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Quickie: The Conquest of our Bodies

March 28, 2011

I have been enjoying what I’ve read from Dan Waters so far, after running across him as a new contributor at Womanist Musings. Browsing the archives at his Identity Exposure, a number of posts really resonated with me. Today, I’d intended to go ahead and launch off Multi-Racial and Skin Identity from there (which I briefly quoted in the last post), but that’s a very complicated and emotionally loaded topic to try to do any justice this afternoon with the fatigue and brain fog. (That has improved some, but I’m still having an easier time reading than writing and responding.) So, that will have to wait.

But. I saw another very interesting one, his first non-intro post at Womanist Musings: The Conquest of our Bodies, and thought I’d do a quick quote-and-comment.

Many Native women remember the gruesome stories and woodcuts that depict violence against Native Americans, and even more untold torture onto Indian women and children. Women were fed to war dogs alive, sometimes to be raped and eaten (yes, eaten) for show. The mercy granted on children was that there was typically a priest would be there to baptize them, and then they were put in a pile to either die from exposure, or set on fire, or even more food for the dogs. If anyone wants to try and dispute this, please go ahead and read anything written by the monks and priests that accompanied them (most notably, Rodrigo Rangel for De Soto’s journeys, or Bartolomé de las Casas works). This isn’t just the ramblings of a “crazy injun”.

What if it were apparent that the threat against Indian women was still around? A lot more subtle than conquistadors of the past, America has always had a policy of trying to get rid of Indians. Besides fucked up blood quantum laws, putting us on reservations and then off them and then BACK on them, the most atrocious of them all (to me) is the attack on our women and their reproductive systems.

The discussion of forced sterilization is well worth checking out.

I have written some before about De Soto’s rampages, and how absurdly the first-hand accounts tend to get handled and interpreted. (An awful lot of people are more interested in the observers’ fanciful, projectionist accounts of Native social setups than in, erm, firtsthand accounts of pillage, torture, slavery, and murder. Those bits just don’t get quoted a lot.)  As if De Soto bugging the Cherokee, among many other people in the Southeast, weren’t enough, I was not aware until a couple of years ago that Conquistadores were also kidnapping people, setting up missions, and trying to install puppet “emperors”*| around the Chesapeake, well before the English found either Roanoke Island or Jamestown. (Part of the rationale there: “block English privateers or pirates from creating a base of operations in the Chesapeake Bay to raid Spanish gold/silver shipments sailing from the Caribbean“. That would be the gold they pillaged from elsewhere in the Americas, and, yeah, the English went on to do exactly that.) Somehow I doubt they were behaving better there toward the indigenous population than anywhere else in the Americas.

In now-English-speaking areas, we’re given the impression that English behavior was somehow less diabolical (by their own definitions). From Jeffrey Amherst and Smallpox Blankets, emphasis mine:

Some people have doubted these stories; other people, believing the stories, nevertheless assert that the infected blankets were not intentionally distributed to the Indians, or that Lord Jeff himself is not to blame for the germ warfare tactic

The documents provided here are made available to set the record straight…

The documents provided here are among Amherst’s letters and other papers microfilmed as part of the British Manuscript Project, 1941-1945, undertaken by the United States Library of Congress during World War II. The project was designed to preserve British historical documents from possible war damage. There are almost three hundred reels of microfilm on Amherst alone…

  • Colonel Henry Bouquet to General Amherst, dated 13 July 1763,  suggests in a postscript the distribution of blankets to “inocculate the Indians”;
  • Amherst to Bouquet, dated 16 July 1763, approves this plan in a postscript and suggests as well as “to try Every other method that can serve to Extirpate this Execrable Race.” (This postcript spans two pages.)

These letters also discuss the use of dogs to hunt the Indians, the so-called “Spaniard’s Method,” which Amherst approves in principle, but says he cannot implement because there are not enough dogs. In a letter dated 26 July 1763, Bouquet acknowledges Amherst’s approval and writes, “all your Directions will be observed.”

Think about that for a minute. The only reason not to feed other human beings to armored mastiffs, is that you can’t easily get hold of enough war-trained dogs. And this man still has lots of places named after him in the Eastern US and Canada; apparently, some people thought enough of him to hang his name on places as they moved westward across the continent. Think about that.

That is beyond the daily unpleasantness (e.g., murder, enslavement, and rape/abuse particularly of women and children). All this stuff is well-documented.

See also Daniel N. Paul’s Crimes against humanity: double standard unacceptable. His We Were Not the Savages is another book I’ve meant to pick up but haven’t yet.

