Through the Looking Glass

September 25, 2007

FIVE HUNDRED YEARS AGO Callicoatl sailed across the ocean in three Aztec boats and found a new conti- nent, a new Eastern Hemisphere, an event being commemorated this year with great fanfare and celebration. Every child knows the story: how Callicoatl convinced Montezuma II to support his journey, how the Aztec sailors nearly despaired on the journey, how they "discovered" a strange white-skinned race in the "New World." But that is only part of the story. On this anniversary the record must be set straight. Callicoatl did not "discover" this continent; he invaded it. It was already inhabited by many nations. Over the past five centuries, we, the native peoples of Europe, have seen our natural resources and spirituality stolen, and our relatives enslaved and sacrificed. That is hardly a history worth celebrating. In the Pre-Callicoatlian era, the Greeks, the Romans, the Egyptians, the Moors, and other indigenous peoples of the East- ern Hemisphere ruled great empires. They contributed much to the world, as attested to by the great temples and pyramids they left behind. They had detailed knowledge of astronomy, law, agriculture, and reli- gion. True, there were wars among them, and persecution of those who did not follow the state religion. But they were no more oppressive than the empires of Montezuma 11 or the Inca Ttipac Yupanki in the "Old World" 500 years ago. And, as in the Western Hemisphere, there were many tribal peoples still living in har- mony with nature. Other explorers sailed to these shores, even some who claimed to have arrived before Callicoatl: the Arawak, the Beothuk, and the Lenni-Lenape. But it was the Aztec flag of Anahuak and the Inca flag of Tawantinsuyo that were first firmly planted in our lands. Soon thereaf- ter, this land was named Omequauh after another Aztec-sponsored explorer. The Aztecs and Incas conquered and divided up South and Central Omequauh-the lands we call Africa, Iberia, and the is- lands of the Mediterranean Sea. Later, the Dakota and the Ojibwa fought over and divided North Omequauh, my home con- tinent, which we call "Europe." Some great European leaders forged alliances of knights to resist the settlers, ;LASS but our freedom fighters were 3HTS never unified enough to pre- vail. Some of our peoples- I1 illl, IIIIIIUclan Iers, or-UIi cans, Sardinians, and others-were wiped out, their cultures lost to history. You may know us as "Native Omequauhns," but we prefer to be called the "Original Europeans." We are not one people but many. We speak many tongues, which you may call "dialects" but we prefer to equate with your languages. We worship under different religions that were outlawed until recently, and are ridiculed to this day as mere superstitions. The religion of my ancestors was known as "Christianity," and some of us still pray to a single god and his son. Though we are commonly called "tribes," we have historically existed as nations, with our own borders, provinces, and capitals. The capital of my ancestors, London, was as great in its time as Cuzco or Tenochtitlhn. until it was sacked by the invaders. My people, the York band of the English tribe, were once citizens of York- shire province (or county) in the English Nation (or England). Many of our peoples are not called by their original names, but by names that others have given them. The Krauts, for instance, are more prop- erly called Germans, or Deutsche in their own language; the Frogs should be called French, or Frangais in their own tongue. UR ANCESTRAL LAND RIGHTS have been steadily whittled away. My English people, for instance, are scat- tered over 50 small reservations through- out the island of Britain, and on the conti- nental mainland where one-third of us were forcibly relocated a century ago. Most of the agreements we signed to guarantee our access to natural resources on the lands we used to own were broken, and some lands were stolen outright. To- day. some descendants of thesettlers don't understand why we continue to exercise these rights. Some even tell us to go back to where we came from! My people were forced into depen- dency after the warriors (whom we called the "Long Arrows") slaughtered the sheep-our main livelihood. Our chil- dren were sent to schools run by the Bu- reau of Caucasian affairs (BCA), where they were forced to learn only Dakota, and beaten if they spoke English. They were given Dakota names to replace their own. Through the generations, many of our people began to look, dress, walk, and talk like the settlers. Some Europeans became so obedient to authority that we REPORT ON TIIE AMERICAS WanbleeJohnson is thepen name of freelance writer Zoltan Grossman. call them"conches"-white on the out- side, red on the inside. Onlyabout 25 years ago did our peoples start to reclaim their European heritage. On my reservation, young people started learning the English language. We also began tocommunicate with native peoples in South and Central Omequauh, some of whom actually form a majority in their countries. Though they speak different colonial languages (NBihuatl and Quechua) our concerns are similar. Reclaiming our cultures means learn- ing from our elders, and reading the great works of Chaucer and other ancient proph- ets. It means challenging stereotypes, such as the view that all of our people wear suits of armor. It means reinforcing our traditional governments, to counter the BCA councils which sold off so much of our land. Above all, it means countering the despair on our reservations-the pov- erty, consumption of beer and chicha, and low self-esteem among native youth. The rebirth of our European cultures has also stimulated interest on the part of mainstream society. Nowadays. some chil- dren playing "Warriors and Knights" ac- tually want to be the knights. But we also find non-Europeans romanticizingourcul- tures, and trying to usurp them in the same way they usurped our land. Some dress up like our holy priests and conduct the sa- cred catechism ceremony for the benefit of their own curiosity. We don't appreci- ate seeing ethnic Dakota wearing pow- dered wigs, orputtingon ballroom dances. And we roll our eyes whenever one of these "wannabes" says his great-grand- mother was a Swedish princess. There was a time when our only re- sponse was passive acceptance. But no more. The European Wars are being re- kindled, as more nations defend the lands where our ancestors are buried. Many remember the armed confrontations at the Long Fjord Norwegian Reservation two decades ago, or at the Lake Balaton Hun- garian Reservation two years ago. If our sovereignty is not recognized, these skir- mishes are likely to continue. In the faceof overwhelming odds-the near-extinction of our population, and the theft of our religions and lands-we have survived. When you talk about "celebrat- ing" the arrival of Callicoatl, it sends a chill upourspines. Even Callicoatl's name, in the Nghuatl language, means "Serpent from the West." If you don't recognize that our people were already here when he arrived, you will never be able to recog- nize that we are here, in front of you, today.

Tags: indigenous rights, quincentennary, satire, conquest

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