The first humans arrived on this continent about twenty thousand years ago; about sixteen thousand years later a new set of immigrants from began to show up in great numbers on its eastern shore. There was both cooperation and conflict between the new population and the old.
How did all this look to the people that Christopher Columbus called Indians? Here are some interesting new perspectives on the question from the collection of the Harris County Public Library:
- We Shall Remain: America Through Native Eyes is the new Public Broadcasting System five-part documentary series broadcast earlier this year that highlights five important episodes in American history: “After the Mayflower -- Tecumseh’s Vision -- Trail of Tears – Geronimo -- Wounded Knee.” Informative background information is also available on its website.
- Mayflower: a Story of Courage, Community, and War by Nathanial Philbrick is not just the story of the founding of Plymouth Colony, but the tale of how fifty-five years of peace between the English and the Indians of New England deteriorated into a bloodbath when the descendants of the first generation came to see the members of the other culture as unnecessary. They were no longer neighbors but competitors, no longer partners working to survive together, but obstacles to survival. The result was King Philip’s War. Philbrick notes, “In terms of population killed, King Philip’s War was more than twice as bloody as the American Civil War and at least seven times more lethal than the American Revolution.”
- Walking the Choctaw Road by Choctaw storyteller Tim Tingle moves the perspective to the Southern States. This book comes in two editions, an audio and a print version. The print version has a glossary of Choctaw words, lyrics for two hymns in Choctaw, a short bibliography, photographic illustrations, and some introductory material not included in the audio. The audio, however, has the voice, intonation, accent, and timing of a master storyteller. The eleven tales and concluding poem are arranged chronologically and geographically beginning at the beginning of the nineteenth century in Mississippi and Alabama and moving with the Choctaw people on their Trail of Tears to Oklahoma and then on to Mr. Tingle’s own childhood in Pasadena, Texas and into the twenty-first century.
- As the subtitle indicates, Blood and Thunder: an Epic of the American West by Hampton Sides brings the story further west. This is the history of the New Mexico territory in the early nineteenth century, centering on the life of one of its most famous citizens: mountain man, scout, and United States Army officer Kit Carson, a man so famous in his own time that he regularly appeared as a hero in the “blood and thunder” popular fiction of the day.
The expanding United States, in its rush to claim and keep California, found itself in the middle of a two-century old war between its new Spanish speaking citizens and the Navajo. It was a clash between town-dwelling settlers and roaming pastoralists, and it was carried on by the young men of both cultures in brutal raids of murder, stolen livestock and slaves, the slaves being the women and children of the defeated.
- What’s the current view of an American Indian? In addition to Tingle’s work cited above, another contemporary and prolific voice is Sherman Alexie, whose highly lauded novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, earlier this month added to it honors the 2009 Odyssey Award from the American Library Association for the best audiobook produced for children and/or young adults, available in English in the United States.
In the book, Arnold Spirit, Junior, a hydrocephalic Spokane Indian attending an otherwise all-white high school off the reservation, tells his story in the first person and in cartoons; it’s by turns tragic and comic, but even when he boils over with frustration at his Indian friends or his white classmates, he never abandons his sharp wit and irony. This makes a story, peppered with the pain of racism, death, poverty, and alcoholism, one of triumph and good humor, and not one of maudlin sorrow.
- Alexie turned an earlier collection of short stories The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven into a screenplay for the poignant movie Smoke Signals.
These are a sampling of points of view available through the library. Gentle Reader, what’s your perspective?