Thursday, October 14, 2021

Indigenous Savages

How did we miss this? In truth, we did not all miss this. Only some of us did. In some American precincts Monday was pronounced to be Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Heck, our mentally challenged and thoroughly incompetent vice president, that would be Kamala Harris, even chose the moment to denounce the horrors that white people had visited on these people of color, centuries ago.

Happily, or unhappily enough, Francis Menton, proprietor of the Manhattan Contrarian blog, looked up the historical record. (via Maggie’s Farm) Apparently, these noble savages were more savage than noble. 

So, Menton begins by quoting Joe Biden’s presidential proclamation about Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Because that was just what the country was missing:

Now this year for the first time, a U.S. President has recognized Indigenous Peoples’ Day with a Proclamation. Here are a few of the stirring words:

Since time immemorial, American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians have built vibrant and diverse cultures — safeguarding land, language, spirit, knowledge, and tradition across the generations. On Indigenous Peoples’ Day, our Nation celebrates the invaluable contributions and resilience of Indigenous peoples. . . .

Stirred, but not shaken… hmmm.

So, Menton picked up a copy of a work written by Francis Parkman, he of Harvard University, in the nineteenth century. 

I thought I would find a few choice passages from one of my favorite history books, France and England in North America. This multi-thousand-page opus was written by Harvard historian Francis Parkman over the course of several decades in the nineteenth century. Among many other things, It contains several hundred pages sourced from accounts written by French Jesuit missionaries about their experiences in the first half of the seventeenth century, upon encountering and living among the native tribes of what are now upstate New York and Eastern Canada.

What does Parkman tell us?

The salient fact is that the tribes were engaged in ongoing and endless wars of extermination against each other, waged in the most brutal possible way with the weapons available. 

For instance, Menton quotes Parkman’s description of the vibrant and diverse indigenous cultures:

A band of Algonquins, late in the autumn of 1641, set forth from Three Rivers [then a tiny French outpost in what is now Quebec] on their winter hunt, and, fearful of the Iroquois, made their way far northward, into the depths of the forests that border the Ottawa. Here they thought themselves safe, built their lodges, and began to hunt the moose and beaver. But a large party of their enemies, with a persistent ferocity that is truly astonishing, had penetrated even here, found the traces of the snow-shoes, followed up their human prey, and hid at nightfall among the rocks and thickets around the encampment. At midnight, their yells and the blows of their war-clubs awakened their sleeping victims. In a few minutes all were in their power. They bound the prisoners hand and foot, rekindled the fire, slung the kettles, cut the bodies of the slain to pieces, and boiled and devoured them before the eyes of the wretched survivors.

The Iroquois were not finished:

The Iroquois with their captives then began a march home of well over a hundred miles. Here’s an account of one event along the way:

[A]fter a short rest, [the conquerors] began their march homeward with their prisoners. Among these were three women, of whom the narrator was one, who had each a child of a few weeks or months old. At the first halt, their captors took the infants from them, tied them to wooden spits, placed them to die slowly before a fire, and feasted on them before the eyes of the agonized mothers, whose shrieks, supplications, and frantic efforts to break the cords that bound them were met with mockery and laughter.

And also:

[T]hey entered the town, leading the captive Algonquins, fast bound, and surrounded by a crowd of men, women, and children, all singing at the top of their throats. . . . On the following morning, [the prisoners] were placed on a large scaffold, in sight of the whole population. It was a gala-day. Young and old were gathered from far and near. Some mounted the scaffold, and scorched them with torches and firebrands; while the children, standing beneath the bark platform, applied fire to the feet of the prisoners between the crevices. The Algonquin women were told to burn their husbands and companions; and one of them obeyed, vainly thinking to appease her tormentors. The stoicism of one of the warriors enraged his captors beyond measure. “Scream! why don’t you scream?” they cried, thrusting their burning brands at his naked body. “Look at me,” he answered; “you cannot make me wince. If you were in my place, you would screech like babies.” At this they fell upon him with redoubled fury, till their knives and firebrands left in him no semblance of humanity. He was defiant to the last, and when death came to his relief, they tore out his heart and devoured it; then hacked him in pieces, and made their feast of triumph on his mangled limbs.

A few facts that put the lie to efforts to portray these indigenous people as noble savages.


IamDevo said...

Say, it's pretty rayciss to have overlooked our neighbors to the south in the recitation of the glories of indigenous populations, so I offer you this little tidbit:

JPL17 said...

Outstanding post, Stuart. In case you haven't seen it yet, the indispensable Michael Ramirez captures the same idea brilliantly in a single image:

autothreads said...

Northern Michigan was inhabited by the Anishnabec speaking tribes, the Ojibwe (aka Chippewa), Odawa (Ottawa) and Potawatami. On the southern shore of Lake Superior in Michigan's Upper Peninsula there is a peninsula known as Point Iroquois in English. In Anishnabec it is known as "Nau-do-we-e-gun-ing," which means "Place of Iroquois Bones." It was there that a raiding Iroquois war party seeking to control the fur trade was massacred by the Ojibwe.

By the way, because they made treaties with the United States (in 1836, a year before Michigan territory became a state) instead of waging war, the Anishnabec tribes remained in their native lands, unlike many Siberian-American tribes that were displaced.