Monday, January 25, 2010

History My Schools Didn't Teach Me

When I was a kid my mom used to sit me down and show me books with Jews in them. I'm talking when I was reeeeeeeeeeally young. Maybe five years old. She had books with pictures in them of people in various traditional Jewish garb and photos of people living in kibbutzim. Of course at that age I didn't know why she was doing this. Later I learned it was because she was half-Jewish and she wanted me to know a little about shared culture and heritage.

By the time I was eight years old she was teaching me about the Holocaust. Nothing too graphic, but letting me know that one group could try to exterminate another out of pure hatred over differences.

All during these same years I was tagging along with my father and older brothers on Indian relic hunts. That's what we all called them. My dad would load up shovels and earth sifters in the truck and let me know that we were going "Indian relic hunting". I loved these trips! We'd go to various rural spots. Sometimes deep woods, sometimes farms where land owners had given my dad permission to dig. My favorites were when we'd walk through corn fields or bean fields after a hard rain and the ancient tools would be sitting right on top of the ground waiting to be picked up.

My dad taught me that long before our people were here (the Europeans), the native folk had occupied the country. And he explained to me how their lands had been stolen from them and how they'd been exterminated--entire nations. Most kids might not have believed such tales, but I knew it for a fact, for I was walking on acre after acre, mile after mile of the things those ancient people had left behind. Almost everywhere you looked in the open spaces of the rural south one could find the signs that Indians had left. And it hit me:

There had been MILLIONS of these people! And now there didn't seem to be ANY!

In fact, I'd never seen a real Indian. My dad had once had a friend named Ben Gess who was a Cherokee, but he'd moved away. And my oldest brother's father-in-law was half Cherokee, but I'd never met a real Indian, nor seen one.

We'd killed most of them, and I knew it.

Not too long ago I went for a hike in a local state park. This park has exposed rock in it made of rhyolite which is volcanic in origin and very hard and very brittle. It makes good tools. With just about every step you take in that park you are treading on the remnants of tools. For thousands of years Indians went to this place to mine the rhyolite and make tools with it. The flakes of their industry are simply everywhere the dirt has been turned.

As I was hiking down a trail I spotted a big pine tree that had recently blown over. I decided to look into the root ball to see if there was anything interesting lodged there and pushed up by the fall of the tree. Reaching in, I immediately found what is known among the archeological set as a "blank". That's a bit of worked stone that can be turned into any one of a number of tools. It could be a hand axe, a knife, a spearhead, a drill, an awl, a scraper, a get the idea. This was a particularly good blank. For some reason the craftsman who'd made it thousands of years before had cast it aside. Why? Hell if I know. Maybe he had enough material to work with already. Maybe he was a perfectionist and there was some kind of minor flaw in the stone. I don't know.

What I do know is that this land was once filled with different nations than my own. And now they're all gone.

And because my parents were who they were and taught me the things they did, I know why those people are no longer here:

The Holocaust was not a new idea.

When I was finished looking at the blank, I put it back into the Earth.

And for those of you who get your news and history from the USA propaganda wagons, do yourself a favor and read this brief bit about Haiti.


Tracy said...

My grandfather was one quarter native American, his mother, Willie Nelson's mother's sister, in fact, was half Native American. My grandfather blessed me when I was young with the stories she told him, passed down from a dying nation. I wish I had written them down, or remember them better. It makes me sad not to have them. When memories fade, history dies.

HemlockMan said...

Who knows what we've all lost? Ignorance is bliss.

When frozen mammoths would appear out of the frozen tundra from time to time, the people whose ancestors had hunted them to extinction would be amazed and they had no point of reference, and so they would assume that they were giant creatures who lived and burrowed underground, their corpses occasionally popping to the surface. These sub-arctic folk had no idea what they were missing and what their ancestors had completely destroyed.