Background for this short blog series:
While surfing the web some time ago, I came across a page that announced a new book on the history of Batavia, NY. Since it was available for free online reading, I began reading the first chapter titled, “Pre 1801 – Before There Was a Batavia”. I learned that six main Native American tribes inhabited much of the land we now call New York State. The names of these six tribes were the Mohawks, Onongagas, Oneidas, Senecas, Cayuagas and the Tuscaroras. Together they made up “The Haudensaunee” (people of the long house) or “The Iroquios Confederacy”.
All that I learned about Native American people came from public education history classes. I listened to my teachers in primary school tell the “Thanksgiving” and “Pocahontas” version of how America came to be, but in high school and college and I learned about the wars. In Foner’s textbook, Give Me Liberty An American History vol 2, I read horrible reports of how Native Americans were driven out of their lands, mistreated and taken advantage of. I remember feeling enraged when I read about the Wounded Knee Massacre, when U.S. soldiers opened fire on a group of men, women, and children; killing 150 people, mostly women and children.
After reading a bit on the the history of Batavia and searching online for nearby Indian reservations. I became very interested in Native American culture. I suddenly realized that I’ve learned virtually nothing about how present day Native Americans cope with history, or what social justice has happened since historical times to restore some sense of dignity to this strong group of people who often go unnoticed.
I don’t know what it feels like to be a Native American. But I do know what it feels like to be an African American who, one day had to learn, that her ancestors were made to be slaves and were treated brutally for 400 years. It’s a tough thing to grow up knowing. But I also know the victorious tales of social change (i.e. emancipation, Brown vs The Board of Ed., the Civil Right movement) that lead to where we are today; a country that an African American person can be the president of. In a nut shell, some of my ethnic heritage is filled with pain and suffering, but I’ve been taught so much more, that I don’t feel like I have to let it define me. And now, I want to share with you in this learning experience on how some of our Native Americans students are grappling history and finding their place in America today.