It is dawning on me that the United States will never truly acknowledge the civilizations that were disrupted and ignored on “our” quest to take over a continent.
People who arrived here as slaves are one issue; I am talking here about the people who were here first – Native Americans, indigenous people, “them.”
The examples of ignorance just keep on coming.
I am thinking of some highly moronic words by Rick Santorum, a former senator from Pennsylvania, who has no respect for the civilizations that existed for many centuries before Europeans arrived.
I am also thinking of a stirring article in the April 19 issue of the New Yorker about an academic who spent a lifetime studying the language of the Penobscot people in Maine, helping save the language, to be sure, but in the end not giving a penny of his sizeable fortune to the Penobscot cause.
Let’s start with the blather from Santorum, who served two terms in the Senate, and recently spoke at the Young America’s Foundation “summit,” which was titled, “Standing up for Faith and Freedom.”
But whose faith, whose freedom?
“There was nothing here. I mean, yes we have Native Americans but candidly there isn’t much Native American culture in American culture,” Santorum said.
Questioned about it, Santorum yammered on a bit. Never mind: we have had seen into his dark and ignorant heart.
“Rick Santorum is just saying what the majority of Americans silently believe – the only ‘real history’ is US history,” said Brett Chapman, a Native American attorney and descendant of Chief Standing Bear, the first Native Indian to win civil rights in the U.S.
“Everything centers around it,” Chapman added. “Many claim to appreciate and respect Native history yet know nothing about it. Let’s not act like he’s some lone wolf out there on this.”
I looked it up. Santorum’s father, Aldo Santorum, was an Italian emigrant, from Riva del Garda, Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol, and his mother, Catherine (Dughi), was born in Pennsylvania, of half Italian and half Irish ancestry.
As a proud carrier of an Irish passport, via my late grandmother from County Waterford, I think I can safely say: Irish and Italian immigrants were scorned by Anglo settlers who had already begun smugly looting North America, with God on their side.
As of today, Santorum still has his paid forum with CNN.
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The other example of disrespect of Native Americans is the article by Alice Gregory in the New Yorker: “How Did a Self-Taught Linguist Come to Own an Indigenous Language?”
Gregory describes how Frank Siebert, a quirky scholar, became fascinated with the dying language of the Penobscot, whose reservation is based on Indian Island in the Penobscot River in Maine, north of Bangor.
Siebert arrived on the modest ferry from the mainland, sought out an elderly keeper of the language, and began keeping records by his own quirky methods.
Admirably, Siebert hired assistants like Carol Dana, a member of the tribe, who shared his interest and energy. Leaving his wife, Marion, and two daughters behind, he was based on the island, cataloguing the language but apparently without forming the bond or identity with the people.
The research and the memory of Carol Dana, now 70, , inform this stunning article, nine pages long, which I devoured in one sitting, and which I recommend most heartily.
When Siebert died on Jan. 23, 1998, Gregory writes, his collection was auctioned off by Sotheby’s: “The sale brought in more than $12.5 million. As stipulated in Siebert’s will, his daughters split the sum. Each bought a house for herself, and together they bought one for Marion. No provision was made for the Penobscot people.”
Gregory drily notes that Siebert “bequeathed his dictionary and his field-work materials to the American Philosophical Society, a scholarly organization, founded by Benjamin Franklin, in 1743, which is housed in a stately brick mansion in Philadelphia, a nine-hour drive from Indian Island.”
Gregory also notes that the society retains the intellectual property rights, and that visiting hours and conditions are rigidly controlled. She adds:
“In copying down the grammar, the stories, and the vocabulary of the Penobscot, Siebert made them his. In dying, he made them the American Philosophical Society’s.”
Siebert’s lack of generosity, the absence of respect, sounds cold,
However, former Sen. Rick Santorum, no doubt speaking for a huge segment of the white majority, could reassure us all, there was nothing much in the Native American culture when we invaded, and surely there is nothing worth bequeathing to the Penobscot people now.
Alice Gregory’s article in The New Yorker:
The Guardian's article about Santorum's ignorance:
Hansen Alexander passed on Dec, 22, 2020, and I just caught up.
He was a smart and passionate writer and lawyer, who often tried to educate and inform me. I am proud of his
interview with, of all people, me:
It's on his blog. (Just past photo of rat!) My thanks for his interest. GV