The following is from messages that were exchanged between me and one of the founders of the New Age Frauds Plastic Shamans online club (my apolgies for any inconvenience due to my lack of a current address for them) as part of an ongoing discussion that also involved other members. It was a discussion of Columbus and his encounters with tribal people in what is now called The Americas It is reproduced and edited here by permission.
What's funny to me is the ongoing confusion about real Indians and the ones names after them because of confusion and bad directions. Ghandi *was* Indian! Native Americans or American Indians are whatever their tribes are or Fourth World People or whatever other term they choose for themselves. It seems to me that using the word "Indian" is just a concession to the fact that whites arrived uninformed and then dug their heels in about remaining ignorant.
Actually, we weren't named after East Indians. That's a common mistake. In 1492, India was called Hindustan, not India. Columbus said we impressed him as "una gente en Dios" meaning, roughly, a people that have God in their hearts or live with God in their lives.
An Anglo mistranslated that as "Indio".
Really we don't mind Indian as a label at all. We prefer it to Native American, which was invented by a government bureaucrat in 1974. Some actually get pretty angry if you say Native American and compare it to calling Jewish people "Native Germans".
But most don't. Native American, Indian, native, in Latin America "Indigeno" or "campesino" ("Indio" has racist connotations to some, but others want to rehabilitate the word), in Canada First Nation or aboriginal. These are all fine.
<< like glittering gold and sparkling diamonds. They perceived the tribes as having it >>
This reference was metaphorical. However, Columbus never would have been able to demand gold from tribes showing no evidence of having any, nor would the Conquistadors. (Educated, am I correct in remembering that Columbus' admiration of the peacefulness of the first people he encountered also led to his statement that they should be quite easy to overpower? I seem to recall he threatened to cut off the hands of anyone who didn't fill a quota per day of gold... and that those people really did end up extinct from murder, venereal disease, and being sold into slavery in Europe.) Also, those kinds of "riches" aside, I've heard that some prominent members of at least some tribes had extensive material wealth and that being able to give large amounts away was a point of pride and evidence of personal ability to accumulate it, since what was given away was eventually replaced by the means by which it was originally gotten.
I don't think wealth is the problem anyway. It's being married to it to the exclusion of spirit and fellow living beings.
What you remember about Columbus is exactly right. They came to him in the traditional way of greeting strangers, offering gifts in the hope of building ties of trade and friendship. They were not a warlike people. The cutting hands off part is true too.
Two books that have a good description of Columbus' conduct are Zinn's "People's History of the US" and Loewen's "Lies My Teacher Told Me".
Giveaways or potlatches are a big part of most tribes' traditions, and everyone tries to practice it to the best of their ability. The Northwest Indians on the Pacific coast took it the furthest, with actual formal competitions in it.
Giveaways are still a very strong tradition, one I try to practice myself. It's a good way to make sure the least fortunate are always taken care of, no matter how hard the times get. Not to mention it just warms your heart to be doing the giving or receiving.
To read about how to learn about Indians in a way that respects them for who they really are and without being taken in by fraudulent teachers, please read Learning In a Respectful Way Avoiding Being Taken, an article by Educatedindian in the Kitchen. Many links for further information can be found at the end of that article.
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