1. Turtle Island and Its Peoples

Names matter

In addition to Howard Zinn and Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, I’m especially inspired by Charles W Mills, the philosopher who recently passed away. His ‘Racial Contract’ is a mindblower and eye-opener. It emancipates our minds in a major way.

So I want to start with a short account of the ‘New World’ or ‘North America’ before the European conquerors and settlers arrived. Right away, Mills would tell us even the names are wrong, since these are European names.

So what did they call the continent? It depends. Some had names for parts of it, like ‘Aztlan,’ for what today is part of Mexico and the US Southwest. But more than one grouping used several terms, that roughly translate as ‘Turtle Island.’ That may seem odd, but if you get into the origin myths many had in common, it makes perfect sense, especially to them. So that’s what I’ll try to use, and even if I fall into ‘the new world,’ or ‘the Americas,’ I mean Turtle Island. Here’s a map that might get you thinking about it in a way that’s outside ‘the racial contract’.

It matters, because the continent wasn’t a ‘wilderness.’ It was full of people and villages, from nomadic camps to major cities, some large and more modern than those in Europe. Agriculture was everywhere–corn, beans and squash–and the forests were managed, full of trails and roads No one is quite sure how many people were here, but 100 million is a number that pops up. Their social orders ranged from small equalitarian tribes to major feudal orders. One thing is certain: they were not ‘savages,’ ‘wild’ ‘heathen’ or any other nasty subaltern name those from Europe would give them. Truth be told, they were at least on a par, if not better in some ways. Next we’ll get into the ‘Doctrine of Discovery.’

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