500 Years Since the Invasion of Europe: A Letter to the Public from European Rights Activist Wanblee Johnson
This story imagines a parallel universe in which Native Americans have conquered and settled Europe. Part of the point is that Native Americans would not have done to Europeans what Europeans actually did to Native Americans. The main point is (as Sherman Alexie says) to "turn it around," in order to expose cultural double standards. Versions of this piece were published in 1992 in Akwesasne Notes, News From Indian Country, Report on the Americas, and other periodicals. "Wanblee Johnson is a fictitious character thought up by Zoltán Grossman.
It was 500 years ago that Callicoatl sailed across the ocean with three Aztec boats, and found a new continent, a new Eastern Hemisphere. The commemoration of this event is being marked with great fanfare and celebration. Every child has been taught the story: how Callicoatl convinced Montezuma II to support his journey, how the Aztec sailors nearly despaired on the journey, and how they "discovered" a strange white-skinned race in the "New World."
But that is only part of the story. It is important that in this, the 500th anniversary of Callicoat's voyage, the record be set straight.
For Callicoatl did not "discover" this continent, he invaded it. It was already inhabited by many nations of people, living our own cultures, and practicing our own religions, on our own land. Over the past five centuries, we, the Native peoples of Europe, have seen our natural resources and our spirituality stolen, and our relatives enslaved. That is hardly a history worth celebrating.
In the Pre-Callicoatlian era, great empires were ruled by the Greeks, the Romans, the Egyptians, the Moors, and many other indigenous peoples of the Eastern Hemisphere. They contributed much to the world, as attested to by the great temples and pyramids they left behind. They had detailed knowledge of astronomy, law, agriculture, and religion. True, there were wars among these peoples, and persecution of those who did not follow the state religion. But they were no more oppressive than the empires of Montezuma II or the Inca Tupac Yupanki in the "Old World" 500 years ago. And, like in the Western Hemisphere, there were many peoples still living in harmony with the land, here in our hemisphere.
There were many other explorers who sailed to these shores, and even some who claimed to have arrived before Callicoatl - the Arawak, the Beothuk, and the Lenni-Lenape. But it was the Aztec flag of Anauak and the Inca flag of Tawantinsuyo that were first firmly planted on our soil. Soon after Callicoatl arrived, this land was named Omequauh after another Aztec-sponsored explorer. The Aztecs and Incas conquered and divided up South and Central Omequauh - the lands we call Africa, Iberia, and the islands of the Mediterranean Sea. Later, the Dakota and Ojibwe fought over and divided North Omequauh, my home continent, which we call "Europe."
Some great "European" leaders pulled together alliances of knights to resist the settlers, but our freedom fighters were never unified enough to prevail. Some of our Native peoples - among them the Irish, Corsicans, and Sardinians - were wiped out, their cultures lost to history.
You may know us as "Native Omequauhns", but we prefer to be called the "Original Europeans," or the "First Nations." We are not one people but many peoples, following different customs. We speak many tongues, which you may call "dialects," but we prefer to equate with your languages. We worship under different religions that were outlawed until recently, and are ridiculed to this day as mere superstition. The religion of my ancestors was known as "Christianity," and there are some of us who even today pray to a single god and his son.
Though we are commonly called "tribes," we have historically existed as nations, with our own borders, provinces, and capitals. The capital of my ancestors, London, was as great in its time as Cuzco or Tenochtitlan, until it was sacked by the invaders. My people, the York band of the English tribe, were once citizens of Yorkshire county (or province) in the English Nation (or "England"). Many of our peoples are not even called by their original names, but by derogatory names that others have given them. The Krauts, for instance, are more properly called the "Germans," or Deutsche in their own language. Similarly, the Frogs should be called the "French," or Français in their own tongue.
These terms are important if we are to reclaim our nationhood. But even more important is reclaiming our ancestral land rights, which have been steadily whittled away over the past 500 years. My English people, for instance, are scattered in over 50 small reservations throughout of island of Newfoundland (which we have always called "Britain"), and on the continental mainland where one-third of us were forcible relocated a century ago. Despite disease, removal, and loss of lands where we hunted and farmed, our traditional forms of local government have been carried on to this day.
Agreements we signed with the settlers guarantee that we still have access to natural resources on lands we used to own. Most of these agreements were broken, and many lands were stolen without any agreements whatsoever. Today, some descendants of the settlers don't understand why we continue to exercise these rights. Some of them even tell us to go back where we came from!
My people were forced into dependency after the warriors (who we called the "Long Arrows") slaughtered our sheep - our main livelihood. The children began to be sent to schools where they were forced to use Dakota names to replace their English names, and were beaten if they spoke English. Through the generations, many of our people became so assimilated that they began to look, dress, walk and talk like the settlers. But they still retained their identity, hidden from view.
It was only about 25 years ago that our peoples started to reclaim their European heritage. On my reservation, that meant young people starting to relearn the English language. We also began to communicate with Native peoples in South and Central Omequauh, some of whom actually form a majority in their countries. Though they speak different colonial languages (Nahuatl and Quechua), our concerns are similar.
Reclaiming our cultures means learning from our elders, and reading the great works of Chaucer and other ancient prophets. It means challenging stereotypes, such as the view that all of our people wear suits of armor, or live in thatched-roof huts. Above all, it means countering the despair on many of our reservations - the poverty, the consumption of beer and chicha, and the low self-esteem among Native youth.
This new pride has led to conflict with the governments occupying our lands. We have had to take on the Bureau of Caucasian Affairs (BCA), which has controlled our economies and prevented any independent Native voices from speaking out. We are attacked for being poor, and then criticized for methods we use to get out of poverty. We have also had to deal with collaborators among our own people, in some of the councils that the BCA established years ago to replace our traditional governments, and to sell off what is left of our land. Some of the Europeans on these councils are so obedient to authority that we call the "conches" - white on the outside, but red on the inside.
The rebirth of our European cultures has also stimulated interest on the part of mainstream non-European society. Nowadays, some children playing "Warriors and Knights" actually want to be the knights. While this trend is welcome, we also find non-Europeans romanticizing our cultures, and trying to usurp them in the same way they usurped our land. We loathe seeing non-Europeans dressing up like our own priests, and conducting the sacred catechism ceremony, for the benefit of their own curiosity. We don't appreciate seeing ethnic Dakota wearing powdered wigs, or putting on ballroom dances. And we roll our eyes whenever one of these 'wannabes' says that their great-grandmother was a Swedish princess.
There was a time when our land would be stolen and out people divided and relocated, with only a passive response. But no more. The European Wars are being rekindled, as more nations are defending the lands our ancestors are buried under. Many remember the armed confrontations at the Long Fjord Norwegian Reservation about two decades ago, or at the Lake Balaton Hungarian Reservation two years ago. If our sovereignty is not recognized, these skirmishes are likely to continue.
It should be clear to you, the non-European public, that despite 500 years of colonization, we still exist as peoples and nations. In the face of overwhelming odds - the near-extinction of our population, and the theft of our religions and lands - we have survived. When you talk about "celebrating" the arrival of Callicoatl, it sends a chill up our spines. Even Callicoatl's name, in the Nahuatl language, means "Serpent from the West." If you do not recognize that our people were here when he arrived in our land, you will never be able to recognize that we are here, in front of you, today.
This story originally posted at the Midwest Treaty Network.