Who’s uncivilized? Remembering Indigenous People’s Day

Celebrating Indigenous People's Day with a raised fist that contains colors used by Native American tribes.

These “savages” taught Americans plenty about governing and constitutions …

I will spend zero time on Indigenous People’s Day to discuss that murdering, accidental discoverer, in favor of bringing up an amusing bit of history, recalled by Benjamin Franklin, about the American natives he encountered.

Franklin seemed fascinated with the lifestyle of these so-called “savages”:

“The Indian men, when young, are hunters and warriors; when old, counsellors; for all their government is by the counsel or advice of sages; there is no force, there are no prisons, no officers to compel obedience, or inflict punishment. Hence they generally study oratory; the best speaker having the most influence.”

From The Works of the Late Dr. Benjamin Franklin: Consisting of His Life, Written by Himself. Together with Humorous, Moral, and Literary Essays, Chiefly … hosted by the University of Michigan Evans Text Creation Partnership.

No police to watch the tribes, huh? 

No waves of lawlessness, like what the Europeans were used to back then … ?

Franklin had more to say:

“The Indian women till the ground, dress the food, nurse and bring up the children, and preserve and hand down to posterity the memory of public transactions. These employments of men and women are accounted natural and honourable. Having few artificial wants, they have abundance of leisure for improvement by conversation. Our laborious manner of life, compared with theirs, they esteem slavish and base; and the learning on which we value our selves [sic], they regard as frivolous and useless.

In this context, “slavish” means unimaginative. The indigenous tribes were generally polite, but didn’t hold the Western lifestyle with high regard.”

From The Works of the Late Dr. Benjamin Franklin: Consisting of His Life, Written by Himself. Together with Humorous, Moral, and Literary Essays, Chiefly … hosted by the University of Michigan Evans Text Creation Partnership.

The indigenous people who were eventually slaughtered or forcibly moved from their land in favor of Western expansion across America, were not the savages that movies would want us to believe. 

For example, northeast native tribes formed a union, the Iroquois Confederacy, 645 years before the US Constitution was written. 

The Confederacy, which created stability among rival tribes, was governed by a set of oral laws, known as the Great League of Peace.

The Iroquois lived in log cabins. And wore clothing.

And yet Westerners felt they had something of value for the natives to indulge. 

At the 1744 Langston Treaty, Franklin recalled the Virginia Commissioners’ offer to provide six of the natives’ sons with an education at Williamsburg College to be “instructed in all the learning of the white people.”

The natives politely waited until the next day to express their gratitude for the offer, and then refusing by sharing their experiences with natives who’ve previously been educated the American way [bold emphasis mine]: 

“[S]everal of our young people were formerly brought up at the colleges of the northern provinces: they were instructed in all your sciences; but when they came back to us, they were bad runners; ignorant of every means of living in the woods; unable to bear either cold or hunger; knew neither how to build a cabin, take a deer, or kill an enemy; spoke our language imperfectly; were therefore neither fit for hunters, warriors, or counsellors; they were totally good for nothing. We are however not the less obliged by your kind offer, though we decline accepting it: and to show our grateful sense of it, if the gentlemen of Virginia will send us a dozen of their sons, we will take great care of their education, instruct them in all we know, and make men of them.”

From The Works of the Late Dr. Benjamin Franklin: Consisting of His Life, Written by Himself. Together with Humorous, Moral, and Literary Essays, Chiefly … hosted by the University of Michigan Evans Text Creation Partnership.

(Laughing) Happy Indigenous People’s Day …

song currently stuck in my head: “miroirs” – maurice ravel

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