Archive for category Miss Winthrop and the Pursuit of Happiness

A People Dream Died http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/261852

I’m not a his­to­rian — I have done my best to avoid inac­cu­racy in my book. But I’m quite sure that spe­cial­ists of the place and time will find mat­ter for a snig­ger or two. I don’t believe in pre­vi­ous lives, have no expla­na­tion for ‘Miss Winthrop and the Pur­suit of Hap­pi­ness’ arriv­ing fully fledged one morn­ing, almost a decade ago, from nowhere. I felt a duty, on receiv­ing such a gift, to sit down and write it, almost as dic­tated by a per­nick­ety, ghostly pres­ence. On read­ing it afresh I am struck by its rel­e­vance to the Amer­ica of today.

What is life?

It is the flash of a fire­fly in the night.
It is the breath of a buf­falo in the win­ter­time.
It is the lit­tle shadow which runs across
the grass and loses itself in the sunset.

Crow­foot, Black­foot war­rior and ora­tor 1830 — 1890

I’ve always had a pas­sion for Native Amer­i­can Indi­ans. Like the orig­i­nal inhab­i­tants of Aus­tralia, they tended to get along with each other. As Cap­tain John Under­hill remarked in his 1638 ‘Newes fro­mAmer­ica’, ‘They might fight seven years and not kill seven men.’ They fought ‘more for pas­time, than to con­quer and sub­due their ene­mies.’ They looked after each other, they loved their chil­dren deeply — so much so that it was com­mon prac­tice for the set­tlers to abduct them for bar­gain­ing pur­poses. Wives and hus­bands chose each other mutu­ally, women were treated well and protected.

The tribes were to a cer­tain extent matri­lin­eal, the women will­ingly did most of the work, owned the dwellings they built, and could well be tribal lead­ers. ‘There are no beg­gars amongst them, nor father­lesse chil­dren unpro­vided for’,  observed Roger Williams in the 17th cen­tury, con­trast­ing it with the ‘civilised’ land he had left behind where chil­dren starved to death in the streets of Lon­don. The Indi­ans made beau­ti­ful and prac­ti­cal objects with the raw mate­ri­als they had around them, they abhorred greed. They left a very light footprint.

It was our belief that the love of pos­ses­sions is a weak­ness to be over­come. Its appeal is to the mate­r­ial part, and if allowed its way, it will in time dis­turb one’s spir­i­tual bal­ance. There­fore, chil­dren must early learn the beauty of gen­eros­ity. They are taught to give what they prize most, that they may taste the hap­pi­ness of giving.…

The Indi­ans in their sim­plic­ity lit­er­ally give away all that they have–to rel­a­tives, to guests of other tribes or clans, but above all to the poor and the aged, from whom they can hope for no return.

Ohiyesa (Charles Alexan­der East­man) — Wah­peton San­tee Sioux

This appar­ently naive lack of mate­ri­al­ism, the extra­or­di­nary gen­eros­ity of the natives — mocked and exploited by the set­tlers — was the foun­da­tion of their sys­tem of wel­fare sup­port and gave the tribe inter­nal cohe­sion as well as forg­ing mutu­ally pro­tec­tive links with neigh­bour­ing tribes.

Among the Indi­ans there have been no writ­ten laws. Cus­toms handed down from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion have been the only laws to guide them. Every one might act dif­fer­ent from what was con­sid­ered right did he choose to do so, but such acts would bring upon him the cen­sure of the Nation.… This fear of the Nation’s cen­sure acted as a mighty band, bind­ing all in one social, hon­or­able compact.

George Cop­way (Kah-ge-ga-bowh) Ojibwa Chief — 1818–1863

The new­com­ers were com­pelled to admire the order­li­ness of Indian life, and to respect the sagac­ity of their sachems or lead­ers, both male and female. Though they had absolute author­ity, they took no action on col­lec­tive issues con­cern­ing war, laws or taxes with­out a gen­eral con­sen­sus. Accord­ing to most, this ver­sion of democ­racy worked. Of the sachems, John Law­son said at the begin­ning of the 18th cen­tury ‘they dis­charge their Duty with all the Integrity imag­in­able, never look­ing towards their Own Inter­est, before the Pub­lick Good.’

