A NEW WAVE ON THE RISING TIDE OF TELLING THE INDIGENOUS STORY RIGHT
Stephen M. Sachs
A rising tide of telling the Indigenous story properly has been flowing into writings of recent years. Three works of the most recent wave are:
David Graeber and David Wengrow, The Dawn of Everything: A new History of Humanity (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux: 2021), 697 pp. for $35
The four volumes of Honoring the Circle: Ongoing Learning from American Indians on Politics and Society (Cardiff by the Sea, CA: Waterside Productions, 2020), available from Amazon, amazon.com, each volume is $18.95 paper, $9.95 Kindle:
Stephen M. Sachs, Bruce E. Johansen, Ain Haas, Betty Booth Donohue, Donald A. Grinde Jr. and Jonathon York,
Volume I: The Impact of American Indians on Western Politics and Society to 1800
Stephen M. Sachs, Sally Roesch Wagner, Ain Haas, and Walter S. Robinson, Volume II: The Continuing Impact of American Indian Ways in North America and the World in the Nineteenth Century and Beyond
Stephen M. Sachs, Donna K. Dial, Christina A. Clamp, Amy Fatzinger, and Phyllis M. Gagnier, Volume III: What Would Be Good to Continue Learning from Indigenous Peoples in Politics and Economics
Stephen M. Sachs and Bruce Johansen, Volume IV: What Would Be Good to Continue Learning from Indigenous Peoples about the Environment and Education
Glenn Aparicio Parry, Original Politics: Making America Sacred Again (New York: Select Books, 2020), 355 pp. for $19.95 paper.
The authors of The Dawn of Everything, an archeologist and an anthropologist, take the learnings of the past decades of archeology to completely revise long held mainstream views of human socio-political-economic development. They set out that societal development was more complex and variable, and less linear, than has often been described. They find that early band and tribal societies were most often very flat and participatory, but that some became hierarchical and oliguric for periods. They cite evidence that a move into cities did not bring centralized rule, with many early cities around the world being extremely democratic, often with the same kinds of female leadership often found in tribes. At times, popular cooperative rule in ancient cities would be overturned, making them oligarchic; but later, the oligarchy would in turn would be overcome, often with the cities being abandoned. The authors refer to various examples, including the evacuation of Mayan cities, and the fall of Cahokia, which was across the Mississippi from where Saint Louis now stands.
Graeber and Wengrow similarly unfold that there was not a clear progression from hunting and gathering to agriculture, that these often alternated or were mixed for a very long time. Those findings are among others that unfold in the course of presenting a more dynamic view of societal interaction than long has been dominant scholarly thinking, which the authors assert can continue today, even as they see the rise nation states unraveling, with the possibility of returning to more cooperative participatory ways of living.
The first two, and portions of the last, volumes of Honoring the Circle illuminate the generally unrecognized tremendous impact of American Indian ways on Western and hence world political, social and economic thought, practice and institutions from 1492 to the present. These two books describe how from first contact in what is now the United States, interaction between Europeans and Indians had such an impact on the colonists, that by the time of the American Revolution it was widely accepted that an American was a mix of the European and the Indian. A view that began to fade with Andrew Jackson's policy of removing Native peoples to the West. These works show that through the direct experience of colonists with Indigenous Americans, and thousands of reports sent to Europe describing how these Native people had no kings, the idea that rights are inalienable arose among Europeans. Similarly, that we have as much democracy as we do in the U.S. is a result of Europeans observing far more democratic and equalitarian Native examples. Volumes I and II detail the profound and continuing impact of Indians on the development of the American Philosophy of pragmatism, and on the women's and civil rights movements generally, as well as on the development of the environmental movement and the American counterculture, which in turn hugely increased mainstream American interest in, and support for, Native Americans.
Volumes III and IV, open by indicating an ongoing shift for well over a century in American and European thinking toward Indigenous ways of seeing, before demonstrating with well working examples how contemporary societies would function much better that they have been, if the operated by applying Indigenous values appropriately for the Twenty-First Century in politics, economics, relating with the environment and education.
Original Politics begins with a shorter history of how American Indian ways had such a great impact on European colonists in what is now the United States, that by the time of the revolution and in the early days of the republic, the United States functioned as a mix between the European and Indigenous American ways. It proceeds to develop the cycles of U.S. history to the present time of transition amid conflicting forces to return to, while completing, the unfinished principles of the founding more fully realizing Native values. As Parry writes,
To Recreate a whole and sacred America, it is important to piece together the forgotten fragments of history that keep the country divided. Just as a traditional American Indian potter begins a new pot with the shards of old pots - Original Politics reassembles the nation as a whole out of the seemingly disparate shards of our origin.
The most significant forgotten piece is the profound effect that Native values had on our founders in establishing this nation... - concepts such as natural rights, liberty and equalitarian justice.... [to achieve] the sacred purpose of the nation: to bring all the world's peoples together on one soil in a harmonious cultural mosaic of unity in diversity.
Graeber and Wengrow, Sachs, et al, and Parry all come from different perspectives, overlapping with varying emphasis at times, while each contributes additional valuable information and analysis, to flow toward what appears to be a much-needed rising tide of Indigeneity.
*Stephen M. Sachs is Senior Editor of Indigenous Policy. An applied philosopher with a home in Political Science, he is the coordinating editor and lead drafter of the four volumes of Honoring the Circle: Ongoing Learning from American Indians on Politics and Society and, with LaDonna Harris and Barbara Morris, of Recreating the Circle: The Renewal of American Indian Self-Determination.
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