When you do shadow work with your therapist, often you delve back into your earliest memories and the structure of your family. So, if we’re doing the USA’s Cultural Shadow work, then the obvious place to start is with the people who lived on this continent to begin with. Hint: They weren’t European.
I’m going to use the steps I’ve already outlined for this and subsequent posts of this sort.
The Unacknowledged History
The systematic destruction, displacement and degradation of entire nations of people is something that is usually glossed over in American history text books.
That is because the victors write the history books. We can say how quaint and noble and friendly the natives were, talk about the shared first thanksgiving, and pat ourselves on our backs for making feathers out of construction paper along with our Pilgrim hats.
Did you know the first Thanksgiving was celebrating the successful genocide of the Pequot who were originally living in the area? “I’m so grateful we finally have the place to ourselves.” Thanksgiving is a day of mourning for Native Americans.
We continue as a culture to denigrate and reduce Native American nations to stereotypes. Sometimes, it’s a view of the Noble Savage. That’s often where the racist sports logos continue to persist. (Redskins was a term for the bloodied scalps of dead Native Americans, not a descriptive skin-tone term. So, it’s talking about genocide again. Ha ha. Go team.)
We appropriate their symbols, cultures, and languages with whimsy and massive disrespect. (“Squaw” is about the same as “cunt” in terms of the actual language and translation. Avoid that one, mkay?)
Oh, and please do ask a First Nations person how many people tell them “I’m part Cherokee”. Because part of our way of assuaging white guilt is to claim a little piece of it as part of our heritage. There are family stories that I am – my DNA says otherwise.
We don’t really treat the Native American reservations like they are foreign countries, but we don’t really treat them like they are part of the US either. They have very few rights, and limited autonomy. The treaties we have with them are still ignored, and they are not treated by the international community as sovereign nations separate from the USA. Reservations and nations should probably technically have at least as much autonomy as a state has, but nope.
Poverty is a major problem for the reservations, and they use Casinos to pay for basic living and schools.
How Do we Project This History onto Other Countries?
GENOCIDE BAD! Yep. Every time we condemn other nations for their awful, awful deeds, it’s probably because we’re projecting our own shadowy past.
Every time we stand up for the underdog in broken treaties, or recognize a sovereign nation trying to split off from a larger country, we are projecting our guilt onto the world around us.
Surprise! It’s Fate!
The Native American community has been one of the strongest voices for environmental protection since the first time we came to this land and used abhorrently bad farming practices.
If you haven’t read about the Dakota Access Pipeline, you should. It’s not on treaty land, unless you count treaties we broke years ago (which maybe we ought to?). It does traverse the reservation’s only source of clean water. The protesters at Standing Rock call themselves “water protectors” for this reason.
Pipelines burst all the time. And they pollute fresh water sources. Some like to say that pipelines are the “safest” way to transport oil, and that’s actually true. Because there is no really safe way to transport oil. Perhaps we should be looking for other energy sources?
The Water Protectors are being sprayed with water in freezing temperatures, their camps burned down, their supplies blocked, they are being bullied into allowing their water to be contaminated for the sake of oil and money.
We haven’t stopped denigrating and colonizing the Native Americans.
What does this have to do with you? I don’t know. This is the first of the cultural shadow pieces I’m writing, and I feel like it was an important one.
Sit with the reality of our nation’s history and ongoing denigration of these people. Sit with it and own it as part of our collective history. Own that they are Americans, too, and that this nation wasn’t just built on “immigrants”. It was also built on colonizing and slavery.
What do you need to learn about this history to understand it better? What do you need to tell your kids?