The way you teach it, America started from some ships that came to Massachusetts and Virginia. The people got off and had to push their way through some big empty land that was full of danger. When they got to these plains, they sent the wagon trains across the mountains and the desert, like little streams cutting their way through the earth. Once they got across, then more people followed their paths, and things were built along the way, and it was like these little streams of people became big rivers of people that all flowed across to California and Oregon and Washington. It was like the place was empty and you filled it up, and history is the story of how you filled it up and what happened while you were filling it.
You can tell me you don’t think that way, but you do. I look at the history books of the kids. They start in the east and come west, all of them, like that is the way history happened.
Just think what that does to our kids. It tells them to see the past like white people. It teaches them to understand this country like they were on those boats and covered wagons. That’s not the way it was to us. For us, this was a big land where people lived everywhere. Then some people came and landed on the shores in the easy while others came up from the south. They started pushing us. Then some others came down the rivers from the north. All these people were fighting each other. They all wanted something from us - furs, land, gold. They either took it or made us sell it to them. They all had guns. They all killed us if we didn’t believe that God was some man named Jesus who had lived in a desert across the sea. They wouldn’t leave us alone.
Pretty soon they set up a government way back somewhere in the east and said this all was their land. Not just where they lived, but everywhere they had been or even where they have heard of. If they could get one man to go to a place and put a flag in the ground, they said they owned everything between where they started and that flag. They started pushing us backward on top of each other. All of us who had lived side by side leaving each other alone had to fight each other for hunting land.
We had to make deals with the white men or else fight them. There wasn’t enough food. Everything started to fall apart. We lost the land our ancestors were buried in. We got pushed into little pods of land. We were like fish who had been swimming in the sea who were sent into little ponds.
See, to us, American history is how the big sea became little ponds and whether those are going to be taken from us or not. It doesn’t have anything to do with thirteen colonies and some covered wagons going west. Our land was taken from us from every direction. We can look at the same facts as you and it is something completely different. But you build your history on words like ‘frontier’ and ‘civilization,’ and those words are just your ideas put into little shapes that you can use in sentences. The big ideas behind them are weapons that take our past from us.
I think that’s a lot of where our people went wrong with your people. We didn’t see the big ideas behind the words you used. We didn’t see that you had to name everything in order to make it exist, and that the name you gave something made it what it was. You named us savages so that made us savages. You named where we lived the wilderness, so that made it a wild and dangerous place. Without even knowing it, you made us who we are in your minds by the words you used. You are still doing that, and don’t even know it is happening.
I hope you’ll learn to be more careful with your words. Our children don’t know the old language so well, so it is your English that is giving them the world. Right now some of the ideas in your words are wrong. They are giving our children and yours the world in a wrong way.
There was an old man who told me that when I was a boy that I should look at words like beautiful stones. He said I should lift each one and look at it from all sides before I used it. Then I would respect it.
I think he gave me good advice. You people have so many words that you don’t respect them the way you should. There is always another one, so you just throw them out there without thinking.
I think you need to be careful. Those words are like stones. Even if they are very beautiful, if you throw them out without thinking, they can hurt someone.
'Dan,' the Indian Elder from Kent Nerburn's book, “Neither Wolf nor Dog”