As a New England Yankee (50% Connecticut Yankee and 25% “Downeasterner” [Maine]), whose roots were firmly planted in earliest English colonial days, I inherited 300+ years of “Yankee pride.” Until two years ago when I first enrolled as an auditor in Prof. Craig Nessan’s seminar titled “American Genocide 1 – Native American,” I hadn’t given much thought to the people who inhabited these lands for many, many moons before my progenitors sailed across the ocean in the early 1600’s, and invaded, seized, and settled on land stolen from Native nations who already lived here. Our course readings pointed out the horrendous slaughter of thousands, perhaps even millions, of natives by the uninvited Europeans. They stole the land and its resources from those who had lived here for thousands of years before white people appeared on the shores of the North American continent.
Quickly, my Yankee pride turned into a deep sense of guilt and shame.
Prof. Nessan suggested that we don’t have collective guilt for sins committed by our predecessors before we were born, but we can experience collective shame for the actions of our forebears and our nation. Just as we cannot individually go back in time to undo the sins we’ve committed so also as a people collectively, we cannot undo what our nation or our personal forebears did throughout five centuries of genocide. But we can take note of current situations, and of the residual suffering of people today.
I see a way of currently doing that by educating ourselves and by becoming aware and supportive of Native Americans who are trying to preserve what land and resources they still have. We can refuse now to permit an oil pipeline to be buried across their existing reservations, desecrating traditional sacred places, and with the potential for polluting natural resources: clean drinking water, produce from the soil, or shade and fruit from whatever trees may be left.
My Yankee pride has turned into a deep sense of “collective shame,” but also of personal shame. I am ashamed not simply of what generic white European colonists have done to North American Natives, and to captured and enslaved Africans, but for what was done by my own identifiable direct ancestors (including clergy).
In her book An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, © 2014, published by the Beacon Press, Boston, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz writes, in Chapter Three, on page 51: “The old stock against which they [later invited European immigrants] are judged inferior includes not only those who fought in the fifteen-year war for independence from Britain, but also, and more important, those who fought and shed (Indian) blood, before and after independence, in order to acquire the land.”
Recently, I have been reading the stories of dozens of my own known ancestors in context of their negotiations for land or their relationships with the Native Nations. Clearly many of my direct ancestors fought them in the Pequot War of 1636-1638 and in King Philip’s War (1675-1678). They bartered with the Natives for land. They depended upon the Natives for provisions to get them through a very severe winter. And at least one of my forebears apparently kept an Indian maiden as a slave, as his will provided that she should have her freedom when she reached the age of 26. I have also learned that l have at least a few slave-holders of Africans among my ancestors.
Lord, I as a Yankee pray for forgiveness for racial arrogance. I pray for remembrance and honor for the lives of the millions of Natives who were senselessly erased by my racially “privileged” white ancestors.