by Jolina Barron, 12th grade
The history of Native Americans that students find in their history textbooks is distortedly inaccurate to today’s standards and should be revised and edited. In most history textbooks, Native American history is often misconstrued and brief. New studies from archeologists and researchers suggests that our previous understanding of pre-Columbian Native American civilizations is far from accurate. Textbooks often only cover one particular era of Native American history, their interactions with early settlers, whilst completely ignoring other historical eras. History is a field of study that should always be revisited and revised to meet the available information attained in our modern day.
The Lie of the Savage in American History
The general visualization of Native American civilizations in the pre-Colombian era is one of complete savagery and brutality. But, pre-Colombian Native Americans were not as chaotically uncivilized as previously believed.
Native Americans had advanced civilizations with large populations organized by a system of government. In 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus Charles Mann explains that the large amounts of elaborate pottery found in large midden mounds show evidence that Native American civilizations were well-populated.
To also support this belief, the eyewitness account of Giovanni da Varrazzano describes the Portuguese’s interactions with the Native American as mostly civil and their civilizations as organized and even grand. Throughout da Varrazzano’s voyage they traded and communicated with the Native Americans.
In one instance, he describes one settlement with a great fishing community with boats, and da Varrazanno interacts with their king. Most of the Native Americans helped the Portuguese on their travels; providing food, medicine and sometimes shelter.
The misconception in American history is that Native Americans were merely savage people, but there is substantial evidence to disprove this theory.
What Happens When We Only Tell One Side?
The average American’s view of Native Americans is largely dependent upon what information is found in history textbooks. But, the most covered topic (and sometimes the only topic) of Native Americans in textbooks is their interactions with early European settlers.
When the colonists came to the Americas, most Native American tribes were still recovering from a pandemic that had struck and had greatly diminished the Native American population. The settlers victimized the Native Americans, much like the British had victimized the Scottish. Because of the massacres and the forced slavery of Native Americans by the Europeans, the Native American tribes defended themselves against and attacked the settlers to protect their people.
History textbooks seem to only focus on these events in Native American history, which has enforced the “savage” stereotype in the minds of Americans over the years. In most textbooks, Native Americans are painted as aggressively brutal and out-of-control.
Textbooks often disregard the positive relations between the colonists and Native Americans. For example, in William Bradford’s written account, Squanto and multiple other Native Americans helped the colonists survive in the Americas and attempted to mediate their conflicts with other Native tribes.
Because history textbooks have perpetuated these false truths, generations of American youth believe that Native Americans were nothing more than uncivilized savages.
History Needs Inspection
History, as a study, should always be revisited and revised. Our knowledge of past history is always changing because nothing in history is completely definite.
New discoveries are found which historians use to form new theories of the past. When strong, new theories are found to be the most accurate to our understanding, that changes our perception of history. Textbooks should be edited and revised frequently to accommodate these new theories.
Because most textbooks have stayed true to the “Indians were savages” lie, today’s people are completely unaware of the truth. There are other sources on the subject of Native American history that are being ignored and excluded from textbooks. Textbooks should be revised to meet the new understanding of Native American history.
Include Native American History in American History Textbooks
Native American history found in history textbooks should be revisited and edited. New evidences show that Native Americans lived in advanced civilizations in large populations and thrived in pre-Columbian era. Most of our knowledge of Native Americans in the pre-Columbian era is misconstrued.
The early aggressive interactions between colonists and Native Americans make up most of the written history and creates the “savage” stereotype. History is a field of study that should be constantly revisited and revised to meet today’s understanding.