By Geoffrey L. Brackett
Juet was simultaneously bewildered and enraged by the natives who came out to meet the explorers. His most poetic writing comes in his muted wonder at these people's manners and accoutrements. Yet as the first mate in charge of the Half Moon's safety, he growls "we durst not trust them."
By the time these strangers had encountered each other half a dozen times, the English second mate John Colman had been killed by an arrow through the throat and several Indians had died--one by drowning in the river after having his hand cut off.
As we know from encounters of other civilizations, there is, unfortunately, nothing shocking in this record. But it is shocking to see how dreadfully little in this year's celebrations even acknowledges the populations who watched that mutilated brave drown in the Hudson's tides.
The Hudson 400 and exploreny400 Web sites do somewhat better, but the NY400 site and its events show scant references to Native Americans beyond a throwaway phrase in a linked program at the Museum of the City of New York.
Commissioned by Pace, "The River of Tides" is written by the novelist, anthologist of Native American tales and playwright Joseph Bruchac (Abenaki) of Greenfield Center.
"The River of Tides" tries to articulate the native voice, past and present, as a tool for understanding the complexities we have inherited from our common, 400-year history.
A Pace troupe, including native actors, is presenting performances this week at locations along the Half Moon's journey. There will be a performance at 10:30 a.m. today at Bush Memorial Hall of Russell Sage College,followed by a symposium of Sage and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute professors.
But there's no need to speculate. I checked out these two websites. I didn't click every link, but I tried to click all the major headings.
The NY400 site actually fared somewhat better. Under the NY400 History heading, at least two of its two dozen features mention Indians. One is on minister Everardus Bogardus, who spoke up for the Indians. The other is on the Schaghenbrief letter, which documents the infamous "buying" of Manhattan.
So...nothing really about the Native people whom the Dutch met and ultimately displaced. You might think that the story of Hudson's discoveries was all about encountering Indians. You might think that perhaps a quarter of the features would document these interactions. Just as they would in a website about Columbus or Jamestown or Plymouth, whose stories were also all about Europeans encountering Indians.
If so, you'd be wrong.
Hudson website sucks
And the NY400 site is the one I said was better. As far as I can tell, the HenryHudson400 website doesn't have a single feature on Indians. In fact, I didn't see the words "Indian" or "Native." There may be some information on Indians buried deep in the site, but it isn't obvious.
Here's a fairly typical example of this website's content:
In many ways Manhattan, not Plymouth Rock, is where America, and all that it represents, began. Following Hudson's voyage, the Dutch Republic, the most progressive and commercially powerful force in the 17th century established the settlement of New Amsterdam in 1625
At its peak, fully half the residents of New Amsterdam were from other nations, making it a true multicultural enterprise, a lively, liberal, idea-driven business community united in its focus on trade as the abiding source of the common good.
So it can be said that, from the start, New York was then what it has become today, a working symbol of freedom based on competence and respect, diversity and tolerance. The progressive connections between New York and its Dutch progenitor, Amsterdam, were and are profound.
The 400th anniversary of Hudson's voyage comes during the age of globalization and offers a timely opportunity to celebrate and reinvigorate this vital transatlantic connection. Hudson's discovery, and the achievements of Dutch businessmen in the years following, embody the unshakeable belief in new horizons, spirit of enterprise and diversity of views that remain defining characteristics of New York. Festival events will stimulate fresh understanding of this correlation, one that stimulates the city's expansive cultural and trade developments to this day.
Let's sum it up. These websites, and the 400th anniversary as a whole, celebrate the triumph of white Europeans. How wonderful it is that they came to America, found an empty land (i.e., "new horizons"), and started us on the road to greatness. The presence of the existing inhabitants is relegated to a footnote.1
This blog entry belongs in my Stereotype of the Month contest. It's a good example of stereotyping by omission. And a good example of the American myth-making process. This myth follows the lines of Julius Caeser: They came, they saw, they conquered. The Spanish conquistadors, English Pilgrims, and Dutch traders made America what it is today: a country founded on slavery and genocide.
It's nice that Bruchac's play is providing what the Hudson celebrations and websites don't: some perspective on what really happened. But this kind of information should be central to the anniversary, not a minor sidelight. Hudson's voyages were good for Europeans, but not so good for millions of Native Americans.
If the truth hurts...well, too bad. Denying the truth leads to things like tyranny, oppression, and injustice. The truth is always better.
For more on Hudson, see Indians Not Invited to Hudson Anniversary and How Mannahatta Became Manhattan. For more on plays in general, see Native Plays and Other Stage Shows.
1. The Dutch and other colonizers had to displace or destroy many Indian tribes that lived along the Hudson River and Hudson Bay. They presumably justified this under the "You have to break eggs to make an omelet" doctrine of Christian conquest. But who really cares, right? They were just anonymous savages, not real people like your ancestors and mine.