Before our white broth­ers arrived to make us civ­i­lized men, we didn’t have any kind of prison. Because of this, we had no delin­quents.
With­out a prison, there can be no delin­quents.
We had no locks nor keys and there­fore among us there were no thieves.
When some­one was so poor that he couldn’t afford a horse, a tent or a blan­ket,
he would, in that case, receive it all as a gift.
We were too unciv­i­lized to give great impor­tance to pri­vate prop­erty.
We didn’t know any kind of money and con­se­quently, the value of a human being
was not deter­mined by his wealth.
We had no writ­ten laws laid down, no lawyers, no politi­cians,
there­fore we were not able to cheat and swin­dle one another.
We were really in bad shape before the white men arrived and I don’t know
how to explain how we were able to man­age with­out these fun­da­men­tal things
that (so they tell us) are so nec­es­sary for a civ­i­lized society.

John (Fire) Lame Deer
Sioux Lakota — 1903–1976

‘Once I was in Vic­to­ria, and I saw a very large house. They told me it was a bank, and that the white men place their money there to be taken care of, and that by and by they got it back with inter­est. “We are Indi­ans and we have no such bank; but when we have plenty of money or blan­kets, we give them away to other chiefs and peo­ple, and by and by they return them with inter­est, and our hearts feel good. Our way of giv­ing is our bank.“‘ Chief Maquinna, Nootka

It reads like Golden Age social­ism, an instinc­tive chris­tian­ity with love at its heart that Christ him­self would recog­nise and applaud.  Like Christ, the Native Indi­ans were dig­ni­fied mar­tyrs, much more sinned against than sin­ning. The new­com­ers manip­u­lated them — as Cortes did the Guatemalans — set­ting each tribe against its neigh­bour in order to speed up geno­cide. The Indi­ans man­i­fested child­like trust, and the cyn­i­cal exploita­tion of this inno­cence by the immi­grants trans­forms the Native Amer­i­cans into saints and their adver­saries do not show up well by contrast.

If the white man wants to live in peace with the Indian, he can live in peace…
Treat all men alike. Give them all the
same law. Give them all an even chance
to live and grow. All men were made by
the same Great Spirit Chief.
They are all broth­ers. The Earth is the mother of all peo­ple, and all peo­ple should have equal rights upon it.…
Let me be a free man, free to travel,
free to stop, free to work, free to trade where I choose my own teach­ers, free to fol­low the reli­gion of my fathers, free to think and talk and act for myself, and I will obey every law, or sub­mit to the penalty.

You might as well expect the rivers to run back­ward as that any man who was born free should be con­tented to be penned up and denied lib­erty to go where he pleases.

Hein­mot Tooy­alaket ( Chief Joseph), Nez Perce Leader

Promises, lies and greed still char­ac­terise polit­i­cal (and some might argue, reli­gious) behav­iour uni­ver­sally, though the gap between the polit­i­cal promised land and cor­po­ra­tion poi­soned real­ity is most glar­ingly appar­ent in the USA (and an unpop­u­lar export). Like the Indi­ans before them, the major­ity of the present-day pop­u­la­tion of the United States is eas­ily led, happy to believe the com­fort­ing words and over­look the sin­is­ter deeds, sub­jected to the infan­til­is­ing indig­nity of hav­ing to over­look man­i­fest untruths that empha­sise the people’s impo­tence. The prece­dent Native Amer­i­can phrases are famil­iar, but still force­ful due to their truth, sim­plic­ity and pow­er­ful imagery. ‘Forked tongue’ says much in two words.

‘How smooth must be the lan­guage of the whites, when they can make right look like wrong, and wrong like right.’ Black Hawk, Sauk (1767–1838)Ma-ka-tai-me-she-kia-kiak

Be care­ful when speak­ing.  You cre­ate the world around you with your words.

from the Diné

Like Cas­san­dra, the Indi­ans were con­demned to make pre­dic­tions of fright­en­ing accu­racy only to have them con­sis­tently ignored in the unscrupu­lous rush for power, land and wealth.

Only after the last tree has been cut down, Only after the last river has been poi­soned, Only after the last fish has been caught, Only then will you find money can­not be eaten. Cree Prophecy

‘Yet hear me, my peo­ple, we have now to deal with another race — small and fee­ble when our fathers first met them, but now great and over­bear­ing. Strangely enough they have a mind to till the soil and the love of pos­ses­sions is a dis­ease with them … They claim this mother of ours, the earth, for their own, and fence their neigh­bours away; they deface her with their build­ings and their refuse.’  Sit­ting Bull’s Speech at the Pow­der River Coun­cil, 1877.

‘No tribe has the right to sell, even to each other, much less to strangers.… Sell a coun­try! Why not sell the air, the great sea, as well as the earth? Didn’t the Great Spirit make them all for the use of his chil­dren? The way, the only way to stop this evil is for the red man to unite in claim­ing a com­mon and equal right in the land, as it was first, and should be now, for it was never divided. We gave them forest-clad moun­tains and val­leys full of game, and in return what did they give our war­riors and our women? Rum, trin­kets, and a grave.’ Tecum­seh — Shawnee

The Indi­ans loved and respected native ani­mals and plants and knew how to hus­band their resources. They loved their land and its bounty with a hum­ble, spir­i­tual, and eco­nom­i­cal devotion.

‘When we Indi­ans kill meat, we eat it all up. When we dig roots, we make lit­tle holes. When we build houses, we make lit­tle holes. When we burn grass for grasshop­pers, we don’t ruin things. We shake down acorns and pine nuts. We don’t chop down the trees. We only use dead wood. But the white peo­ple plow up the ground, pull down the trees, kill every­thing. … the White peo­ple pay no atten­tion. …How can the spirit of the earth like the White man? … every­where the White man has touched it, it is sore.’

An anony­mous Indian woman

How can you buy or sell the sky, the warmth of the land? The idea is strange to us.
If we do not own the fresh­ness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them?
Every part of this earth is sacred to my peo­ple. Every shin­ing pine nee­dle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every clear­ing and hum­ming insect is holy in the mem­ory and expe­ri­ence of my peo­ple. The sap which courses through the trees car­ries the mem­o­ries of the red man.

We know that the white man does not under­stand our ways. One por­tion of land is the same to him as the next, for he is a stranger who comes in the night and takes from the land what­ever he needs. The earth is not his brother, but his enemy, and when he has con­quered it, he moves on. He leaves his father’s grave behind, and he does not care. He kid­naps the earth from his chil­dren, and he does not care. His father’s grave, and his children’s birthright are for­got­ten. He treats his mother, the earth, and his brother, the sky, as things to be bought, plun­dered, sold like sheep or bright beads. His appetite will devour the earth and leave behind only a desert.

I am a sav­age and do not under­stand any other way. I have seen a thou­sand rot­ting buf­faloes on the prairie, left by the white man who shot them from a pass­ing train. I am a sav­age and do not under­stand how the smok­ing iron horse can be made more impor­tant than the buf­falo that we kill only to stay alive.
What is man with­out the beasts? If all the beasts were gone, man would die from a great lone­li­ness of the spirit. For what­ever hap­pens to the beasts, soon hap­pens to man. All things are con­nected.
You must teach your chil­dren that the ground beneath their feet is the ashes of our grand­fa­thers. So that they will respect the land, tell your chil­dren that the earth is rich with the lives of our kin. Teach your chil­dren that we have taught our chil­dren that the earth is our mother. What­ever befalls the earth befalls the sons of earth. If men spit upon the ground, they spit upon them­selves.
This we know; the earth does not belong to man; man belongs to the earth. This we know. All things are con­nected like the blood which unites one fam­ily. All things are con­nected.
Even the white man, whose God walks and talks with him as friend to friend, can­not be exempt from the com­mon des­tiny. We may be broth­ers after all. We shall see. One thing we know which the white man may one day dis­cover; our God is the same God.
You may think now that you own Him as you wish to own our land; but you can­not. He is the God of man, and His com­pas­sion is equal for the red man and the white. The earth is pre­cious to Him, and to harm the earth is to heap con­tempt on its cre­ator. The whites too shall pass; per­haps sooner than all other tribes. Con­t­a­m­i­nate your bed and you will one night suf­fo­cate in your own waste.

That (your) des­tiny is a mys­tery to us, for we do not under­stand when the buf­falo are all slaugh­tered, the wild horses are tamed, the secret cor­ners of the for­est heavy with the scent of many men and the view of the ripe hills blot­ted by talk­ing wires.
Where is the thicket? Gone. Where is the eagle? Gone.
The end of liv­ing and the begin­ning of survival.

All things share the same breath — the beast, the tree, the man… the air shares its spirit with all the life it supports.

Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. What­ever we do to the web, we do to our­selves. All things are bound together. All things connect.

Man does not weave this web of life. He is merely a strand of it. What­ever he does to the web, he does to himself.

