Native Americans and Indigenous People: A Global Perspective


As we celebrate Thanksgiving in the United States, school children are taught that the early settlers from England were welcomed by the native inhabitants they encountered in the New World. Students learn that the Indians, misidentified by Christopher Columbus who thought he was going to India, welcomed the English, helped them plant food, and celebrated the harvest with them. While this story of how the native population of North America welcomed the immigrants from Europe is a positive lesson for children to learn, there is more to the story, much of it not very positive.

Some of us are struggling with what it means to be an “American” and what defines “American culture.” When our time-honored traditions are challenged, there is a natural tendency to push back against change. However, “time-honored” should not be interpreted as all-encompassing or even accurate.

History is typically written by the victors and the most powerful, and our history in the United States has been shaped by white men of European decent. That is not an indictment, but an observation to be considered carefully. The reality is that the history we learn in school is only part of the story.

We as a society must push ourselves to learn “the rest of the story,” as Paul Harvey used to say. It is important to note that the study of Indigenous people is a vital field of study that does not diminish the study of Western Civilization; rather, it is an essential field of study that offers balance. Exploring the history of Indigenous people, migration, the role of women, the plight of Blacks, and other studies don’t “re-write” history. Instead, these studies allow for a greater and more complete understanding of not only us in this country, but our place in the world.

The United States is a rich patchwork of elements that have shaped us over time. I would argue that the United States may represent the most successful globalization story in the world, as people from every corner of the world have added their talents and traditions to our vibrant “American culture.”

As we celebrate November and December holidays, let’s start with a deeper and more complete understanding of Native Americans and Indigenous people. They are an integral part of who we are as Americans.

Angela Weck,
Executive Director of the Peoria Area World Affairs Council

Peoria Area World Affairs Council presents an International News Roundup at 7 p.m. on the second and fourth Thursday of each month. Go to the website for more information.

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