Living off the Dispossession of Other Peoples
by Kim Petersen
by Kim Petersen
The title Eminent Domain: The 400 Year Battle Against Native Americans for Every Square Mile of North America was intriguing. I was interested in the topic of eminent domain and Original Peoples. Eminent domain is the concept that the state may seize land for its own purposes — deemed to be good. I wondered, however, why it was only a 400-year battle, as if it the struggle for the land had ceased.
Eminent Domain: The 400 Year Battle Against Native Americans for Every Square Mile of North America
By Dudley C. Gould
By Dudley C. Gould
The author Dudley C. Gould starts with the gold-hungry Christopher Columbus. The author notes how Columbus mistakenly thought he was in Asia; therefore, he named the Indigenous people “Indians.” He also points out how the land masses of the western hemisphere came to be named after Amerigo Vespucci because of his connection with a German mapmaker. This commonly believed derivation of the naming of the Americas is disputed. Samuel Elliot Morris definitively stated in The European Discovery of America that Richard Amerike, a financier of expeditions to the New World, is the eponymous person in question — “not Amerigo Vespucci, if you please!”
[For complete article reference links, please see original at Dissident Voice here.]
On page 2, there is a picture of Pocahontas and readers are informed about the debated story of Captain John Smith (one wonders why since Gould writes on page 33 that Smith was widely regarded as a “lying braggart.” Gordon M. Sayre in Les Sauvages Américains describes Smith as “egocentric, ambitious, industrious, and self-congratulating.”). Eminent Domain informs that Pocahontas was “converted, baptized, and then married [John] Rolfe.” This is a typical colonial depiction. Rebecca Blavins Faery in Cartographies of Desire wrote the story of Pocahontas and John Smith “points vividly to the ways race, gender, and sexuality were deployed in concert in the ideological theater of colonialism in the new world.” To be made a suitable symbol for colonial America, Pocahontas, argued Faery, had to be “dislodged from her native culture.”
Dr. Linwood “Little Bear” Custalow and Angela L. Daniel “Little Star” presented the oral history of the Powhatan people preserved by the quiakros (priests) in The True Story of Pocahontas: The Other Side of History. They relate that Pocahontas was 10-years old when the English colonists arrived in 1607; Captain John Smith was 27. Smith’s story of Wahunsenaca [chief of the Powhatan and father of Pocahontas] wanting to kill him and Pocahontas saving him does not bear up under scrutiny, and, the authors maintain, are contradicted by Smith’s own writings. The oral history tells that Pocahontas had little choice in becoming Christianized, baptized, raped (probably by Sir Thomas Dale), married to John Rolfe, and being taken to England.
Gould delves into the designations of place and people. He criticizes the name “Amerindians” because it compounds the Eurocentric “errors.” But Gould contradicts himself and decides to call the Indigenous peoples “Americans.” It is admittedly perplexing how to refer to the Indigenous peoples of the western hemisphere as a collectivity. People from Europe are Europeans, and people from Asia are Asians, but given that an Indigenous name for the continental landmasses is largely unknown and not uniform among Original Peoples, arrivals to the western hemisphere are confused at what to call them.
Logically, the designation should come from the Indigenous peoples – not from outsiders. Douglas George-Kanentiio, born to the Bear clan in Akwasanee which straddles the US-Canada border, said, “We are not American, and we are not Canadian.” Political prisoner Leonard Peltier said “with no disrespect” in Prison Writings: “I don’t consider myself an American citizen. I am a citizen of Great Turtle Island. I am of the Ikce Wicasa — the Common People, the Original People.” The Haudenosaunee refer to Indigenous peoples as Onkwehonwe (Original Peoples). Still there exists discrepancy; many will call themselves Native Americans and/or Indians. The Indigenous person has that right. This is not an argument for later arriving peoples to use such outsider-concocted designations because this is the result of the colonizers’s program of genocide and assimilation. That Indigenous languages, personal names, and place names have largely disappeared is evidence of the efficacy of the genocide and assimilation.
