Saturday, May 21, 2011

Reflections on Visiting the Wampanoag Exhibit at the National Seashore

Last weekend the Cape Cod National Seashore celebrated it’s 50th anniversary. As part of the celebration, several members of the Wampanoag tribe demonstrated crafts and woodcarving. I don’t know about you, but I always feel guilty when confronted with Native American peoples. We, the Caucasians, stole their land, basically, when you think about it. They were here first. By what right did the English “colonize” this continent? Since Sven is a historian, I thought it would be interesting to hear what he had to say on this subject, so I asked. Here's what he said:

“The settlers had no rights whatsoever. They believed in their own rights. They were like conquistadors. I just read a long article on the subject. The first ones, who came to Jamestown, were looking for gold. The other ones in the 1630s, up here, were also conquistadors, but had to compromise. They had to live on the land. There was no gold. The people who came afterwards were more interested in land. And, that’s the America we have today.”

Greedy, in other words. Land, gold, corporate interests, what difference? We are told, in school, that the Pilgrims came in search of religious freedom, which makes them sound noble, but really they simply wanted a place to live. They found this amazing land and took possession.

Last week I watched Smoke Signals, a great film about modern day "Indians." I'm learning about real Native Americans on Quincy Tahoma Blog. They respected the land. The indigenous people did not have a concept that anyone could own land.

Puritans came after Pilgrims, and Puritans did not even bother to pay for land.

Did the Wampanoags understand the sale of 12,000 acres for Plimouth Plantation? I doubt it. The tribe had already been decimated by disease.

“The natives were exterminated by illnesses,” Sven went on. “They were all dead already, from an epidemic, when the settlers came to Cape Cod.”

Some survived. The brave Wampanoag weavers and carvers are their descendents.

My ancestors did not bring the germs that caused the epidemic, nor push Native Americans west and then restrict them to reservations. On my father’s side, my family lived in Russia. On my mother’s side, both families lived in England for two more centuries. Nonetheless, when I encounter Wampanoags, I feel regret at how the indigenous people were treated. Do you feel the same way?