Column: Blood Cries Out from the Soil

Rhyd Wildermuth —  August 9, 2014 — 61 Comments

Collected Buffalo Skulls, 1870. The U.S. Government and private corporations encouraged the slaughter of Buffalo to starve First Nations peoples.

(this is for the dead)

Fighter jets are flying overhead; their screeching rage punctuating the rumbling roar of heavy-tread machines behind me. Particles of dust and exhaust cling to sweat-drenched skin in the searing sun. Everything feels dry, desiccated, as if all the shadowed life of this place has been swept over by a sudden desert.

My attention’s drawn to something unexpected–four red strokes against white, crimson vivid as blood, pasted against a steel pole. It’s a glyph, a sigil, with a power steeped in terror.  I need to leave this place to find a friend, but my attention is held. Something hardens in me as I stare, a sorrow awakening in veins constricted by anger.

I cannot believe what I am seeing. I look around myself to see if others note it. Women wearing head-scarfs are gathered nearby, speaking to each other quietly next to buildings which soon, too, will become rubble to be hauled away. It’s unlikely they’ve seen this mark.

I scrape it off the pole. No one seems to note my actions, neither the uniformed man who watches the gathering of Arabs a hundred feet from this pole, nor all the others passing by. It peels off easily, and I slip it into a pocket to show others, just as another aerial machine-of-death makes a second pass over where I stand.

“Indian Country”

I’m standing on a street corner in Seattle, not the Middle-East.

There’s a naval celebration going on–those jets are The Blue Angels a military performance troupe. I’m not in the middle of a declared war-zone, but I am in the middle of an occupation. And the sticker? It was three K’s, placed on a light pole in the middle of a traditionally black neighborhood undergoing massive gentrification. The bulldozers behind me are tearing down old homes and shops to make room for high-priced condominiums.

This was not far from the house I’m staying at. My host has been a First Nations man who was adopted out as a child to a white family who actively worked to keep him disconnected from his indigenous past. Neither of us have ancestral connections to Seattle, though he’s got closer claims to actually being on this land than I.

Also, he’s gay, like I am. Seattle’s a remarkably “tolerant” place for sexual minorities who play the middle-class games.  It’s one of the reasons why I’ve stayed here so long, why I returned here after being gone for a year. I was elsewhere, searching for home, but this place called me back.

But by being here, I’m helping to displace the people who lived in this neighborhood before. In fact, this was one of the few places where blacks could live in Seattle due to redlining and other practices. I’ve met folks who still remember when it was called “coon town.”  They’re younger than you’d think.

White, mostly liberal folks, flooded this area after the recent housing-price collapse, buying up foreclosed homes. Many of those evicted were black. Many, from the stories I’d heard, had taken out equity loans on houses that their grandparents were born in and found the sudden inflation of rates meant they couldn’t pay it back. Real estate agents harassed the residents who hadn’t lost their homes; My neighbor and friend complained of still getting unsolicited offers from white realtors several times a week. The poor, mostly minorities were pushed out, and bourgeois entered.

Blacks were hauled over in slave ships to help white people make money in America. Immigrants were brought in to build the railroads and then vehemently oppressed when they were finished.  And all these groups helped displace the indigenous First Nations before them.

Did I just say displaced? I’m sorry. I meant slaughtered.

You used to be able to get money for “Indian” scalps. The U.S. government once encouraged people to shoot buffalo to help starve the First Nation resistance to westward expansion. Freed-slaves who joined the army were heavily involved in the Indian Wars and called Buffalo soldiers. And even today, “Indian Country” is U.S. Military slang for enemy territory.

But because of all that violence, the smallpox blankets and massacres and starvation, this open, tolerant, liberal city I live in has space for me. I’m “free” to practice my Pagan religion now, and the same military which killed natives now officially recognizes both my religion and my sexuality. This is all supposed to be “progress,” except I just saw a KKK sticker in a traditionally black, gentrifying neighborhood, and we’re all on stolen, conquered, and occupied land.

We Inhabit The Past

buffalo 4What we know and believe that the past and our histories greatly determine how we encounter the present. Without knowledge of slavery, for instance, I might be inclined to see the poverty of minorities in America as some sort of problem inherent within their cultures or, worst of all, intrinsic to their very nature.  And if I am ignorant of that past, I might encounter all the anger, rage, and despair of minority communities as unwarranted, unjustified, and dangerous.

Most everyone, though, knows about slavery and has at least a vague understanding of the slaughter of First Nations people on this continent, so the matter is less what is actually known than what is actually believed about those things.

As I’ve mentioned before, belief affects human actions, not just human perceptions. Our accepted histories are not mere narrative. They rise to the category of belief precisely because they determine the way we encounter the present.

One of the most difficult problems in our histories is the notion of “progress;” the Enlightenment notion that we have moved beyond the past into a better present. This Progress Narrative is a way of divorcing and disconnecting our present from all the atrocities of the past while justifying our actions now. Once, Americans held slaves and treated minorities as less-than-human, but now, we are equal. Once, Americans slaughtered indigenous peoples on this land, but now we’ve passed to a more progressive, enlightened state.

It’s a narrative of the past, certainly, but it defines what we think of ourselves now. Post-Colonial, Marxist, and Anarchist scholars have variously noted how Western civilization creates a conception of itself which poses all other present and former societies as primitive, existing in a less (politically, economically, and socially) evolved state. That is, it “others” all societies besides itself, positions itself as the most-evolved form of society humanity has yet attained, and then sees all societies (including itself) through this filter.

A particularly pernicious effect of this, though, is that parts of our own society that do not fit this narrative become ignored, made invisible by the story we tell about ourselves. We see moments of crime against sexual, religious, and racial minorities as aberrations to the liberal, tolerant society in which we live, as if all the past is behind us and all the blood of scalped and starved natives, of tortured slaves, of murdered immigrants do not, even now, fertilize the ground upon which we plant our organic gardens. And when we look at our past, we disconnect those events from the present in which we live. The displacement of peoples, slavery, First Nations genocide–those happened then, but we live in now.

