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America Before Columbus

When Columbus came to America in 1492,
there were over 75 million people,
twenty-five million living in North America,
inhabiting the land he supposedly discovered.
Columbus called them Indians
believing he had reached the east by going west.

The natives had migrated across the Bering Straits
and settled into warmer areas of the continent.
The Hopi Indians were building cliff dwellings,
farming and creating villages about a
thousand years before Christ in what is now New Mexico.

When Julius Caesar was conquering the Western world, an Indian culture called the Moundbuilders,
who lived in the Ohio Valley, were making huge
structures out of earth.
One of them was said to be over three miles long and the area served as a trading post.
Indians came from the west, the Gulf of Mexico and the Midwest to trade and exchange goods.
So you can see a system of trade and commerce existed before Columbus arrived.

In what is now called Pennsylvania and upper state
New York, lived the Iroquois.
The Iroquois lived in villages and had a very sophisticated social system which was in many ways
superior to the European culture.
The land was worked in common
and was owned by the whole nation.
Women held a much higher place in the
Iroquois culture versus the European.
For instance, family names were tied to the women not the men. When a man married, he joined the family of his wife.
Women farmed the land while the men hunted for fish and game. Men and women shared power
and the European model of male dominance was conspicuously absent in Iroquois culture.
Children were not punished harshly and taught
equality in possessions.
This is contrasted with the severity of the Puritans who believed in harsh punishment.

What did the culture of the Europeans bring to the new world? The Europeans were a society of both rich and poor, controlled by priests, governors and male heads of families.
The Iroquois society had no laws, sheriffs, judges or juries,
however boundaries of behavior existed. If someone stole food or shamed their family, they were banished until they had morally atoned for their actions.

So this was the land Columbus "found."
There was no written language,
but their history was passed on by an oral culture that was far superior to the Europeans.
They told their history through songs and fables. They paid attention to the development of an individual's personality.
This kind of community lasted among natives
long after the Indians were conquered.
John Collier who lived with the tribes of the American Southwest said of the spirit of the natives,
"if we could make it our own, there would be an eternally inexhaustible earth and a forever lasting peace."

Perhaps this is myth-making. But these ideas have been repeated in European journals.
What can we learn from this?
First, we can see that hierarchy leads to divisions in all societies and this stratification of power leads to dominance by a few to the cost of many.
This is true of all European systems whether it be capitalism or communism.

Secondly, mere laws and punishment do not lead to a peaceful society.
Maybe we should study other cultures in our schools and incorporate some of their beliefs into our own violent society.

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