Native American history is a complex and often overlooked part of American history. For centuries, the stories and experiences of Indigenous peoples have been ignored or distorted by European colonizers and their descendants. But who exactly wrote Native American history?
The First Historians
Before the arrival of Europeans, Native Americans had their own ways of recording their histories and passing down their traditions. Oral histories were passed down from generation to generation through storytelling, songs, and ceremonies. These stories were not only a way to remember the past but also a way to teach important values and customs.
In addition to oral histories, some Native American tribes used pictographs and petroglyphs to record important events. These were images or symbols carved into rock or painted onto animal hides that conveyed a specific message or story.
The Arrival of Europeans
When Europeans arrived in what is now North America, they brought with them their own cultural biases and perspectives. Many early European explorers saw Indigenous peoples as primitive or uncivilized, and this view was reflected in the written records they left behind.
One of the earliest written accounts of Native Americans comes from Christopher Columbus’ journal, where he describes encountering the Taino people in the Caribbean. Columbus’ descriptions are often demeaning and inaccurate, portraying the Taino as “simple” and “unintelligent.”
Other early European explorers also wrote about their encounters with Native Americans, but these accounts were often influenced by political or religious motivations. For example, Spanish missionaries who came to convert Indigenous peoples to Christianity often portrayed themselves as saviors who were rescuing “savages” from their pagan ways.
Native American Voices
Despite these biases and distortions, some Native American voices have managed to make it into the historical record. One example is Mary Jemison, a white woman who was kidnapped by Seneca Indians during the French and Indian War.
Jemison lived with the Seneca for the rest of her life and became fully assimilated into their culture. In 1824, she dictated her life story to a white writer, giving us a rare firsthand account of Native American life.
Another important voice in Native American history is that of Black Elk, a Lakota holy man who witnessed the Battle of Little Bighorn and the Wounded Knee Massacre. Black Elk’s teachings were recorded by John Neihardt in the book “Black Elk Speaks,” which has become a classic work of Native American literature.
In conclusion, the question of who wrote Native American history is complex and multifaceted. While early European explorers and colonizers left behind written accounts that often distorted or ignored Indigenous perspectives, some Native Americans were able to share their own stories through oral histories and other means. Today, efforts are being made to include more Indigenous voices in our understanding of American history and to recognize the contributions and resilience of Native peoples throughout the centuries.