Chief Seat­tle

Chris­tian­ity played its usual manip­u­la­tive and divi­sive role. God is invoked in the annual cel­e­bra­tion of Thanks­giv­ing -  iron­i­cally with a dupli­cate of the feast inno­cently pro­vided by the native Amer­i­cans. As Pres­i­dent of the United States, George Wash­ing­ton pro­claimed the first nation-wide thanks­giv­ing cel­e­bra­tion in Amer­ica mark­ing Novem­ber 26, 1789, ‘as a day of pub­lic thanks­giv­ing and prayer to be observed by acknowl­edg­ing with grate­ful hearts the many and sig­nal favours of Almighty God.’ Grat­i­tude is a noble attribute, but the few remain­ing Indi­ans could not but take issue with the ‘many and sig­nal favours’ and ques­tion the jus­tice of this imported god. They were not fools — inno­cent and well-meaning, they pre­ferred to sleep easy in their integrity rather than lower them­selves to the level of the inter­lop­ers — they observed the effects of reli­gion as prac­ticed by the new­com­ers, and politely repu­di­ated it.

We do not want schools.…
they will teach us to have churches.
We do not want churches.…
they will teach us to quar­rel about God.
We do not want to learn that.
We may quar­rel with men some­times
about things on this earth,
but we never quar­rel about God.
We do not want to learn that.

Hein­mot Tooy­alaket ( Chief Joseph), Nez Perce Leader

Brother, you say there is but one way to wor­ship and serve the Great Spirit. If there is but one reli­gion, why do you white peo­ple dif­fer so much about it? Why not all agreed, as you can all read the Book.

We also have a reli­gion which was given to our fore­fa­thers, and has been handed down to us their chil­dren. It teaches us to be thank­ful, to be united, and to love one another! We never quar­rel about religion.

Sogoye­wapha, (Red Jacket), Seneca 1752–1830

Their spir­i­tu­al­ity is close to Bud­dhism in its sense of con­nec­tion with every­thing, and its con­vic­tion that the Great Spirit is every­where, within and with­out. It is close to Chris­t­ian prin­ci­ples in its sense of mutual sup­port and the over­rid­ing impor­tance of love.

The True Peace

The first peace, which is the most impor­tant,
is that which comes within the souls of peo­ple
when they real­ize their rela­tion­ship,
their one­ness, with the uni­verse and all its pow­ers,
and when they real­ize that at the cen­ter
of the uni­verse dwells the Great Spirit,
and that this cen­ter is really every­where, it is within each of us.
This is the real peace, and the oth­ers are but reflec­tions of this.
The sec­ond peace is that which is made between two indi­vid­u­als,
and the third is that which is made between two nations.
But above all you should under­stand that there can never
be peace between nations until there is known that true peace,
which, as I have often said, is within the souls of men.

Every­where is the cen­ter of the world.

Every­thing is sacred.

Black Elk, Oglala Sioux & Spir­i­tual Leader (1863 — 1950)

Epi­gram­matic wis­dom is the one remain­ing Indian legacy. Their pri­or­i­ties res­onate still with a san­ity which got lost some­where, as we grab more and enjoy less. They were cour­te­ous — when given the chance. They did not seem to feel the lack of Prozac. They were repelled by dis­sim­u­la­tion, ingrat­i­tude and ‘a churl­ish dis­po­si­tion.’ Karen Ordahl Kup­per­man quotes Rev Mor­rell say­ing that they ‘keep just promises and love equi­tie’, and his eccle­si­as­ti­cal col­league Father Andrew White in 1634 as say­ing ‘they are gen­er­ally so noble, as you can doe them noe favour, but they will returne it.’

Treat the earth well.
It was not given to you by your par­ents,
it was loaned to you by your chil­dren.
We do not inherit the Earth from our Ances­tors,
we bor­row it from our Children.

Ancient Indian Proverb

We could have learned and gained so much. The geno­ci­dal exter­mi­na­tion of so many, the destruc­tion of their par­tic­u­lar knowl­edge, of their essen­tial wis­dom dis­tilled from silence and a sense of con­nec­tion, of their way of liv­ing has left our world poorer and the con­tin­u­a­tion of our species parlous.

When you were born, you cried
and the world rejoiced.
Live your life
so that when you die,
the world cries and you rejoice.

White Elk

 

I did not know then how much was ended. When I look back now from this high hill of my old age, I can still see the butchered women and chil­dren lying heapen and scat­tered all along the crooked gulch as plain as when I saw them with eyes still young. And I can see that some­thing else died there in the bloody mud, and was buried in the bliz­zard. A peo­ple dream died there. It was a beau­ti­ful dream… the nations hoop is bro­ken and scat­tered. There is no cen­ter any longer, and the sacred tree is dead.

–Black Elk, Lakota


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