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What Is History

What Is History

“Columbus, the Indians, and Human Progress,” found in the book A People’s History of the

United States by Howard Zinn

“1493: The True Importance of Christopher Columbus,” from the book Lies My Teacher

Told Me

Discussion Prompt:

So, how many of you, one of the first words that came to mind when thinking about how Native Americans have been portrayed to you in other classes (thinking all the way back to elementary school) was SAVAGES?

How many of you thought about small groups of half-naked people whooping and hollering while dancing around a fire outside of a teepee?

Most people in my classes, this is their recollection of previous teachings on Native America. Surprising?

So what if I were to tell you that instead of the handful of Natives here in the Americas, there were actually as many as 120 million of them in 1492? That this population size was equal to that found in Europe at that time?

What if I told you that these “savages” lived in cities–sophisticated cities, many more sophisticated than Paris, France at that time. Not just the Incas or the Mayans either, there were cities all over the Americas. That the Americas are home to the greatest

number of pyramids in the world…that the largest pyramid in the world is actually in the Americas not in Egypt, and that one side of the base

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of this pyramid measures a half mile in length? And that it has just been discovered within the last 10 years because it had been literally swallowed up by the Amazon jungle?

Did any of you know all of this? Most of my students are dumbfounded by these revelations.

And if I were to ask you to name something foundational to this country that we have adopted from Native America, how many of you could give me an answer?

I ask you all of these things as we continue our discussions of the “discoverer” of America, Christopher Columbus, for a reason. Was he truly the discoverer of this land? Were there other foreigners who came here long before Columbus? Why don’t we celebrate the Afro- Phoenicians (Africans) as “discoverers” of America? Or the Chinese? For that matter, why do we celebrate a “discoverer” at all when there were already 120 million people living here?

Why do we not celebrate Native Americans as one of the great “founders” of this country as we do Columbus, or the Pilgrims, or Washington, Jefferson, etc? Are they not part of our foundations? How would James Loewen explain this?

Especially since much of our ideas about democracy actually come from Native Americans?

YES, DEMOCRACY….one of the ideas that makes up the very foundations of this country comes from the Iroquois Confederacy.

I would bet very few of you knew this….

What are your thoughts about all of this? What other issues came up for you in your readings and the lecture?


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