Elevate Difference

500 Years of Indigenous Resistance

We are all familiar with the smiling happy portrayals of pilgrims sitting down to dinner with Native Americans, or perhaps the slightly more critical viewpoint from many of our high school history books of the Indigenous people being simply helpless victims to European colonization. However, neither of these views is, in reality, very accurate.

500 Years of Indigenous Resistance was originally published in 1992 by Gord Hill, the native artist, activist, and at the time, member of the revolutionary Indigenous newspaper, OH-TOH-KIN. The book is in a pamphlet style with artwork throughout its pages. It starts with the arrival of Columbus in the Americas and goes up through history to chronicle native resistance in North and South America until after WWII, even up through the 1960s. It was originally published just before the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas, Mexico in 1994, and so was extremely relevant and insightful both then and now.

Even though I was aware that the history of the Americas many of us were taught growing up was very skewed towards celebrating white European colonialism, I hadn’t read anything, until this, that so clearly shows all the various Native American resistance movements that have existed. Lacking from most of written American history of the past 500 years is a detailed exploration of the resistance of native peoples and how they influenced and limited the colonialism to which they struggled against. 500 Years of Indigenous Resistance fills in this gap in an extensive way. It also records all the horrendous and calculating strategies of colonization employed to destroy native people, wipe out whole cultures, and steal land.

While many people, including myself, could probably not give names of more than a few tribes, this book speaks of all the millions of indigenous people there were 500 years ago, an estimated 70 to 100 million people. Even now after hundreds of years of colonization there are still an estimated forty million indigenous people. The book chronicles the various resistance strategies that native peoples utilized: demonstrations, festivals, violent uprisings, the creation of alliances with other tribes or nations, protests, occupations, road blocks, forming organizations to oppose governmental policies, and most recently, organizing around international bodies.

In a country that still has offensive caricatures of Native Americans on display for sports team mascots, it is easy to get discouraged that there will be any real recognition of the magnitude of the American Indian Holocaust, the mass genocide of Native peoples that has run rampant the past 500 years and continues on today. But books such as 500 Years of Indigenous Resistance which don't glorify, romanticize, or just plain omit all the horrors that abound throughout this history of colonization, stand to give us some hope. For they just give us the facts, but, more importantly, the ones we most likely have never heard before.

It would be an amazing thing to make copies of this work and slip into every school in America and slide it into every history book for children to read. Well, it is no less crucial and eye-opening a book for existing simply on its own. It is a rare event to read books that really have the potential to change the way that you think about things, that help you unlearn many lies and find yourself faced with honest truths. It always gives me the chills to read something from a new perspective and to know that this information is being let loose in the world, seeking to help us to open our eyes, to learn from the past, and to ultimately change for the better.

Written by: Lesley Kartali, May 21st 2010

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