Having come to understand and perceive George Sioui as an emotionally charged writer who presents the Amerindian history, society, and overall culture in an unduly biased manner, I cannot help but agree, to a certain extent, with his conclusion that Euro-Americans have been more influenced by Amerindian culture than vice-versa. In Los Naufrigos, translated into english as The Castaways, Spanish explorer and “primitive ethnographer” Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca credits the native tribe of the Capoque people with saving him and fellow men from their inevitable death after witnessing the brutal destruction of the Spaniard’s rafts during a vicious storm in which many of the Europeans drowned to death. Counter to the Spanish’s anticipation of human sacrifice, the natives immediately carried the survivors to their villages allowing allowing them warm themselves by firelight while the Capoque constructed shelters for their guests; only after assuring their safety did the Natives then proceed to join the Spanish in the mourning of their fallen comrades. Similar accounts of companionship, such as in the film Last of the Mohicans (based off J.F. Cooper’s 1826 fiction original), transpired throughout the history of Amerindian and Euro-American relations, re-emphasizing the fact that without Native American assistance Europeans would have had an extremely slim chance surviving in this environment. Possibly one of the biggest Amerindian influences on Euro-American culture is the Constitution of the United States of America; unfortunately many Americans either do not know this or simply take it for granted but founding father Benjamin Franklin studied Native Americans, more specifically the Iroquois Nation. He was amazed by how different tribes, despite their individual, local differences succeeded in efficiently cooperating and governing themselves for such a long period of time. Franklin and other early Americans united by the belief in self-government, rejected the traditional European monarchy in which sovereignty is compromised and used the Amerindian political system as a model for creating the government of the thirteen colonies that would later become the United States of America. These are just a few of many examples that exhibit the influence that Amerindian culture had on its European counter-part. Be that as it may however the opposite perception of Sioui’s conclusion, Amerindians have been more influenced by the Euro-American culture, can be and has been justly expressed as well. Discussed in For an American Autohistory, Sioui himself describes how the introduction of European technology, more specifically Iron tools, to the Native American nations of the Narrangansett, Pokanoket, and Massachussetss, gave them the ability to enhance the production of Wampum beads. These beads, regarded as highly-valuable goods, were traded between Amerindians themselves in addition to Europeans, increasing commerce between both parties as well as economic relationships. More importantly, Wampum was a craft material used by Amerindians to create “collars” or “belts” which purpose was to signify the establishment of treaties and agreements among Amerindians or with the white Europeans. Therefore, European innovation shared with Amerindian cultures benefited each group economically and both groups politically and socially. Other forms of technology introduced to Amerindian cultures by Europeans included rifles which replaced more primitive forms of weaponry such as the bow or harpoon. Firearms provided the Amerindians with the opportunity to kill more game efficiently, increasing food supply, while also allowing them to become more better warriors and defend their homeland against neighboring tribes. This notion of superiority on the battle field is witnessed in the film Dances with Wolves, during a battle between rifle-armed Sioux and Pawnee armed with clubs and bows. Unfortunately however, the reality is that it is hard if not impossible to justify any positive European-American influence on Amerindian culture. As early as Columbus’ arrival in 1492, Amerindian people were slowly (but surely) unavoidably being exposed to “Western” disease as more and more Europeans traveled to the New World. As Sioui describes it in his For An Amerindian Autohistory, the “American Apocalypse” decimated the Amerindian population for over four centuries, as epidemics of small pox and other ailments Europeans had grown immune to ran rampant through Native American camps. Without a proper vaccination, the advanced technology, or highly educated and experienced health practitioners, Amerindians could do nothing but basically wait for news of disease outbreaks to hit surrounding areas before attempting to flee which only accelerated the process because exposure and infection had already occurred. As much as Euro-Americans can blame disease as a contributing factor to the eradication of Amerindians throughout history, Euro-Americans have no where else but to look into the mirror. As if disease was not enough, small to large scale genocide through “justifiable” and unjustifiable means of war and prejudiced fueled territory campaigns continually transpired between Euro-Americans and Amerindians for hundreds of years. Fueled by ethnocentric philosophies such as “Manifest Destiny” and Capitalistic greed, Euro-Americans have massacred the Amerindian population through every means available. The very same people who educated Europeans on how to survive on this land, who shared resources, and who desired a cooperative, mutual relationship became the very same people through the the cross hairs (gun sights) of European-American rifles and government policy. The European-American attitude directed towards Amerindians for 400 years can best be summed up in Richard H. Pratt’s words “Kill the Indian and save the man”. It is with the up-most disgust and remorse that generations later, anthropologists and historians alike have to re-iterate to descendants of European-Americans that “ethnic cleansing” comparable to that of the Europe’s 20th century, was the cause of the complete annihilation of Amerindian society, history, and culture. Government policy such as the Indian Removal Act of 1830 characterized the institutionalized atrocities committed against Amerindians for the centuries prior, stripping them of their homelands, coercing them to live in smaller portions of North America that were continuously decreased in size and re-arranged. The unfathomable rates of Amerindian death and loss of land persisted throughout European-American presence in North America well into early to mid 20th century. Although Amerindians had received some form of “positive” attention at the start of the 20th century through government action like the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, it wasn’t until the 1960’s in the midst of the American Civil Rights movement that Lyndon B Johnson termed Amerindians as the “Forgotten Americans”. Almost half a millennial had passed since European Americans had first made contact and Amerindians were finally starting to become of some concern to North Americans. Meanwhile the magnitude of irreversible environmental damage had continued to increase at a rapid rate into today’s modern world in which many generations later European-Americans are realizing the effects of almost five hundred years of expansion and two hundred years of industrialization, urbanization, and waste deposit. As demonstrated both Amerindians and European-Americans did and still do have influences on the other; it is more about if the influence was good as in humane or bad as in the reality of what happened that determines if one group’s influence outweighs another’s.
