March 04, 2008

Misconceptions about Virginia's Indians

Setting The Story StraightThe colonial viewpoint expressed in Smith's journals has persisted in many forms. Today, many people view the Bay's native people as playing little more than brief supporting roles in the story of a developing nation.

"The first misconception is that these were bands of roving savages, boundless and thoughtless, chasing buffalo," Tayac said. "What Smith actually saw were very complex and dynamic societies, with highly subtle agricultural practices, a complex religion and an interesting balance between men and women."

A second misconception is that the Bay's native people are gone. Their communities lost thousands to death and migration after the Europeans arrived. But others survived and stayed in their homeland, opting to live at the edge of a racist society that largely ignored their existence. They often lived in rural enclaves, excluded from white churches and schools. In Virginia, the Racial Integrity Act of 1924 made it illegal for people to identify themselves as Indians. The act was in place until 1967.
Comment:  It's amazing that these misconceptions persist in 2008.

Let's recap:  A hundred or so colonists invaded a land of 10 million Indians. They were so inept that they would've died if not for the natives' help. At any point the Indians could've turned Jamestown (or Plymouth) into another Roanoke, but they generously allowed the intruders to stay.

But the Indians played only a supporting role? Read a book such as The Princess Pocahontas or watch a movie such as The New World. For the first few decades of the 1600s, Virginia's story was all about the Indians.

Our cultural myopia continues. It's like saying the history of the solar system began in 1969 when man first walked on the moon. Or the history of Iraq began when we invaded it. "Hello, we're here to 'liberate' you. Did anything happen in the past few decades or centuries that might hinder this plan? No, don't bother answering, because it doesn't matter. We're proceeding regardless of what you say because we're Americans."

For more on the subject of Pocahontas and Jamestown, see Pocahontas Bastardizes Real People.

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