Unfortunately, I also half-expect the “crazy injun” denial response, even with primary source quotes and other historical evidence staring readers in the face. The very fact that all of these things affected various groups of my ancestors can/will be taken as license to derail and dismiss, and claim I must be too overwrought and irrational for the evidence to be taken seriously. I am sure somebody will decide that I hate all modern Europeans–besides Euro-Americans–and want to slander them. With footnotes. (WTF?!) Possibly while insisting that none of our ancestors on the East Coast could have possibly survived all these things that never happened–so my credibility must be nil on that front.

And all this is stuff that happened centuries ago.

As usual, I do have a point with this little history lesson. These things happened centuries ago, and an awful lot of people still don’t want to believe it. They have too much invested in the colonial status quo–mentally, emotionally, spiritually, physically, you name it. There’s a lot of cognitive dissonance to be had here. How likely are they to pay attention to what’s continuing to happen to Native women and children in particular? Or to take people seriously who have lived it?

I’ve written some about this particular topic before, but will quote all of Cecelia‘s comment:

Boozhoo and welcome to Womanist Musings! It is good to see a Native writer and blogger over here!

I know about the issues of sexual violence in the Native community since I am a proud Anishinaabekwe of mixed heritage. I know too many Native women who have experienced sexual assault and rape. Native women experience the highest rates of sexual assault and violence out of any group in the colonized USA. Here is a link with some information —….

Also this is a good piece of information — (PDF) – Amnesty International: Maze of Injustice —

I have a bumper sticker on my truck that says…”women are sacred: violence against women is not traditional.”

It it is an everyday fight to be a Native woman in this country, since we are on the bottom of the barrel. Not only do you deal with sexism and racism but you also deal with being an invisible minority. So we fight stereotypes, prejudices, etc. We deal with generational and inter-generational trauma, pains and wounds. We have so much to work through in our lives as well as learn to survive in the white world. Living our lives boldly and bravely as Native women is an everyday form of activism.

Can’t argue with that.

Another tidbit I had run across before: “American Indian women are more likely to be stalked than any other racial group (17%), mostly by non-Indians, compared to white women (8.2%), African-American women (6.5%), and Asian/Pacific women (4.5%).” (Almost 90% of the reported sexual assaults? Also from non-Natives.)

An older post that’s very relevant: Colonialism: totally a thing of the past! (or, lots of missing and murdered women who just happen to be Indigenous).

OK, so this didn’t turn out to be such a quick post-and-run after all. 😉


* ETA: Actually a darkly hilarious example of working on some very bad universalist cultural assumptions. You want more influence in the area because people just aren’t buying–and they have you greatly outnumbered–so what do you do? Kidnap the current male leader’s son–or, possibly, convince him he wants a great adventure (hard at 17 or so!)–and take him off to Spain and Mexico to “educate” him. Then you take him back and expect him to take over as monarch. That’s a lot of wasted effort when you’re really dealing with a leader elected from a particular matrilineage. Oops.

How things actually worked out:

The Spanish gambled that Don Luis/Paquiquino would follow the Spanish way of life after being reintroduced to his village of Ajacan. Instead, Paquiquino quickly demonstrated that his personal choice was to return to his tribal lifestyle. He moved to another town, and took several wives in accordance with his status in Virginia society and in clear contrast to his Catholic teachings. Obviously 9 years in Spain and Mexico had not erased his first 17 years of Algonquian acculturation.

Paquiquino and his tribe were unwilling to support the Spanish missionaries. 1570 was a time of drought, and the Native Americans refused to provide free food or supplies to the missionaries. By December, 1570, the Spanish had traded away their tools for food. In February, 1571, after Father Seguera appealed to “Don Luis” for aid, Paquiquino eliminated the Spanish settlement. He followed Father Seguera back from the appeal for food and (with others from the town) killed him and all the other missionaries except for a young boy, Alonso de los Olmos [because you just don’t kill kids–U.]…

As a result of the Spanish visits to the Chesapeake Bay in the 1500’s, the Native Virginians gained a warped – or perhaps clear – understanding of European behavior. Seeing their captured men hung from the ship’s masts in 1572 must have left a lingering image that affected the greeting given the English visitors in sailing ships in 1607.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. March 29, 2011 2:07 am

    I just found out about this post from peeking at my Blogger “Stats” tab (still figuring all this stuff out about blogging tech!), and I want to say that I really love your post and had a little squeal that you read my blog.

  2. Leroy permalink
    August 23, 2012 11:13 am

    No-one alive ever experienced any of this.

    Everyone alive, is ONLY alive, because of what took place in history.

    You have one life. Live it while you can. Don’t waste it on trying to cast blame on a current generation for the actions (on all sides) of previous generations.

    The present generations are NOT responsible for the actions of their predecesssors.

  3. Mark permalink
    June 14, 2014 9:51 pm

    The current generation isn’t responsible for what happened in the past, but it IS responsible for what’s happening today. Unfortunately, the vast majority will do anything they can not to take responsibility.

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