The title of this blog may seem cynical, but the truth of Winston Churchill’s words cannot be disputed. The story of mankind, from the earliest recorded history, has been written, and passed down through generations, by the winning side in every conflict or clash of cultures. In many cases, it was the side of “Good” or God, that defeated the “Evil” forces and won the right to tell the future what they did and how they did it. But in many instances, the Good and Bad were not demarcated and whichever side won, humanity was not always the victor. And in some cases, the damage that one side inflicted on another was almost inhuman.
No combatant ever saw their cause as an unworthy one. From Genghis Khan who wanted to bring his idea of civilization to the rest of the world, to Pol Pot who killed millions while trying to purify Cambodian society, all the victors thought they were on the side of what was right. Societies and cultures change with time, but the harm that was done lives on. A great example of this is theway by which popular history has distorted the reality of the story of the Native Americans.
What Is Civilization?
For centuries, the accepted version of history was that the European settlers came to America, encountered the indigenous people, interacted with them, educated them, civilized them and uplifted them from the primitive way of life they had been leading till then. Today, the Native American population, along with others minorities, is demanding that the past be reassessedand the truth of what happened in America from the late 15th century till today be carefully examined andtold. Universities are undertaking extensive research to reveal the truth. Eminent scholars are speaking up about the decimation anddevastationto countless indigenous peoplesof the past. The premediatatedwrongs of the past cannot ever be completely rectified, but by shining a spotlight on the past, repeating those grievous calculatedwrongs will become more difficult because the truth will be too widely known.
Understanding and appreciating history often takes time that people do not have. They know thatNative Americans were badly treated, but because that is an academic and historic truth, its impact on the psyche of modern America is often greatly diminished. Perhaps these simple words from a Native American will help to create a better understanding of what the settlers did to the Native Americans.
“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, and 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 knowhow to explain how we were able to manage without these fundamental thingsthat (so they tell us) are so necessary for a civilized society."
- John (Fire) Lame Deer, Sioux Lakota - 1903-1976
These simple words strike a chord and if you want to know more about the story of Native Americans, a great deal of information on this subject is available on the website of the Muwekma Ohlone tribe.