But as our friend Alvin Josephy reminded often, Europeans were met by real people living here. Columbus met, enslaved, and in some cases destroyed indigenous peoples of the Caribbean. The learned scribes in fifteenth century Spain did have to decide whether these were people with souls or some lesser form of life—they quickly opted for souls in need of conversion, and, as they had not brought European women along, the conquerors quickly developed relations with the indiginous people.
The Pilgrims who landed in the northeast of what we now call North America were met by people who grew corn, squash and beans, crops their ancestors had bred and transformed over centuries from Mesoamerican beginnings. In popular history, Indians—mis-named from the beginning, have been mis-understood as uniformly hunter gatherers, when in fact their languages, cultures, and economies were as diverse as were those of the Europeans of the time. And these crops and cultures were critical in many cases to the survival of the 15th and 16th century immigrants.
We learn from Charles Mann in 1491: New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus that Africans far outnumbered Europeans in early immigrations (though their journeys were not by choice of course). This does—or should—change the mental image anyone talking about a nation of immigrants carries.
A key scene in my book, Something to Hold, that is inspired by my own childhood experiences as a non-Indian living on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation came about because of this notion ("nation of immigrants"). I remember hearing an NPR segment of "This I Believe" recorded by former Secretary of State Collin Powell, in which he said, "We are all immigrants." I was deep into my writing of the novel, when I heard this and it hit me that NO, WE are not all immigrants. And I wrote a chapter about a Columbus Day pageant at Warm Springs Grade School in which my narrator, a white girl, realizes that what she takes for granted about our nation's "discovery" is not at all applicable to her tribal classmates. I think this is a critical perspective for all non-Native Westerners to consider and embrace.
Katherine Schlick Noe
A note on Katherine Schlick Noe and her book, Something to Hold. Katherine did grow up on reservations in the Northwest, as her father, Bud, worked at Colville and Warm Springs and, i think Yakima. Her mother Mary Schlick, learned basketry and became an "expert" with a wonderful book on Plateau Indian basketry to her credit. Katherine has been working for years on her book about being the white kid on the rez. Something to Hold was named the 2012 Washington State Book Award winner in the middle grade/young adult category! This one slipped by me and i have it on order and will read it as soon as i get it. you can get more info @(http://katherineschlicknoe.com)
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