A Heritage Denied

Almost 500 years ago Europeans came to our land, came to stay. Others had come before them to fish or for some other reason, incidentally bringing diseases to coastal peoples, wiping out whole communities along the Atlantic shore. But they had not stayed.

With the arrival of Columbus, history took another course. His appearance in our land set in motion a chain of events which led to destruction of native nations, usurpation of native land and its gifts, and slavery.

We helped those early explorers; we led them. We aided early conquerors, hoping they would rid us of our enemies. Always willing to learn, we listened to early missionaries ... after they finally decided that we had souls.

We thought those early Europeans were like us. But we learned that similarities were shallow and often merely physical. We only dimly understood their purpose -- and that understanding came too late. We thought they were like us. The newcomers' greed -- their need to plunder the earth and steal its riches; to grasp all the gifts of the Western Hemisphere and take them back to sustain their own world; and to take native land for their own purposes -- made them very different from those who greeted and welcomed them to their homeland.

As we little understood Europeans 500 years ago, today we still little understand European descendants who rationalize and justify actions of their ancestors by denying our very existence. Almost every year more scholars of European heritage write learned books postulating a smaller and smaller population of the Western Hemisphere prior to European arrival. Those who live their lives outside of academe cherish their secular saint -- Christopher Columbus -- because he "discovered America." It seems both groups yearn for an America existing from time immemorial, pristine and unpeopled, awaiting European "discovery."

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