Yet Gould writes, “To primitive people, naming is to have mysterious power over the named, sometimes possession.” Gould uses the pejorative term “primitive” to describe the Original Peoples. It is part of his erractic pattern of switching from an enlightened portrayal to a derogatory (albeit probably unintended) depiction.
Nonetheless, naming was with a purpose. How would most people feel if someone came to their city or town and began to name the geographic features without asking the inhabitants first what the names were? To accept the names conferred by the Original Peoples would be an acknowledgment of their sovereignty. The colonizers/explorers had the intent of claiming possession, and naming was part of the strategy for achieving possession.
It was not the only mistake. Gould describes the Calusa of southwest Florida as “a vicious people addicted to human sacrifice.” He writes of “little brown men” greeting their “white gods.” He calls Indigenous people “Aborigines.” He describes Indians “as simple as so-called lower animals.” One chapter is entitled “Why Hadn’t Indians Improved?”
He does point out derogatory names, such as “Apache” being Spanish for “enemy.” To be fair, it is apparent that the author tries to take care with the names, but there are flaws in the naming. He points out that “Tecumtha” is the proper spelling for the iconic warrior and uniter more commonly known as Tecumseh. He notes that Ma-ka-tai-she-kia-kiak, Black Sparrow Hawk, was “continuously misnamed Black Hawk.” Yet the first reference to Black Sparrow Hawk calls him only Black Hawk.
Eminent Domain uses large print, a colloquial style, and it informs the reader of critical events in colonial history. But it also raises many questions.
Gould writes that the Norsemen “claim” to have beat Columbus to the western hemisphere. This is superficial research. There is an undisputed archaeological site of the Norsemen settlement in L’Anse aux Meadows at the northern tip of Newfoundland dating to 1000 CE. But he also writes that Norseman Leif Ericson, “brother of Eric the Red,” (wrong! He is the son of Eric the Red and hence the name Ericson) was killed by “Eskimoes” (the correct term is “Inuit”) in Labrador.
“Beothuk Indians” writes Gould. I wonder why he did not just write Beothuk? He calls them “the most primitive of Americans.” To back this up, Gould quotes the explorer Giovanni de Verrazano: “Those Beothuks inhabiting Casco Bay are of such crudity and evil manners who showed all signs of discourtesy and disdain as was possible for any brute to invent.” But the Beothuk did not inhabit Casco Bay – in the state of Maine; the Alnôbak (Abenaki) lived there. I believe the quotation must be incorrect and cannot find it anywhere (and there is no footnote).
Where does Gould get it mostly right?
It is somewhat surprising that Gould who spent much of his life as a military man working for entities spawned by colonialism can debunk the idea of eminent domain for Whites in the territory of another people — a territory captured in large part by military means. But he does do that.
He is scathing in the role of Christianity in the dispossession of the Original Peoples and the colonists’s greed for land.
The list of questions posed by the Pequot to the puritans were very humorous. For example, “If God made hell in one of the six days, why did He do so before Adam sinned?”
Gould informs that introduced diseases ravaged the Indigenous nations. He remarked on “unintended bacteriological warfare” in this campaign for land. This misses out on the exchange of letters between General Jeffrey Amherst and Colonel Henry Bouquet revealing blatant racism and genocidal intent.
Colonel Henry Bouquet’s letter to Amherst:
I will try to inoculate the Indians by means of Blankets that may fall in their hands taking care not to get the disease myself.
As it is a pity to oppose good men against them, I wish we could make use of the Spaniard’s method, and hunt them down with English dogs, supported by Rangers and from Light Horse, who would, I think, effectively extirpate or remove that vermine.
You will Do well to try to inoculate the Indians by means of Blankets, as well as try Every other method to extirpate this excreable Race. I should be very glad your Scheme for hunting them Down by dogs could take effect …
Amherst is honored in Canada and the US by having cities in his name.
Eminent Domain relates a history that requires telling to all generations. It conveys the evils of colonialism and dispossession, and it argues that the land belongs to the original inhabitants. The book could have been vastly improved with more rigid research, input from the Original Peoples, and a more enlightened approach that is sensitive to ethnicity and supremacist attitudes.
Kim Petersen is co-editor of Dissident Voice.