But history is full of processes, not just events and presences, which continue to haunt and continue to not just shape but inhabit our modern interactions with each other.

The post-colonial historian, Dipesh Chakrabarty, writing about European mode of disenchantment and secularism, noted:

what allows historians to historicize the medieval or the ancient is the very fact that these worlds are never completely lost. We inhabit their fragments even as we classify ourselves as modern or secular (Provincializing Europe, p112).

This has a terrifying consequence. Our notion of being different and removed from the atrocities of the past is utterly false, even more so when those atrocities are unacknowledged and unrepaired. White Americans do not currently own African slaves, but the conditions of slavery continue to affect the descendants of those slaves and the wealth derived from slavery continues to benefit the descendants of those owners and American society. The land taken from indigenous peoples through violence is where we all now live. We’re not just the inheritors of atrocity–we are also the beneficiaries and the continuation of them.

We can look at our present through this lens and start to understand much of our current political, racial, and economic crises and how we, willingly or more often inadvertently, continue the atrocities of the past into the present. The United States of America was birthed in colonization with the oppression of peoples. Is it any wonder that our government supports other governments doing similar things?  It took a very long time for the U.S. Government to stop supporting Apartheid in South Africa precisely because “European settlers on non-European land” looked awfully familiar.  We can see the same thing in the Middle-East, as well. Regardless of what one thinks of that conflict, it should give us pause that the U.S. Government has given more military aid to the Israeli government since the second World War than to any other country in the world.

“Not in My Name”


From the frontispiece of Leviathan, by Thomas Hobbes

Speaking of governments, one of the other legacies of The Enlightenment besides Capitalism, Nationalism and Democracy, is the notion of complicity. Like egregores, the modern state demands a shared identification of its people. That is, since sovereignty no longer derives from the land or the gods and now is said to derive from “the people,” it’s become difficult to separate the actions of a government from the people whom they are said to represent.

This is different in other countries though. I first noticed it with a German friend. She and I had been talking about American CIA involvement in the overthrow of socialist governments in the Middle East and South America. I’d said to her something regarding how “we claim to believe in Democracy, but will undermine it when the people vote for someone we don’t like.”

“Why do you keep saying ‘we?'” she asked me.

I didn’t understand the question.

“We?  Why ‘We’?  You weren’t there, and you didn’t do it. The government did. Americans often say ‘we,’ and I don’t understand why. Germans don’t do that.”

I’d noticed this, but had thought it was merely a linguistic difference. “You never say ‘we’ when talking about Germany?”

“That’d be silly,” she replied. “I’m not Germany. I’m German, but I’m not Germany. You’re not America, either.”

I still think on that matter. It was relieving to understand that I was not personally responsible for everything the U.S. government had ever done. It was also terrifying, because I began to understand the meaning of implicit consent; how people in power were bombing children in Afghanistan and Iraq as if they represented my interests, and I was helping to pay for it with taxes from my paltry wages.

Before I’d understood this, my reactions to the founding (and foundational) violence of America were most often ones of disbelief. Sometimes I’d accuse the historian of such horrors of lying, or twisting facts towards an agenda.  But I realized I was mostly just being defensive, because I couldn’t believe “we” had done such a thing.

Thing is, “we” didn’t. Others did, just as others do now. But they did it in “our” name, just as they do now.

I’m a vehemently anti-racist Pagan Anarchist. On what grounds could a government ever have thought I’d want them to kill indigenous people? Or buffalos? Or allow and encourage people to own slaves?  And how could they possibly think that they’d be accurately representing my will by dropping bombs on children in the Middle East?

The answer’s awfully obvious. No government such as that could ever speak on my behalf.

There’s another side to this idea of sovereignty and complicity. If the actions of a government are a reflection of the will of the people, then it makes perfect sense that our government was wrong to attack us directly.  For any government to attack the people for whom that government is a mere proxy. After all, governments just do what they’re elected to do, right?

Many Gods, No Masters

So here I am, a gay Pagan living on stolen land. I didn’t steal it, but that doesn’t change the fact that it was stolen. Not having been directly responsible, I cannot personally make amends, nor can I, with all the magic of the gods and spirits, hope to resurrect the dead, to undo those crimes.

More difficult, I have little choice in this matter. I live where I can; where I can afford; where things are open to me; where I feel safe. And I’m bound by the citizenship conferred to me at birth. I cannot merely “go back to Europe,” to my ancestral lands, because I have no legal claim to do so.

I guess I could perhaps do what many people do, which is ignore the whole thing, tuck the horrors away into a neat little envelope called “past” and pretend like these things don’t still happen. The more I work with spirits, though, the more I realize the dead don’t just go away like that. Besides, the horrors continue.  Poor minorities are still shot dead on American soil by city militia. The descendants of slaves continue to live in deep poverty and are thrown in prisons now, instead of slave ships.  And the government which claims to represent me, which derives sovereignty from my “consent,” slaughters people in other countries, too.

Knowing all that, I cannot look away.

This, too, is why it’s impossible for me not to see conflicts elsewhere as part of the same legacy of which we, in America, still re-enact. Watching the conflict in Israel/Palestine, I cannot help but think both of the plight of the people in the occupied territories and their poverty as being similar to what the indigenous people around me suffer. Simultaneously, I cannot help but identify with people in Israel who did not themselves choose to steal land from others. Many of them are the descendants of people who moved elsewhere, some are also people who fled from violence and hatred elsewhere.

Besides thinking Capitalism is the worst thing we’ve ever come up with, this is why I’m an Anarchist. The foundational violence which haunts every “freedom” in America was perpetrated by people who were not me. The violence which America still enacts in the world is committed by people who falsely claim to be acting on my behalf. I did not consent to those horrors, nor do I consent to them now, nor will I allow them to do those things on my behalf.

Anarchism doesn’t stop at rejection of a government. Recognizing that the suffering of other people relies on my implicit consent, I cannot allow that violence to occur. Governments who claim to represent my interests and who extract money from me in order to commit atrocities must be toppled, and the conditions which have allowed them to thrive must be changed so that they no longer may do so.

My Anarchism, however, is also my Paganism. The gods and spirits we’ve pushed out of our present continue to exist, as do the dead. Just because I live in the present, I am not absolved from my inheritance, nor of my legacy.  I cannot perform rituals on stolen land without working to have it returned, I cannot worship gods of place and people without fighting those who’d poison those places and sever those people from their gods.

There’s something really liberating about this knowledge, though. The notion that the past is dead is false, and this means we Pagans who are attempting to reconstruct ancient worship of ancient gods are still living among fragments of those religions. We don’t need to prefix what we’re doing with “neo-,” even if what we come up with, guided by our gods, is a different configuration from what our ancestors had.

That is, if the past is not ever truly gone, it can be rewoven, reshaped. It’s around us now. Processes which started centuries ago and continue to this day can be ended and amended. Fragments buried in plain sight under our illusion of being modern can be teased out from their hiding places.

We only need to stop claiming that the past is over, so we can own up to the past that is still with us.

Rhyd Wildermuth

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Rhyd often lives in a city by the Salish Sea in occupied Duwamish territory. He’s a bard, theorist, anarchist, and writer, the editor of A Beautiful Resistance and co-founder of Gods&Radicals, author of Your Face Is a Forest and a columnist for The Wild Hunt. He growls when he’s thinking, laughs when he’s happy, cries when he’s sad, and does all those things when he’s in love. He worships Welsh gods, drinks a lot of tea, and dreams of forests, revolution, and men. His words can be found at and can be supported on Patreon (
  • Wolf Dreamer

    Thank you for this powerful essay. My guts ache and my eyes well. The dead and the land cry out for justice.

  • Hecate_Demetersdatter

    Thank you for writing this.

  • Charles Cosimano

    I’m very glad my forebears took this land. If they had not my genetic material would never have mixed. We won.

    • Trevelyan

      The fact that you can make such an utterance after an article like this is rather mind-blowing in both its ignorance and insensitivity.

      “We won”? And who is this “we” you refer to, and what did they “win”, other than a brutal colonialist legacy and blood on their hands?

      • steward

        Maybe you didn’t read it closely enough about the genetic material mixing. It seems obvious to me that Charles’ “we” refers to the hybrids produced among European and “indigenous” peoples.

        • Trevelyan

          I read it quite closely and understood perfectly. Being glad for one’s personal “genetic material” in the face of 200 years’ worth of human slaughter is pretty selfish and disgusting from where I stand.

          • Trevelyan

            And the fact that “we won” is his response to such brutality is even more disgusting.

          • steward

            But you continue to presume that “we” refers only to conquerors in the past tense, rather than the current admixture of races. He claims to have an admixture of genetic material… so his claim is made both as conqueror AND conquered. Do you deny the right of the part of him that is conquered to state, from his point of view, that this came about to a good ending, even if it came about from what we, today, regard as barbarism?

          • Trevelyan

            He has the “right” to say whatever he pleases, but in the here and now its incredibly distasteful. To position oneself and one’s existence as important enough to justify and be glad for colonization is some sick narcissism and delusion.

          • Metalanimalanimal

            Great you’re offended. Now you can start an argument on the internet.

  • MrWeil

    A lesson more of this community must learn. Wave the black flag high.

  • steward

    “The land taken from indigenous peoples through violence is where we all now live.”

    This speaks of indigenous peoples as a homogenous group. They weren’t. They fought. They conquered other lands, other peoples, and were conquered in their turn. Land was taken from OTHER peoples who in turn likely took it from OTHER peoples. It’s turtles all the way down.

    If you want to call it stolen, or taken, fine. But first acknowledge that in all likelihood the lands that the Europeans took were taken from people who likely took it from other people from the waves of Siberian migration.

    • Roi de Guerre

      Ok. Point taken. It might be turtles all the way down but that doesn’t mean it has to be the same turtles all the way up.

      I grew up in the deep South, heir to the foibles and victories of a family whose residence in that same area extends back hundreds of years. And yes, some of my ancestors bought slaves. Yet we were considered subversive. We sought out and reunited families that had been shattered on the auction block. Every person who joined us was restored to freedom (legally possible, even though tenuous in practice). Every person was given an equal share of the profits from the plantation (my family also took on an equal share). Everyone lived in homes, not slave quarters, and my family built the local church with their own hands for the community. That church stands today and is still thriving. My ancestors fought against the culture by using its own tools against it, rescuing and reuniting hundreds of families.

      My point is that Rhyd is corrrect. When we carry with us knowledge of the land, when we listen to its memories, that knowledge informs and alters our actions, freeing us to be better, to do better.

      I teach and practice that knowledge plus experience produces understanding, understanding produces wisdom, and wisdom produces empathy.

      When we learn empathy we call upon
      a new kind of turtle.

      • steward

        I agree about having knowledge and experience and empathy.

        I agree that it is good to do better going forward.

        But Rhys wrote:

        “I am not absolved from my inheritance, nor of my legacy”

        and I refuse to acknowledge that I have any responsibility for what the European conquerors of the area now called the United States did. This is the Christian doctrine of Original Sin, an attainder of blood, in a Pagan disguise. I have nothing to be absolved from.

        (Possibly if my spirit was a conqueror my reincarnated spirit has something to be absolved from… but for all I know I’m the reincarnation of Chief Joseph – and before him, possibly, British General Edward Braddock.)

        And I don’t know if Rhys believes in reincarnation or not… but wouldn’t it be ironic if he feels the need to be absolved – but his spirit over the last thousand years until this one incarnated in the First Nations?

        • You haven’t even bothered to get my name correct, but this is unsurprising, given the lack of thought you’ve put into any of your arguments.

          Sod off, mate. Go justify colonization elsewhere. Stormfront’s got open membership, I’m sure.

          • steward

            You know what? Look at your keyboard, the s and the d are really close together. Typos happen,

            And so do personal insults in support of an insupportable column, as well, I see.

        • Roi de Guerre

          “So here I am, a gay Pagan living on stolen land. I didn’t steal it, but that doesn’t change the fact that it was stolen. Not having been directly responsible, I cannot personally make amends…”

          I disagree with your point about this being original sin in disguise, as Rhyd implies in the quote above. It’s just not possible for us to undo the wrongs.

          However, we should be cognizant of the advantages and privileges that we may have enjoyed or employed that originated from those earlier wrongs.

          There are significant generational effects as a result of those earlier inequities. I do believe that we have an obligation to act to correct those inequities.

          So while it’s not original sin, we still are morally and ethically obligated to take action today.

          For example, the US signed treaties and then broke them. Should we not honor those treaties today? Technically they are still in force. There is a whole list of wrongs to be righted.

          When stolen artwork is discovered, the courts award possession to the original owners or their estates even several generations after the original crime.

          Why should we be so selective in our justice?

          Look here to see what this kind of justice can look like:

          • steward

            Well, the Federal Government does a nice little dance about those treaties. On the one hand, in certain situations, the sovereignty of “recognized” tribes – and there’s a whole lot of tribes that aren’t recognized, for dubious reasons – is upheld. I work in Child Support Enforcement, and when seeking support from someone who lives on First Nation sovereign land – or the reverse – we treat the petition just like we’d treat something from England or Scotland (the UK actually has separate treaties) or the Czech Republic. If there is no treaty, it is very difficult for us to pursue.

            On the other hand, not even those treaties are listed in the Department of State’s Treaties in Force (see .) In another forum, years back, in an online conversation that included people considered First Nation even if living outside the allocated lands, I suggested that as a first step that the First Nations – and/or their Peoples – get the BIA transferred from the Department of the Interior to the Department of State. This first step would be largely symbolic, but would be a powerful symbol to build later treaty recognition into – because Interior deals with territory that the US has sovereign jurisdiction over, whereas State deals with territory that the US does NOT have sovereign jurisdiction over. Some of them took my suggestion back to whatever First Nation deliberative bodies there are, but they decided not to.

            And nobody’s gotten any further except for some philosophizing. The first step in the US system of justice to honoring the treaties is for the Federal Government to acknowledge those treaties are in force – and that can never happen while Interior is in charge of this mess.

            I’ve spent over 25 years working in a state Judiciary (and now have to insert the disclaimer that my employer does not necessarily endorse what I write.) I’ve dealt with the sovereign governments of tribes that have child support and custody treaties with the US. I’ve talked to their representatives by phone, ensuring that our computer systems have the correct wording to address their judicial system, and ensured that our local offices know that they are dealing with another country when dealing with these sovereign entities.

            I agree that the treaties, if they are in force – and I’d have to see them to know whether they are or not – should be enforced.

            But it’s not going to happen NOW. It’s unlikely to happen in the next 20 years or so even. And it’s NEVER going to happen if it’s not done in a quiet way that doesn’t attract the attention of people that would put money and time into stopping it. Switching BIA over to State is, I think, a good, low-key first step. People who are really interested in this could start compiling treaties instead of philosophizing.

            Oh, and someone should ASK the ruling councils of the First Nations if they want any of this to happen. For all I know, many of them may be in better shape under Interior regulation than they would be under State Department treaty enforcement. According to various sources, the sale of Manhattan to the Dutch for 60 guilders may or may not be true – but the Netherlands government claims to have the original 1626 document at the Hague. Some treaties may be no better than that.

        • Trevelyan

          You may not have any direct “responsibility”, but you still reap the benefits. That’s the point you seem to be missing. Its nothing like Original Sin. This is literal. Not only did you and do you directly benefit from colonialism, you retain more privileges overall on this stolen land than its original inhabitants who still live here do!

          • steward

            The basis of the Roman Catholic doctrine of original sin is that all descendants of the persons who first sinned get the consequences, good and bad, from the sin, and therefore have a responsibility for that sin (the bad consequences, that is, sickness and death) imposed on them as well. You can find many documents explaining the concept at . No person has any direct responsibility for what Adam and Eve did, but they still reap the consequences.

            And I’m still waiting to hear about the “original inhabitants”. This can get very tricky, especially in an oral tradition. About the only place one can be reasonably sure of “original inhabitants” is Africa, when and where Homo Sapiens first evolved. For example, one Lenni Lenape site says on its historical page:

            “The peace loving Lenni-Lenape are called the “grandfathers” or “ancient ones” by many other tribes and are considered to be among the most ancient of the Northeastern Nations, spawning many of the tribes along the northeastern seaboard. We were known as warriors and diplomats, often keeping the peace and mediating disputes between our neighboring Native Nations and were admired by European colonist for our hospitality and mediation skills.”

            Now, if the Lenni Lenape were busy trying to keep the peace and mediating disputes, then the surrounding nations were warring. Usually, a war results in changes in occupants of a land. So, maybe the Lenni Lenape were the original occupants of their land (but how did they get so good at diplomacy if they didn’t need it personally), but their history speaks to a history of conquerors among their neighboring nations. Further, as they claim the history of their tribe on their land goes back over 10,000 years, that’s 10,000 years of trying to keep the peace – even if land only changed hands 500 years at a time, it still makes the surrounding nations at the time of the European invasion the Twentieth Nations, not the First Nations.

          • Trevelyan

            Dude. Seriously. You can’t f**king compare Original Sin to what the writer is saying here. Original Sin is a theoretical concept. You has to believe in it. As opposed to white privilege, which you LITERALLY benefit from every day. You benefit from the sins of those who came before you in REAL TIME, not according to some stupid church doctrine.

            And I’m not even going to touch your babble about the Lenape. Nothing disgusts me more than someone trying to defend colonialism.

          • steward

            The entire notion of treaties is a philosophical concept. In fact, one problem with many of the treaties between the US and tribes under the current Constitution is that the tribes thought they were renting things to the European settlers, and the settlers thought they were buying things. So too is religion a philosophical concept.

            As far as my “babble” about the Lenni Lenape… they make the claim of being diplomats going back to when the British Isles were only settled by pre-sapient men. Now, if you want to call them liars, I don’t think much of your concern for their well-being in the past, or now.

            Unfortunately, they don’t have the Treaty of 1778 on their site, but I’m sure with your astounding talents you can find it. Take especial look at article 6; possibly you can even find out if it ever got ratified, or if a people that claims 10,000 years of diplomatic and mediation experience somehow got gypped by descendants from a nation that was around for a far shorter period.

          • Trevelyan

            Once again you completely miss the point. You know what’s not a philosophical concept? The benefits you reap from colonialism. They’re as real as the hands you type with.

            And yes, your babble on the Lenape is just that, babble, because you come about it as thought it was a fair fight between two powers. You seem clueless as to the systematics behind European-style colonialism. It’s as though you truly can’t see the difference between a fair fight and genocide.

          • steward

            Actually, until I started researching on the web for facts or assertions based on your comments, I didn’t think it was a fair fight between two powers. I still don’t think it was – but my opinion on who had the upper hand has changed.

            I thought the British and Early Americans had the upper hand in negotiations; but given that one current sovereign government of Lenni Lenape claims over 10,000 years of diplomacy – that is to say, they were negotiating treaties when the British Isles were still inhabited by Cro-Magnon man – it seems that if one actually researches the subject, the Lenni Lenape had the upper hand.

            Unless you want to claim that they’re lying; now; TODAY.

            What happened in the past happened in the past. I don’t believe anyone can reasonably take responsibility for first conditions (go look it up in an economics textbook if you’re not familiar with the term, but since you seem to be an expert on the economics of colonialism, I would think you’d know what it means.)

            What you are responsible for is whether or not you believe today’s First Nations’ account of their own history – and their account claims that their ancestors were much more experienced at diplomacy than the British, or, for that matter, Western Europeans.

            Go on with your unresearched drivel, though – I have too many things to do with someone who is a radical version of a Bobblehead, who provides about as many facts as that traditionally reactionary segment of American politics does.

          • thehouseofvines

            I think you’re a liar and an idiot; doesn’t mean I want to see you beaten, raped, forcibly converted to an alien religion and way of life, forcibly removed from to your home and forcibly put under ground.

            False dichotomies are for suckers.

          • thehouseofvines

            Again, major difference between warring with your neighbors over land and engaging in the systematic eradication of populations and their culture. Show me where the indigenous peoples participated in the latter and I’ll condemn them as vociferously as I do European Christians.

          • steward

            True. And it can easily be shown that genocidal tendencies of practitioners of the Abrahamic faiths derive from Deut. 7:1-5.

            But here we have a problem: oral histories vs. written histories. It can reasonably be inferred that wars requiring outside mediation occurred on a not infrequent basis among the neighbors of the Lenni Lenape, based on their website. Their website does not go into the nature of the wars and whether or not they were genocidal in nature.

        • Tony Rella

          Our personal past lives or spiritual whatsits are irrelevant. This is tangible, economic, social, geopolitical reality that persists. The companies that profited from slavery kept their profits, and the descendants of slaves are experiencing mass incarceration and continued disenfranchisement while claiming to be a beacon of equality.

          Even if I was a slave in my last life, in this life today I don’t get stopped and harassed by police the way contemporary black citizens do. Even if I was a First Nations person in a previous life, in this life I did not grow up facing poverty and cultural oppression the way living First Nations people do. This isn’t about absolution or making our white guilt better, this is about the actual continued consequences of our history.

          • Northern_Light_27

            ” This is tangible, economic, social, geopolitical reality that persists.”

            And physiological reality. We live in a time when epigenetic research has shown us the reality– what our ancestors suffered is written on our genes and what we suffer will be passed down to our children.Trauma directly affects intergenerational health– if you think about that, you can’t *not* want to fix these broken systems.

    • Trevelyan

      Comparing what may have been “stolen” during the Siberian migrations with the damage done by European colonialism is an incredibly disingenuous comparison, sorry. Thats like comparing a military campaign to a fist fight.

      • steward

        Was the land likely taken many times or not? How many times may it have been stolen before it was stolen by Europeans? It is you that is being disingenuous.

        • Intertribal warfare is not comparable to the wholesale slaughter of hundreds of different cultures. It is not comparable at all. Wars of territory happen. What happened to countless Native people was nothing less than genocide. The eradication of entire peoples, then most of the survivors’ children being forced into ‘education camps’ to ‘kill the Indian but save the man’ is not comparable to warring tribes.

          The questions you ask are rather moot. How many times the land has been taken is not the subject of the conversation here. These are red herrings. If you profit from the suffering of others, you profit from the suffering of others. In this case, these are genocides visited not only upon Native people, but black people as well.

          My Ancestors did not keep black slaves. My great-grandpa didn’t make it here from Holland until WWI. Yet, as he did, I benefit from all the devastation wreaked upon black and Native peoples because of the color of my skin. To not recognize this, and to play this off as you have, is vile. This is no Original Sin. This isn’t separation from God; this is trying to separate one’s privilege from history. This is trying to bury genocide. My great-grandfather and his children did not cause any of the atrocities that allowed them to live well here, but he, and all his descendants, still benefited from it.

          • It’s unsurprising that a Heathen would immediately be able to cut through that argument, Sarenth! What others are referring to as “original sin” is much better described by the concepts of fate and wyrd, yeah? I’ve noticed that the polytheist traditions, in particular, have a greater perception of these lingering ancestral wounds specifically on account of acknowledging that the ancestors don’t actually go away, that the dead remain, and that there are presences from the past which continue to dwell in the present, and our present will inhabit the future.

          • Fate, wyrd, and orlog. Also, hamingja (group luck) might also be a way to understand this a bit better too. Our Ancestors’ deeds don’t just ‘go away’ somewhere, They live in us. Blood and bone, spirit and adoption, in our lineages; we are the latest embodiment of our Ancestors. We are Ancestors-in-the-making, and just as They have a vested interest in us, so we should have a vested interest in Them.

            Their wounds are our wounds, Their atrocities are our atrocities. Their successes are our successes. We can choose to address these, or we make another generation have to clean up our collective mess.

            Another way to look at how we benefit from death, destruction and devastation, and how we cannot ignore how or why we get there, is to look at oil spills.

            Did I cause the oil spill in the Gulf or Kalamazoo River? No, but my Ancestors benefited and I benefit from oil. I drive my car with gas refined from oil, my medicine is able to be injected into me because the syringes are made with plastics derived from oil, and my pills are held in containers made with oil-derived plastics. My great-grandpa was able to breathe in his last few years because the tubes connecting him to the oxygen tank were made from oil.

            So while neither my Ancestors or I did not go up to the Deep Horizon and set a bomb, They and I are part of why that rig went up, and later blew up: We fed into the profit motive by buying from a BP gas station or BP-related refinery products. BP held so tight to that profit motive that it ignored safety regulations so that it could squeeze more money out of Deep Horizon. I did not encourage Enbridge Energy to use sub-par pipes for shipping the more corrosive tar sands oil through its pipes, but because I use oil and Enbridge is motivated by profit, through that same profit motive and the use of my money I encouraged a disaster.

            Similarly, neither I nor my great-grandpa, nor any of my Ancestors that I know of, actually went out and killed, starved, or directly harmed Native peoples. Yet, we still benefited from their deaths, from the deep cultural harm done to them. From the genocides visited upon countless Native peoples were my own great-grandpa and his family able to benefit. The very name of my state, his state, comes from mishigaama, meaning ‘large water’ or “large lake”*. When I hail the landvaettir, I am not allowed to forget the history of the land I stand on. I cannot turn a blind eye to the Dead beneath my feet.

            *Michigan in Brief: Information About the State of Michigan.

          • thehouseofvines

            Beautifully expressed, Sarenth. The only thing I’d add (and not because there’s an implication, but because I like taking every opportunity I can to talk about this) is that it’s not just a Heathen thing. In fact untangling this stuff is very much what Bacchic Orphism is all about:

            “… prayers and sacrifices appease the souls, and the enchanting song of the magician is able to remove the daimones when they impede. Impeding daimones are revenging souls. This is why the magicians perform the sacrifice as if they were paying a penalty. On the offerings they pour water and milk, from which they make the libations, too. They sacrifice innumerable and many-knobbed cakes, because the souls, too, are innumerable.” (Derveni Papyrus col. 6.1-11)

            “But the most astounding of all these arguments concerns what they have to say about the gods and virtue. They say that the gods, too, assign misfortune and a bad life to many good people, and the opposite fate to their opposites. Begging priests and prophets frequent the doors of the rich and persuade them that they possess a god-given power founded on sacrifices and incantations. If the rich person or any of his ancestors has committed an injustice, they can fix it with pleasant things and feasts. Moreover, if he wishes to injure some enemy, then, at little expense, he’ll be able to harm just and unjust alike, for by means of spells and enchantments they can persuade the gods to serve them. And they present a hubbub of books by Musaeus and Orpheus, offspring as they say of Selene and the Muses, according to which they arrange their rites, convincing not only individuals but also cities that liberation and purification from injustice is possible, both during life and after death, by means of sacrifices and enjoyable games to the deceased which free us from the evils of the beyond, whereas something horrible awaits those who have not celebrated sacrifices.” (Plato, Republic 2.364a–365b)

          • thehouseofvines

            Agreed. My dad grew up on the Blackfoot rez amid rampant poverty, alcoholism, and despair. When he was a kid they enrolled him in the government-run Catholic school where he was beaten for not speaking English and forced to pray. At sixteen he enlisted in the Marines, lying about his age to do so, just so he could get out of that fucked up situation.

            It’s massively disingenuous to compare intertribal warfare to the ethnic and cultural eradication of the colonists. The one only results in physical death; the other death of the soul.

          • cambridgemac

            And soul death is not a bug; it’s a feature.

          • thehouseofvines

            Yup. That poison doesn’t just affect individuals; it’s passed down through generations.

  • Finnchuill

    I’ve often thought America is a particularly hungry ghost-haunted country. Cemeteries are bulldozed to make room for new housing tracts, and shopping malls are built on top of Native American burial sites. No wonder the contemporary fascination with zombies.

    • Oh, oh yes. Fascinating, too, that zombies appear to have no agenda and are merely filled with primal hatred for the living, as if the dead couldn’t possibly have something interesting to say…

      You have also reminded me of a recent event, not in the US but in Canada. The serial killer Robert Pickton murdered upwards of 50 prostitutes, many of them First Nations women. After the trial, First Nations groups asked for the place to be made a memorial cemetery for the women, as it was now sacred ground. Instead, the government sold the place to developers who built a shopping center on the site….

      Nothing changes, huh?

      • thehouseofvines

        Kind of poetic in a way.

      • steward

        I agree that the request should have been granted.

        But we are far apart in philosophy and strategy about how to make things better for the living, today. Instead of ‘nothing changes’ – which makes a community feel guilty, then defensive to the point of blocking the change you wish to make – I would present it within the nomos of the decision-makers. Present examples such as concentration camps and their preservation, and concentrate on the memorial aspects, not the sacred ground aspects.

        There are still things that can be done. Boycotting the shopping center, for instance. Targeting chain stores that have leased space in the shopping center. If the developer owns a chain of shopping centers/malls, target the developer.

        The little that I can find in a quick Google search indicates a large shopping center anchored by a Costco. Perhaps some of the surrounding area or the parking lot could be turned into a well-kept cemetery, with the rental agreement providing for the stores to pay for maintenance.

        What would be a better memorial: a memorial that the community ignores, and easily can ignore, because it’s a plot of land no one except archaeologists and relatives visit; or a memorial that is a constant reminder to the community of the murders and the need to protect everyone – because the community sees the cemetery every time they go to Costco and the other stores?

      • Finnchuill

        Somehow it seems like denial at all costs must be maintained. It’s been really disturbing to read the genocide apologetics in the comments here, and all the fantasies about how all people do “these things” as if there’s no way to come into a new place other than kill off the people who were already there. Some of it sounds pretty ‘fantasies of the master race’ (to borrow a Ward Churchill title).

