people–people not only deserve but need to know their own history. So my priority is returning it to them where it has been forcibly severed from them.

This is a worthy goal, and I support it wholeheartedly. It’s not quite the same as what I’m doing with this blog, however. I am not Native myself, and the Native groups I discuss here are generally fairly satisfied with their knowledge of their own history (which is of course sometimes quite different from how white people see that same history) and often reluctant to share that knowledge with outsiders. My main focus is on illuminating the (pre)history of North America for all audiences who are unaware of it. This includes Natives themselves, of course, if they want to read what some white guy has to say about their past, but my expectation is that most of the people who read me will not be indigenous themselves. This difference in emphasis between me and Kai may stem in part from the different geographical areas we focus on; I focus on the West, where many Native groups have maintained major parts of their traditional culture quite robustly in the face of Euroamerican colonization, whereas Kai seems to focus on the East, where colonization has been a much more overwhelming force for Native communities and traditional culture has been maintained in more subtle ways. These are very different situations, and they lead to different issues that need to be addressed.

In any case, I highly recommend Kai’s blog to anyone who likes mine. It focuses mainly on a different part of the continent, but discusses it in a very similar way, and also addresses more general issues of interest to anyone concerned with Native America.

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