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Sunday, November 11, 2007

QUOTES FROM Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong

by James W. Loewen. Simon & Schuster, 1995

"Historically, American Indians have been the most lied-about subset of our population" (99).

Did Europeans "civilize" the Americas? Actually, anthropologists tell us that "hunters and gatherers were relatively peaceful, compared to agriculturalists, and that modern societies were more warlike still. Thus violence increases with civilization" (101-2).

"..textbooks cannot resist contrasting "primitive" Americans with modern Europeans" (102).

"In what ways do we prefer the civilized Third Reich to the more primitive Arawak nation that Columbus encountered? If we refuse to label the Third Reich civilized, are we not using the term to imply a certain comity? If so, we must consider the Arawaks civilized, and we must also consider Columbus and his Spaniards primitive is not savage" (102).

"Europeans persuaded Natives to specialize in the fur and slave trades. Native Americans were better hunters and trappers than Europeans, and with the guns the Europeans sold them, they became better still. Other Native skills began to atrophy" (103).

"..because whites "demanded institutions reflective of their own with which to relate," many Native groups strengthened their tribal governments... New confederations and nations developed.. The tribes also became more male- dominated, in imitation of Europeans.. [there was] an escalation of Indian warfare... [the slave trade helped] to deagriculturize Native Americans. To avoid being targets for capture, Indians abandoned their cornfields and their villages" (105-6).

"Europeans did not "civilize" or "settle" roaming Indians, but had the opposite impact" (107).

"…from the start in Virginia.. settlers fled to Indian villages rather than endure the rigors of life among the autocratic English. Indeed, many white and black newcomers chose to live an Indian lifestyle... some Natives chose to live among whites.. The migration was mostly the other way, however.. Europeans were always trying to stop the outflow. Hernando De Soto had to post guards to keep his men and women from defecting to Native societies... right up to the end of independent Indian nationhood in 1890, whites continued to defect, and whites who lived an Indian lifestyle, such as Daniel Boone, became cultural heroes in white society" (109).

"Not one American history textbook mentions the attraction of Native societies to European Americans and African Americans" (109).

"According to Benjamin Franklin, "All their government is by Counsel of the Sages. There is no Force; there are no Prisons, no officers to compel Obedience, or inflict Punishment." Probably foremost, the lack of hierarchy in the Native socieites in the eastern United States attracted the admiration of European observers. Frontiersmen were taken with the extent to which Native Americans enjoyed freedom as individuals. Women were also accorded more status and power.. than in white societies of the time" (109-110).

Lt. Gov. Cadwallader Colden of New York in 1727 said, "Here we see the natural Origin of all Power and Authority among a free People" (110).

"Indeed, Native American ideas may be partly responsible for our democratic institutions. We have seen how Native ideas of liberty, fraternity, and equality found their way to Europe to influence social philosophers such as Thomas More, Locke, Montaigne, Montesquieu, and Rousseau... Through 150 years of colonial contact, the Iroquois League stood before the colonies as an object lesson in how to govern a large domain democratically" (111).

"Both the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention referred openly to Iroquois ideas and imagery... As a symbol of the new United States, Americans chose the eagle clutching a bundle of arrows. They knew that both the eagle and the arrows were symbols of the Iroquois League... John Mohawk has argued that American Indians are directly or indirectly responsible for the public-meeting tradition, free speech, democracy, and "all those things which got attached to the Bill of Rights." Without the Native example, "do you really believe that all those ideas would have found birth among a people who had spent a millennium butchering other people because of intolerance of questions of religion?"" (111-112).

"For a hundred years after our Revolution, Americans credited Native Americans as a source of their democratic institutions... When colonists took action to oppose unjust authority, as in the Boston Tea Party.. they chose to dress as Indians, not to blame Indians for the demonstrations but to appropriate a symbol identified with liberty" (112).

"Indian warfare absorbed 80 percent of the entire federal budget during George Washington's administration and dogged his successors for a century as a major issue and expense... [in many cases] the settlers were Native American, the scalpers white" (116).

"All the textbooks tell how Jefferson "doubled the size of the United States by buying Louisiana from France." Not one points out that it was not France's land to sell--it was Indian land... Indeed, France did not really sell Louisiana for $15,000,000. France merely sold its claim to the territory... Equally Eurocentric are the maps textbooks use to show the Lewis and Clark expedition. They make Native American invisible, implying that the United States bought vacant land from the French... [Textbooks imply that the Indians were naive about land ownership, but] the problem lay in whites' not abiding by accepted concepts of land ownership" (123).

"The most important cause of the War of 1812.. was land-- Indian land... The United States fought five of the seven major land battles of the War of 1812 primarily against Native Americans... [a] result of the War of 1812 was the loss of part of our history. A century of learning [from Native Americans] was coming to a close... until 1815 the word Americans had generally been used to refer to Native Americans; after 1815 it meant European Americans... Carleton Beals has written that "our acquiescence in Indian dispossession has molded the American character." ... destroyed our national idealism. From 1815 on, instead of spreading democracy, we exported the ideology of white supremacy. Gradually we sought American hegemony over Mexico, the Philippines, much of the Caribbean basin, and, indirectly, over other nations... We also have to admit that Adolf Hitler displayed more knowledge of how we treated Native Americans than American high schoolers who rely on their textbooks. Hitler admired our concentration camps for Indians in the west "and often praised to his inner circle the efficiency of America's extermination--by starvation and uneven combat" as the model for his extermination of Jews and Gypsies" (123-126).

Yet we "still stereotype Native Americans as roaming primitive hunting folk, unfortunate victims of progress" (132).

For more on this topic, read Helen Hunt Jackson's famous indictment of Native American policies, A Century of Dishonor.

Also, see her fictional account of the racism Mexicans and Indians both endured at the hands of White and Mexican settlers, Ramona.

More quotes from the book are here:

Thanksgiving quotes from the book are here: