July 13, 2010

Taking sides on Pequot massacre

Dozens of news sites posted this Associated Press story Sunday:

Conn. land dug up for items from tribe-settler war

By Stephanie ReitzArtifacts of a battle between a Native American tribe and English settlers, a confrontation that helped shape early American history, have sat for years below manicured lawns and children's swing sets in a Connecticut neighborhood. A project to map the battlefields of the Pequot War is bringing those musket balls, gunflints and arrowheads into the sunlight for the first time in centuries.

It's also giving researchers insight into the combatants and the land on which they fought, particularly the Mystic hilltop where at least 400 Pequot Indians died in a 1637 massacre by English settlers.

Historians say the attack was a turning point in English warfare with native tribes. It nearly wiped out the powerful Pequots and showed other tribes that the colonists wouldn't hesitate to use methods that some consider genocide.
The article included this passage near the end:Historians are split to this day on whether the Pequots were victims of cruel English settlers who wanted their land--or brought the attack on themselves by raiding a settlement a month earlier in Wethersfield, killing nine people and carrying off two girls.

The researchers in Mystic aren't taking sides.
Someone named Kaeleigh H. dissected this claim on the Native Appropriations blog:

"The Researchers Aren't Taking Sides," But the AP Might Be
They "aren't taking sides," sure. This statement completely avoids any discussion of what right the English settlers had to be there in the first place. Oh, and what the author means by "the attack" is "the massacre of 400-700 Pequot people (mostly women, children, and the elderly, according to Wikipedia) and the enslavement of any survivors."

The horrible question of "But did they deserve it?" implies that the Pequots' killing of nine people and kidnapping of two in order to defend themselves from further hostile advances by the English is the same as the English settlers taking Pequot land and then killing and enslaving several hundred Pequot people, many of whom may not have been in a position to defend themselves during the battle. The very question/comparison shows me that they've already "taken sides." In this limited and dualistic interpretation of events, it's heads the settlers win, tails the Pequot lose. On one hand the Pequot are just victims of the English, and on the other they're murderers and kidnappers who "brought the attack on themselves."
Comment:  The key point here is how the media frames a story about the European invasion and colonization of America. It's almost always presented as two equivalent sides--settlers vs. Indians--in an evenhanded, nonjudgmental tone.

Would we think of taking this approach with, say, the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center?Historians are split to this day on whether the Americans were victims of cruel Al Qaeda terrorists who wanted their land--or brought the attack on themselves by bombing a settlement a month earlier in Iraq, killing nine people and carrying off two girls.Probably not. But we have no problem turning mass-murdering conquerors into noble settlers. Presumably that's because they're "good" white Europeans like "us."

Another example of this pro-European neutral approach is the King Philip's War game we talked about early this year. Which is one reason Indians have protested the game.

For more on the subject, see Pequot Massacre in After the Mayflower and Those Evil Europeans.

Below:  "Kill them all for getting in the way of our conquest!"

No comments: