Post Script . . . Why Native Americans should monitor descriptions of colonial history
A long time POOF member, who is also a member of a state-recognized tribe in Alabama, emailed me last night. His opinion was that most Native Americans or descendants of Native Americans were not particularly interested in what the Spanish, French or English did . . . and probably would prefer to see our articles focus on Native American culture, traditions and issues.
Well, Sam, here is one the problems with focusing on indigenous traditions. The only Native American peoples in the Southeast, who had a writing system at the time of European Contact, were members of the Creek Confederacy . . . and we still have not figured out that writing system! Think of all the wealth of information I was able to glean from just a few 288 year old documents, which consisted of the English translations of written Creek documents. Apparently, very soon after those documents were translated, the Creeks forgot how to write in their own system.
The biggest obstacle to relying solely on indigenous sources is the Native American holocaust. The population of the Southeast declined by between 90% to 95% between 1500 AD and 1700 AD. By 1720, Florida’s indigenous peoples had been virtually exterminated. In 1653, the Parakusate (High King) of Apalache bragged to Richard Briggstock that he didn’t have worry about either the Spanish or the English because he had over 7,000 soldiers in two days walking distance of his capital. His soldiers were already learning how to use firearms and steel weapons. After the 1696 smallpox plague, the Kingdom of Apalache ceased to exist. Virtually all of its educated elite were dead.
Combating the eurocentric viewpoint by academia and the media
Since virtually all the written Colonial Period sources, except the Creek Migration Legends, were made by Europeans, academicians have almost consistently evaluated artifacts and archaeological evidence from a European perspective. The third generation of archaeologists began using the opinions of respected members of the first and second generations as “facts” rather than going back to the primary sources. Add to that the general cultural ignorance of most folks in the USA these days and you have a mess. The historians and anthropologists are using false locations for Chicora and Fort Caroline as benchmarks for locating every Native people in the Lower Southeast, except the Cherokees. Even though there is no evidence of the Cherokee’s presence until the late 1600s, academicians use “faith-based” science to place them in the Southern Appalachians anyway.
When National Geographic Magazine published an article about Hernando de Soto’s journey from Florida to Northeast Georgia, they hired a Vietnamese-American artist to paint the illustrations for the article. He did beautiful artwork, but his images of the Florida Apalachee and Creek’s ancestors were entirely wrong. The De Soto Chronicles stated that the Florida Apalachee wore skirts made of Spanish moss or grass. The artist portrayed them to look something like the Lakota! This painting above portrays the first contact between the Toasi Creeks and De Soto’s Expedition on the Ocmulgee River in central Georgia. The artist portrayed the Toasi as diminutive Amazonian hunters. In fact, the De Soto Chronicles stated that the Toasi were a foot taller than the Spanish. They had medium length hair in a bun and wore turbans. Their men’s tunics and women’s dresses displayed brightly colored and ornate patterns. They wore sandals.
If I had back then the professional credibility that I enjoy now, I would have reamed National Geographic for those paintings. However, I didn’t and so 300 million Americans and Lord knows how many other people in the world went on thinking that the Creek People were ignorant, primitive savages until given the blessings of civilization by Europeans.
Here is another example. In the May/June 2005 issue of Archaeology Magazine, the dean of Florida anthropology, Dr. Jerald T Milanich wrote an article entitled, “The Devil in the Details.” The article was the report on his analysis of the water color paintings created by Jacques Le Moyne, the resident artist and mapmaker at Fort Caroline. Milanich came to the conclusion that Le Moyne never saw any Indians or else created artistic fantasies for European consumption.
The reason for Milanich’s condemnation of Le Moyne’s artwork was that the Natives he portrayed did not look like Florida Indians. They had the cultural traits of the more advanced peoples of northwestern South America. He was right about his observations, but wrong about his conclusion.
You see . . . Jacques Le Moyne was never within the boundaries of the State of Florida. All of his scenes were painted near the Altamaha and Satilla Rivers in present day Georgia. That’s because Fort Caroline was on the Georgia Coast.
Le Moyne painted Georgia’s indigenous peoples. All of Fort Caroline’s indigenous neighbors spoke either Panoan or Tupi languages from South America. Those who survived the onslaught of Spanish imperialism quickly moved to south-central Georgia, the Lower Chattahoochee River Basin, the Georgia Mountains or Central Alabama. They eventually became members of either the Creek Confederacy, Yamasee Confederacy or the Elate Confederacy.
So how are Native American scholars going to fight this deeply embedded spider web that mixes inaccurate 20th century speculations with superficial accounts of the Early Colonial Period, unless we analyze the original eyewitness accounts of European explorers and do a better job of interpreting them? That is why you see POOF articles again and again doing detailed analysis of the European explorers and early colonies.
Now you know!
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