Georges Sioui’s stresses the importance of land in For an Amerinidan Autohistory; this land being North America. According to Wendat culture, Amerindians believe that a woman created the world in which all beings, human and non-human live. Her two sons quarreled over how the world should be, one was too good believing that it should be easy while the other wished for the world to be full of obstacles and danger. In the end the woman, mother of the two sons, balanced both sons ideas creating a world of beauty and order in which ordeals would arise; however, these ordeals were not consist of violence but were created to inspire a fundamental morality that all humans universally shared, compassion. It is from this narration of creation that Amerindians derived their belief that the earth is a woman, she is the mother who founded and arranged the world for the existence of the entire human race. For this very reason Amerindians stress the importance of a universal respect for this natural matriarchy in which women are superior to men in many ways. Women, like the mother earth, represent reason, educate man, orient his future, anticipate the needs of humanity, organize the direction of society, are the sources of the powers of life and possess the capacity to understand the world’s natural laws. Counter to Amerindian belief, European-American’s do not stress the importance of the earth mother, putting man at the center of creation which instilled a strong belief that civilization, the product of man (European-Americans), is the source of order, balance, and universal law. As a result European-Americans developed ethnocentric ideas of human social evolution that, unlike the Amerindian universal belief that all humans are equal, categorized all humans of the world, instilling in them the idea that Amerindians were a “primitive” people. Therefore European Americans believed that it was their duty to “civilize” the inferior Amerindians; this ideology of duty can be observed through the history of Amerindian and European-American interactions. It served as the impetus for the development of material wealth in terms of land privatization during colonization, the four century long attempt to convert all Amerindians to Christianity, and the subjection of Amerindians to cruel treatment such as nineteenth century land appropriation and persistence violence that resulted in the millions of Amerindian deaths. Since the time of first contact, Amerindians have continued to stay true to their belief of the Great Spirit who promoted harmony among mankind in order to value and maintain a clean-land for all of mother-earth’s children to come. After all it was the Amerindian compassion, kindness, and sense of equality among man and land that persuaded more European-Americans to venture to the new land in the first place. Nonetheless, as Amerindian peoples received the European-Americans’ arrival with open arms, they witnessed a man departed from nature, instill corruption throughout their lands with minimal resistance. Unlike their counter parts, Amerindians never had a desire to establish a supremacy over another, exploit European-Americans, or use violence as a means of diplomacy, only fighting back when it was necessary for survival. To them, the land on which they lived was not only created for all of human-kind to enjoy but it was a part of who they were and still are. The earth, their mother, is their source of Amerindian spiritually, faith, and values without whom they would not be able to exist. One account describes how Amerindians witnessed Man come across the great water and dominate Woman; as they watched the white man tear up their land, they felt as if the European Americans were tearing up their own flesh, demonstrating their connection with the earth as the source of their identity. No matter how incredibly atrocious European Americans treated Amerindians and their land, they never once rebelled against their fate, holding true to their belief of the Circle of Life. Sigmund Freud states in his Civilization and its Discontents, that when man created civilization, he derived his sense of order from nature itself. Amerindians too believed that nature was the source of all order in the world and that the universe operated off of these natural laws. The Amerindian Circle of Life explains that each human being goes through four distinct phases in his or her life: childhood, adulthood, old age, and childhood again; just as corn is continuously planted and harvested each season, human beings are born and harvested and born again. Today’s modern world supports George Sioui’s conclusion that Amerindian culture has had a greater influence on European-American culture than vice-versa. In reference to the Amerindian Circle of Life, European-Americans too have gone through the phases of childhood, adulthood, and currently reside in the phase of old age, reflecting on past lives and developing wisdom to pass on. North Americans are now not only learning about Amerindian history, society, and culture through different mediums like classes similar to this one or going on weekend backpacking trips to experience nature firsthand but more importantly about their connection with the earth, with North American land. Environmentalism and Egalitarianism are extremely important areas of public attention in North America today. Having realized our mistakes of the past in both the unfair treatment and exploitation of Amerindian peoples, many are making strives of their own to fight for the rights of Native Americans and other minorities who have suffered at the hands of European-American institutions. The United States of America has recently been revising medical marijuana policies for Native American reservations in order to help those suffering from terminal illnesses. Police Department’s nationwide are revising their practices in response to the immoral shootings of African-Americans. On the world stage, Australians, a country once populated by Natives and founded by Europeans, are publicly expressing their support for Muslims scared to go out in public due to a recent Islamic radicalist hostage situation. In addition, pro-environmentalism is not only a North America movement, but a global one, as many people are breaking from the European-American capitalist attitude of more; rather focusing on less, attempting to salvage what parts of the natural environment remain, emphasizing its importance in life. In the United States many local governments like that of Detroit, Michigan are demolishing old, run-down buildings in order to clear land for urban gardens from which the lower class population as well as the middle and upper class can benefit from expressing a sense of unity through nature; this trend seems to be growing at a rapid rate across the country, occurring in my home town of High Point as we speak. As people of our world today more specifically North Americans, residing in the Amerindian phase of old age, look back on the lives that we have lived since the time of first contact between European-Americans and Amerindians, they see that there is an obvious need for change in many areas of life. This change can happen tomorrow, entering the next phase of Amerindian Circle of Life, only to be born again as children. As North Americans we cannot forget all that has occurred in the past centuries, but we can learn from it just as we can learn from Amerindian culture. We can harvest the good and take the next step forward in planting the seeds for tomorrow, striving to protect our land and the Amerindian culture that without whom we would not be who we are today.