“We bind ourselves together by taking hold of each other’s hands so firmly and forming a circle so strong that if a tree should fall upon it, it could not shake nor break it, so that our people and grandchildren shall remain in the circle in security, peace and happiness”
--spoken by Dekaniwidah to the Iroquois in the vision of Mohawk chief Hiawatha
These 7 pages are the close of Zinn’s first chapter in which he explains from what and and why he will be re-telling the story of the United States of America. I am not going to make much comment. Only include excerpts from the book I want to re-emphasize.
Zinn says, “So, Columbus and his successors were not coming into an empty wilderness, but into a world which, in some places, was as densely populated as Europe itself, where the culture was complex, where human relations were more egalitarian than in Europe, and where the relations among men, women, children, and nature were more beautifully worked out than perhaps any place in the world.
They were a people without a written language, but with their own laws, their poetry, their history kept in memory and passed on, in an oral vocabulary more complex than Europe’s, accompanied by song, dance and ceremonial drama. They paid careful attention to the development of potency, to their partnership with one another and with nature.”
“John Collier, an American scholar who lived among Indians in the 1920’s and 30’s in the American Southwest, said of their spirit:
“Could we make it our own, there would be an eternally inexhaustible earth and a forever lasting peace.””
Well, what if we can at the minimum, exert an effort to “make their spirit our own,” to embody, internalize their sensibilities...what would that be like? I continue to mention education, well, for obvious reasons.
And what better way to sort out whether restructuring our education system for our children and our planet needs to happen, than to educate ourselves as adults, expose ourselves, truly, to the land and the ways of the peoples who lived with it and by it, respectful of it - in a sustainable manner? A land-based re-education, that’s would do us all some good! No?
Zinn talks about the 5 tribe nation, the League of the Iroquois, known in response to European colonization as the Iroquois Confederacy (the Mowhawks, the Oneidas, the Onondagas, the Cayugas and Senecas, all spoke the Iriquois language.)
In their villages, “the land was owned in common and worked in common. Hunting was done together and the catch was divided among the members of the village. Houses were considered common property and were shared by several families. The concept of private ownership of land and homes was foreign to the Iroquois.
A French jesuit priest who encountered them in the 1650’s wrote:
“No poorhouses are needed among them, because they are neither mendicants nor paupers...Their kindness, humanity and courtesy not only makes them liberal with what they have, but causes them to possess hardly anything except in common.”
...the women were important and respected in Iroquois society. Families were matrilineal...The senior women in the village named the men who represented the clans at village and tribal councils...The women tended the crops and took general charge of village affairs while the men were always hunting and fishing. And since they supplied the moccasins and food for warring expeditions, they had some control over military matters.
And as Gary B. Nash notes in his fascinating study of early America, Red, White, and Black:
“Thus power was shared between the sexes and the European idea of male dominancy and female subordination in all things was conspicuously absent in Iroquois society.””
And bringing it back to what belief systems we are brought into as little human creatures, Zinn talks about the children in Iroquois society, “...while taught the cultural heritage of their people and solidarity with the tribe, were also taught to be independent, not to submit to overbearing authority. They were taught equality in status and the sharing of possessions. The Iroquois did not use harsh punishment on children; they did not insist on early weaning, or early toilet training, but gradually allowed the child to learn self-care.”
and he juxtaposes it to something a pastor of a Pilgrim colony, John Robinson, advised his parishioners on dealing with children:
“And surely there is in all children..a stubbornness, and stoutness of mind arising from natural pride, which must, in the first place, be broken and beaten down; that so the foundation of their education being laid in humility and tractableness, other virtues may, in their time, be built thereon.”
It is important that we see the belief system that is at the foundation of our education (in home and in school), for otherwise, I think, how else can we make fundamentally healthy changes? If these are the sort of beliefs that our educations are based in, it is no wonder that we have so many industries that thrive which are based in selling people things to make them happy, make them feel better about themselves, give them a sense of self-worth, make them feel like “winners”. Do there really have to be winners and losers? Rich and poor? Successful and unsuccessful? Are these really cultural-psychological constructs that support us and the planet that sustains us? And would all those of you who create the pharmaceuticals, or offer those specialized mental and physical health and wellness services, be willing to go out of business if it was a result of a more well-adjusted society?
Zinn closes this chapter acknowledging that it could be questioned how much the beauty in the stories of these native peoples is “romantic mythology”. But, he says, “the evidence from European travellers in the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, put together recently by an American specialist on Indian life, William Brandon, is overwhelmingly supportive of this “myth”.”
And he leaves us with the question, “Even allowing for the imperfection of myths, they [should be] enough to make us question, in that time and in ours, the excuse for progress in the annihilation of races, and the telling of history from the standpoint of the conquerers and leaders of Western civilization.”
Just in case you aren’t reading the book, or you read it once already, I leave you with the reminders I find important to my own role as human being and citizen of the U.S.A and of the world.
Cheers! to completing Chapter 1 and to taking the time to soak it in.