“If there is dispute, there is contention; if there is contention, there is trouble; if there is trouble, there is vexation.”
A few years ago I remember feeling inspired and patriotic as I invested a great deal of time studying the issues at hand as the last presidential election approached. This year, watching the fireworks with family in my hometown, I felt distracted and uneasy. I was thinking about the history of America and how different things could have been had greed been eliminated from the equation. We can no longer point fingers at just one person (a president). The problems in our country extend much further than just one man.
The subject of freedom seems to be recurring in some of my close relationships; some of my family members have moved away; one of my sister’s recent clients who just moved here referred to Columbus as a “cold, hard, city”; a friend from California who lived here [very temporarily] reported at a book club discussion that her 11 year old son was made fun of for wearing pink pants in support of Breast Cancer Awareness month; I’ve been getting to know the stories of others who have settled in other countries in pursuit of a more authentic lifestyle; another friend left the U.S. to pursue a simpler way of life (she married a Indonesian man). Perhaps we silently acknowledge the tension in America more than we choose to discuss it. And that’s okay. However, it really is important to discuss.
A History of Oppression
Greed led “settlers” to disregard the values and lifestyle of the American Natives (American Indians). The European’s forceful approach toward native peoples crushed the potential of forming successful, genuine relationships with them (generally speaking). Invasion of lands and forced assimilation was commonly executed during this time. This complete lack of respect prevented Europeans and Natives from sharing land and resources effectively.
First communications with the Natives went well; they were very generous and willing to share with Europeans upon their arrival. It is said they responded with “cautious hospitality and goodwill”. Natives were right to have followed those intuitions, and became less enthusiastic about trading after they had been mistreated.
Spanish soldiers arrived after surviving an “ill-fated expedition”. Natives took them in and contracted a fatal disease that killed half of them. Spaniards soon took advantage of the Natives’ hospitality and embarked upon a mission to find gold. They insisted that a forcible entry would take place unless the Natives accepted their church, King, and Queen.They proceeded with these demands and made Indians their gold mine slaves.
Champlain was an explorer from France who traveled with the Algonquins, Montagnais, and Hurons. They stumbled upon an Iroquois “war party” which ended in a bloody battle. The French tried to convert the Indians to their religion by trading precious metals with them. Many Natives did convert to Catholicism and even moved into French villages.
Half of the first English settlers in Jamestown died within the first year and did not seem to pose a threat to the Indians. John Smith befriended them to learn about their interactions with Spanish explorers and to use their strategies in dealings with the Natives himself. Soon Englishmen were seizing their corn and eventually a surprise attack was inflicted on the main village. Puritans tried converting Indians to Christianity in violent, oppressive ways much like the Spanish and the French.
A New Approach
Peaceful communities are often viewed as weak or easy to manipulate. Buddhists in peaceful Tibet and all they’ve endured — just another example. In our country, past defensiveness among Native Americans gave Europeans an outlet for the same kind of manipulation that is still happening today both directly and indirectly. Oppression is often carried out to convert or eliminate lifestyles and religions, often for financial gain. We see this in recent times with Monsanto, some believe it to be disguised in the new Healthcare Reform law, and there are plenty of other things we could dwell on. But hopelessness doesn’t get anyone anywhere.
We’ve had a good thing going in America for a little while, but we can’t forget all that’s happened before, nor can we deny what is happening now.
Instead of feeling hopeless, we can exercise our authenticity, illustrate the importance of our values, and address current issues through:
- First, grounding our opinions, values, and ideas in full context, and engaging in discussion with other like-minded individuals
- Willingness to say how we really feel
- Volunteering / meeting others who are getting involved
- Gaining insights from reliable sources (not just Googling for a few minutes and assuming everything that comes up is true).
- Feeling driven to make a difference, and not just making a good point.
- Not pushing issues onto others, but showing an example through actions + compassion
- Being realistic. We can only make one effort at a time, but every effort counts. Even if it means moving to another country to be able to exercise your authenticity.
- Being genuine. It will take you where you need to go
Other great references and links that inspired this article:
First Peoples: A Documentary Survey of American Indian History, 4th Ed. (book)
How Can We Solve our Social Problems? (book)
Here’s a good discussion on Fighting With NonViolence.
Which Country Does the Most Good for The World? (video)