HONORING THE TRUE HISTORY OF INDIGENOUS PEOPLES … and your Wednesday Writing Prompt

Eel River, Humboldt County, California

Eel River, Humboldt County, California

The Wiyot lived in the Humboldt Bay area of Northern California and they live in my dreams. For about a year-and-half we made our home in Humboldt County, an area about 200 miles north of San Francisco on the far North Coast. It’s a place dense with redwood forests, wild rivers, and creeks that run dry in the summer and overflow in the winter. If you live in a rural area or grew up in one, you might take such things for granted. Having lived in paved-over cities all my life, they seemed magical to me.

Our four acres were rich with sequoia, madrone, oak, and twenty-eight fruit trees. Blue jays flew in to feed in the morning. Quail families visited at night. They marched down our drive in orderly formation. Hawks and hummingbirds put on air shows. Rosemary thrived unattended. There was a beautiful lush 100-year-old rosebush. There were wild roses too. They gifted us hips for homemade cough syrup.

Scotch Broom

Scotch Broom

The colors there were brilliant and varied: smog-free blue skies (you could see the stars at night!), rich brown earth, a population of purple iris in a grove of California bay laurel, orange cosmos and red dahlias, yellow scotch broom lining our creek-side in the company of cascading Japanese quince. The Japanese quince provided ample housing for Rufus hummingbirds. Nearby, Queen Ann’s lace stood unbent by the wind. When it went to seed we collected the seeds for cooking. They have a taste somewhere between carrot and caraway.

The spread of blackberry bushes was both wonder and wealth. They seemed never to run out of fruit. I gathered some almost every morning for breakfast and every morning I thought of the women in buckskins who preceded me more than a century ago. Perhaps there was a mother who stood on this spot, picking blackberries for her son too.

I think the peace, quiet and simplicity of that place made it easy to imagine the first peoples as they might have lived there in other times. I could see them tending fires, boiling and drying acorns and then grinding them for flour, bathing in the river, raising their children, gathering wood, hunting and enjoying sacred ceremony. I knew the very same ancient sequoia that watched over us had watched over them.

Humboldt Bay near Eureka, traditional Wiyot lands

Qual-a-wa-loo (Humboldt Bay) near Eureka, traditional Wiyot lands, The 1860 Wiyot Massacre happened on Indian Island

Finally, I did some research. I was sad but not surprised to find that the area was once inhabited by an indigenous people –  the Wiyot people – who were decimated in a genocide ~

Wiyot Mother and Child

Wiyot Mother and Child

“Eureka newspapers of the time exulted at the night massacres conducted by the “good citizens of the area”. Good haul of Diggers and Tribe Exterminated! were 2 headlines from the Humboldt Times. Those who thought differently about it were shut up by force. Newspaper publisher and short story writer Bret Harte called it “cowardly butchery of sleeping women and children” — then had to flee ahead of a lynch mob that smashed his printing presses.” MORE [Wiyot Tribal Council Page]

Note: Originally written in 2012, I’ve posted this today as a an acknowledgement of Indigenous Peoples’ Day, October 12. More than 40 US jurisdictions celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day; the majority of these have replaced Columbus Day with this holiday, but some jurisdictions celebrate both Columbus Day and Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

In addition to reading here, please also treat yourself to Michael Watson’s post Silence, Story, and Healing, a short and thoughtful piece.

© 2012, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved; Photo credit ~ Eel River by Jan Kronsell and released into the worldwide public domain; Scotch Broom by Danny S. – 001 under CC BY-SA 3.0; Humboldt Bay near Eureka by Tony via Wikipedia and Licensed under CC A 2.0 Generic; Wiyot Mother and Child, Humboldt State University

WRITING PROMPT

Perhaps you too grew up in a time and place where the history books taught a one-sided view of the land you live on and the people who originated there. Perhaps, like me, you had to get out of school and meet new people, read books that weren’t sanctioned by academic authority and do your own research to learn about the devastation that was  and is rained upon indigenous people all over the world … the violence, the slavery and the genocide. Perhaps you are a descendent of the original people who suffered so and know the truth from the stories of your elders. Perhaps your roots are in the nations of empire and you are saddened that they perpetrated or were complicit in such unimaginable injustice.

We can’t change what happened in the past but as writers and poets we can make sure that lies aren’t propagated and that the truth is told and shared. Write a poem, short story, essay or article that illustrates some aspect of colonialism, racial bias and stereotype, or the modern complications of colonial history.

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9 thoughts on “HONORING THE TRUE HISTORY OF INDIGENOUS PEOPLES … and your Wednesday Writing Prompt

  1. (c) Rising up in Unity for Mother Earth and Humanity, WE Fight!

    A blood stained portrait of a people, my people, standing proud, standing strong…..

    Peacefully with our voices lifted in unity for Mother Earth which houses not just us, but all of humanity, we fight…..

    Creatures deformed, our lands bleeding tears of black blood and destroyed, as the destruction of a pipeline seeps into our soil, polluting our water and snatching our air….

    As one we feel the life of Mother Earth slowly slip away, into the darkness that a pipeline stretched for miles is carroding her veins… draining Mother Earth of her resources, of her life….

    Once she’s gone all of humanity will cease to be no more…..

    Obtained by the stained existence of black crude oil….

    Money’s that purchased the destruction that this pipeline brings, will billow in the air like a leaf in Autumn floating on the wind, then falling to the ground…. the green of its inked stained paper scattered all around, with no one to obtain or spend it, for humanity is no longer around……

    Wake up and listen to a people, my people, standing strong and proud…. not just for land do we stand and band together, but for the Creator’s light for all of humanity, arm in arm, hand in hand…..

    So standing Native strong and Native proud we are united….

    For by the rays of the morning sun, and the Twilight of the moon at night….. Rising up, WE fight!

    (c) Copyright, 4 November 2016 (3:11am edited) by De Ann~Native Townes (A Very Proud Native American Indian Woman!)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I reblogged this with the poem:

    When the heart desires a space occupied by the alien then
    by all means clear the space and build your home upon the
    aliens’ bones. No one will cry for them if their
    children’s bones lie buried with them,
    under the foundation of your heart’s desire.

    I’ve never felt white guilt or shame. What I do feel is embarassment when those of us who have reaped the bounty of our European heritage continue to piss and moan whenever anyone tries to remind us how we came by that bounty, and asks us to share just a little more of it with them. As though there isn’t enough abundance in America to share. I spent much of my life near the poverty line, but I never starved or lacked for consumer goods or access to fast food or even essential medical care thanks to the education my european heritage provided which allowed me to navigate public services better than those who lacked even that. And then I would hear people who slept through school whine about how Native Americans and other people of color were stealing from us while they collected the food stamps I never bothered to apply for, and I could only laugh,

    Liked by 2 people

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