    • Merri-Todd Webster

      Ever seen the movie Poltergeist, Finnchuill? That’s precisely what it’s about, and why it’s still a scary film despite being far less gorey and grotesque than horror films being made today.

  • Lynn Klug

    This is beautifully written, poignant and moving. I don’t have an answer to the problems and I suspect that, at least right now, no one really does. If we can foster greater awareness of the scope and complexity of our Now in terms of our Then, maybe we can actually start to be a society of human beings instead of a collection of differences.

  • This article goes over the current consequences of our history and how history is still relevant really well. There has been one commenter who has been getting flak for stating something that is still valid and important to consider that keeps receiving Ad Hominem responses, and sadly had ended up with Ad Hominem back and forth. I have added “up votes” to some of the comments in support of this commenter and want to make the reason for my support clear.

    It is true that throughout history that who we call indigenous peoples today had been displacing other indigenous peoples in the past. There is good and bad on all sides, no one side is completely innocent. The oral histories and archeology support this, but you’d be hard pressed for the oral history because it is felt the same way as we do the Holocaust – not many who were/are associated with it wants to talk about it. Same goes with the residential schools. There were genocides and even cannibalism committed by Indigenous peoples, just as much as there was human sacrifice in the old pagan ways, and as much as there was christian sacrifices on crosses and crusades, etc. We all have a history that we don’t agree with today and most wouldn’t dream of doing today. This reality shouldn’t be ignored either, just as much as the reality of the massacres and genocides committed in our recent history that certain groups are benefiting from now. These are all important things to consider and shouldn’t be shouted down because of the reality of the other feels closer to home – the other reality is still part of the bigger story that effects us today too.

    The way I personally approach this topic is by following history to see how it impacts us today, and try to learn from it to see how we can move forward in a positive direction for all peoples and our other distance relations that are part of our ecosystem.

    • Rua, I’m sure I’ve made clear that I don’t believe anyone’s ‘innocent’. At no point would I deny that there has been violence in the past of most peoples, including First Nation’s peoples. I find the suggestions the commenter makes that we’re -not- aware of this to be insulting, because most everyone is aware of this–in fact, it’s become the official, knee-jerk response whenever someone brings up violations of treaty law, indigenous genocide, or the matter of African slavery.

      The same commenter has accused this analysis of using the notion of “original sin,” yet relies upon that notion in order to nullify arguments by obsessing over First Nations’ “sins.” That is, “we’ve all fallen short of the glory.” But you must be aware that you can hear this in many of the white-nationalist arguments, which draw out matters like the Scottish Clearances or Irish indentured/debt slavery in the Caribbean in order to nullify questions of Reparation or Treaty violations.

      My argument, however, is that both groups have been
      suffering from the same processes and should fight it together, rather
      than nullify more recent claims. It makes no sense for someone of
      Scottish ancestry to justify the benefits of American colonization on
      the basis that First Nations peoples were violent, too. Both the
      Clearances and the slaughter of First Nations were caused and justified
      by Capitalism–both groups have the same interest in fighting Capitalism
      to undo that legacy and prevent other atrocities from occurring.

      The spectral voice in this piece is Hannah Arendt’s–I think she’s quite convincingly shown that the matter of systematic genocide is actually different from tribal warfare, particularly because of the notion of the Nation (a new idea, just as “Race” is a new idea). That is, we can organize vast swathes of society to kill or oppress others on account of national identity and de-humanizing theories. That same mental trick then lets us justify our inheritance by displacing blame onto the victims (that is, “First Nations people were violent, too!”)

      • I don’t have any intention in suggesting that one, or any, group of peoples are justifiably relocated or killed. I am completely against such notions. I also have no interest in the “original sin” topic. Just because I agree with some of what someone says doesn’t automatically mean I agree with everything someone says.

        My agreements were based on the statement that responded to the suggestion that we are occupying stolen land, that we are to blame, and a response to the suggestion that this land was stolen from its “original inhabitants”. These implied responsibility on current residents – that there is residual blame, and this ignores that these same lands were once “stolen” before. Time and time again. In other words, not the original inhabitants. That doesn’t mean that the latest taking of these lands were justified. But is also doesn’t mean that everyone currently on it has blame either.

        What follows suggests that we are not our governments, past or present, and cannot be held responsible for our government’s actions. That was clear. But there remains the suggestion of blame on current residents with the statement,
        “I am not absolved from my inheritance, nor of my legacy”. Yes, there are current benefits experienced today that were results from harmful activities in the past. We always are experiencing the results from the past like you said. It is good that you’ve put it out there and is important to know. I was not intending to suggest you believed that indigenous peoples were innocent. But there is still the suggestion of blame. That knee-jerk reaction is based on making people feel blamed when they are not responsible. I think it is jumping to conclusions to suggest that stating that we living here now are not to blame is somehow a justification of our inheritance and somehow blames the previous inhabitants.

        I do believe the current inhabitants, of lands taken generations ago, are not responsible or to blame for the actions of those before us. This is merely our current circumstance, not something that needs absolving, but something that needs to be worked on together with all peoples, which means I agree with your suggestions on a way forward. I only didn’t agree with the blaming and one other person’s “original inhabitants” statement.

        P.S. I am aware of the influence of Capitalism and how it needs rectifying –

        • If you don’t mind, I’d like to bring this into the metaphorical for a bit. It might help.

          If an item is stolen from someone and then sold to someone else, we generally don’t think of the final owner as being directly responsible for the theft, but we still demand that the item is returned. The person possessing the stolen property at the end is not “guilty” (though sometimes the law does see them as such) but they are not expected to be able to benefit from someone else’s crime.

          This is the plight of the settler, both in places like Palestine/Israel and also the Americas. They have, in essence, received “stolen” land, despite not having been the people who actually stole it. Their children, too, then come to possess the benefits of that theft. Are they directly “to blame?” No. But I don’t think we can suggest that they shouldn’t be expected at least to acknowledge the theft from which they benefit. And the longer one waits in any situation, the harder it is for that situation to be resolved.

