Living off the Dispossession of Other Peoples

by Kim Petersen / March 15th, 2010

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.

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!”


Eminent
Domain: The 400 Year Battle Against Native Americans for Every Square
Mile of North America

By Dudley C. Gould
Publisher: Middletown, CT: Southfarm Press (2008)
Paperback: 95 pages
ISBN-13: 9780913337677

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.

Amherst’s reply:

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.
He can be reached at:
kim@dissidentvoice.org.
Read other
articles by Kim
.

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