Spin the Globe with Justin Butner

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History Lesson (with Regards to the Natives)

Written 15 November

Hello Class. Quiet down. Take your seats. Today we’re going to learn about the history of a great nation.

A few hundred years ago we were a giant land mass largely unknown to Europe. Then the British started coming over in boats. They looked around the land and found some people who by all outward definitions would seem to be human. But since they had darker skin and couldn’t really be understood, they weren’t really counted. And so the “uninhabited” land was claimed in the name of the Queen.

Why was it so hard to understand the Natives? Well, for starters, there weren’t hundreds of years of history between the two nations. Then there is the fact that it wasn’t a matter of two nations. It was a matter of thousands of nations, all with different cultures and customs, different languages and societies. But since they all lived on one land mass with no clear border patrols or maps, and they all had relatively similar looking skin, and because the English didn’t understand a word they were saying, they were all just considered to be Native. We picked a couple items from one tribe or another to represent all of them, but it was about as fair as picking an oboe and the pope’s hat as representative of all European culture.

Along with white settlers, the boats brought some fun things. Like disease! And blankets. And rats. But mostly disease.

At first both sides were well intentioned. The Natives saw how oblivious the Europeans were to the land and how to survive off of it, so they taught the newcomers. The Europeans in turn wished the Natives well, though they still had every intention of taking their land. For a short while each side did their own thing. But when you have land that is fertile and waters full of fish, everyone tends to gravitate towards it. And when that happened there were disagreements. The Brits at first made treaties to buy the land, but since they were written in English and no translation was really given, the Natives didn’t really understand what they were signing. And so when they didn’t leave the land, the Brits got angry. And violent.

Thanks to the European diseases (Smallpox: the gift that keeps on giving) the weakening of Native societies had already begun. When the clashes started in some areas, the Natives realized they weren’t going to win in battle and so they moved on from their ancestral land. In others, they held their ground. When this happened, a systematic sweep over the land was orchestrated to eradicate the pest problem. Today, we call it genocide. Then, they called it a nuisance.

At some point along the way, our country and Britain parted ways. Some people weren’t in favor of it. Some were. The Natives weren’t really concerned either way, as they were too busy being killed off by disease or hostility.

The white settlers tried a few different things over the years.

After rampant slaughter started to be considered déclassé, they tried forced removal. If there was land that the settlers wanted that had Natives living on it, they would round them all up and ship them west into less desirable land. Then when the settlers expanded and realized they wanted that land too, they would repeat the process. This kept going until most of the natives were put on desert and sandstone land that wasn’t any good for farming. As it turns out, sometimes the infertility of land is due to really useful and rare minerals beneath the surface. Mining rights on the places we displaced the Natives to wasn’t something the settlers were looking ahead towards.

The new country also tried civilizing the “Savages.” After all, it wasn’t really their fault they were born so dark-skinned and far away from the benevolent hand of the British Empire. So the settlers tried educating the Natives in their schools, raising them in the ways of the white man. It really didn’t matter that the Natives resisted. They didn’t know better. So they were taken by force.

Then, about a few decades ago, the white majority had a crisis of conscience. White Guilt!

Maybe it wasn’t such a great thing that the land was taken by force. Maybe slaughter wasn’t the right answer. Oops! But how to right the wrongs of years and years of murder, discrimination, relocation, and generally every other bad thing?

The government is now trying a sort of laissez-faire approach to making it all right. All these pesky laws that get applied to all the citizens – specifically taxes – those can get written right off. After all, throwing money at a problem makes it better right? At least it makes the white majority feel better.

But what problems remain? Well, there is a large rate of despondency. After all, generations of slaughter and being kicked in the teeth do sort of take your spirit away. And so there are high rates of unemployment and suicide in the modern communities of the Natives.

And related to that, high rates of alcoholism. They hadn’t really had alcohol as a thing before the Europeans showed up. But now that it has been introduced into the communities, at the same time as all the other terrible things, it is tearing things up pretty badly. So some communities have responded by declaring themselves dry zones. It seems to work in some regards, so that’s at least something.

And where does that leave us today?

Honestly, I have no idea. The situation is pretty messed up. No one has been able to find a way to make things right. I suppose if there was an easy answer, someone would have found it by now.

So that about covers the history of this country in regards to the Native population that was here when Brits arrived. Any questions?

Oh, good one. The name of the country? Well, that’s simple. It’s Australia. Or is it The United States? I get them confused sometimes.

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This entry was posted on November 20, 2012 by in Australia and tagged , , .

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