          The reason why I focus on implied consent is precisely so the process which creates the theft can be stopped. And I tend to focus so much on Capitalism precisely because it created our modern notion of “private property,” which is exacerbating all these land issues.

          Your article on Patheos is quite good. I’m particularly glad you draw attention to the matter of ‘greenwashing.’ I’m always frustrated when ‘solutions’ to problems caused by our economic system take the form of ‘less-guilt’ purchases, as if we can consume our way out of problems caused by consumption!

          • I agree with what you say. Unfortunately with the metaphor, it isn’t as simple as the metaphor portrays – If only it could be as easy. It could work is if it is a small town and district. But the majority of land claims involve more heavily populated areas and that is a tricky scenario.

            Either way, there have been generations living on this land, where they have made their homes. All the hard work they’ve put into creating a lives for themselves and investing in the future are then gone – they are now displaced. It becomes a second wronging.

            Even if all this land were to be returned there is infrastructure that cannot be properly maintained by an untrained population that don’t have the resources necessary to maintain it. Which becomes a third wrong in that you’ve made more work and resource demands for the people who’ve returned to make a living.

            What are you to do then? All I can think of is returning segments of the settled area over the course of a century, if not more. That way there is an ample transition period. But what if there are disputes between indigenous peoples where one claims that the other had displaced them prior to European settlement? There could very well be several groups that continue down this chain of claims. This also gets into blood feuds of the past rearing its ugly head. There is an awful lot of dislike between certain groups to this day.

            What could help is to make it come down to timespan of occupation, population size, and resource infrastructure. Where there is a threshold of timespan, pop. size, and amount of infrastructure that needs to be met so that it is more easily settled. The shorter the timespan, along with a smaller population size and infrastructure size the more likely the land gets returned. The threshold could be at 250 years ago, with a less than 3,000 population size, and perhaps less than a million dollar cost of infrastructure maintenance. FYI a short road can easily cost that much to replace – so that could easily be considered too low. So perhaps a training program to go along with the transition phase etc.

            And each group of peoples would have different conditions they want met. So it would not be a uniform conversion. You’d have a great many peoples on the side of having been settled on this disputed land be confused and agitated by the inconsistency from place to place and end up not knowing where would be a safe place to move and settle for the long run, because within the next decade they could be displaced again.

            So just with this one example of a reasonable approach, it shows how difficult it can become.

        • Lēoht “Sceadusawol” Steren

          It isn’t about absolution, is it?

          It is about resolution.

  • C

    Thank you, Rhyd. As a fellow pagan anarchist, I very much appreciate your writing.

  • All the best posts make you stop and think for a bit, in this case this thread has had me thinking for a fair while.

    I’m not sure how I feel about the idea we have some sort of scar or stain on our collective and individual souls as a result of the actions of our ancestors.

    Part of the problem of that is that we are judging the actions of the past by the standards and morals of today, looking back we can be appalled at what went on (I know sod all about the formation and early years of the US, but do know a bit more about the British Empire in Africa and the East), and abhorrent as it is, we have to accept that at the time certain behaviours and actions were considered acceptable. in the same vein, in 200 years who knows human civilisation will be like or what it regards as moral and acceptable. Do we, living our lives in what we regards as best way as possible, think it fair to be judged on our actions by the standards of an unknowable future civilisation?

    Anyway, as much as we need to keep an eye on the past, we need to keep an eye on the future and focussing on a collective guilt solves nothing, it certainly doesn’t ease that guilt. better that we acknowledge the things that have gone before in order to prevent them happening again and aim to at least act responsibly and live an honourable, honest and (personally) ethical life as we see possible within the world we find ourselves.

  • Kampen

    Reminds me of William Faulkner’s phrase: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Indeed, the blood of the dead and the suffering cries out from the soil and from all around. Thank you for writing this.

  • ChristopherBlackwell

    You bring many good points. But let e bring so up again and add a few of my own.

    History is the story of the People. Which people those telling the story. So all history is by its nature biased.

    You pointed out a truth our government does to repent us at all. We just get to vote for the players. But what works the government is Mon Alobbiest contacts a politician i the House or the Senate presents a proposed bill his employer has had write and then pays the politicians what it money takes to get the bill passed into law. It takes four terms of office before ay politicians eve now how to write a bill. but rarely does the politicians write ay of the bills that his ams s signed to/

    Did we Amercians decide we water to go to war with Iraq Afganistan nw syria or the Ukrain. Ofcourse to and we were to eve ased. It never mattered what we wanted ply those that paid the necessary brigs to our politicians got the war going for their own profit. This is how foriegn policy issues get decided what do our Corporations want. Nothing new about this this is how our foreign policy has been decided since the civil war. ow you don’t eve have to both with congress is you just buy the President and he can put us as war without even bothering to as for declaration of war as required by our constitution. We have not fought a declared war in my lifetime.

    Buying the garment is now a constitutional right that the Supreme Court granted declaring that a corporation is a legal person with full citizen’s rights regardless of who owe the corporation. So if you who earn say $20,000 a year ass your congressman to do soothing and a Corporation hands him half a million dollars to do the opposite then you know exactly how he is going to vote. They might even sweeten the deal by some free stock so that the congressman may make some money off the results of the law. They can even give him advance notice of when to sell and when to buy the stock to make the most money as Congress people cannot by law be punished for using insider information to their benefit. Now you might go to prison if you tried using insider information.

    We do’t teach how government really runs in fact we barely teach civics ay more. History is also being cut back in many school systems. What you don’t know about you can’t do anything about either.

  • Keith Hobson

    What the hell is this article supposed to be? You feel this guilt, yet I noticed you never once mentioned moving home to the land of your ancestors. You mention your sexuality multiple times, as if that somehow qualifies your opinion. It doesn’t. No one cares what your sexuality is and the fact that you use it to somehow quantify and entire group of people, and use the term “we” where you clearly mean “me” only further serves to prove that you are very misguided. You don’t, and cannot, speak for an entire culture, group, race, etc. What gives you that authority?

    And before you get too high on exposure, perhaps you need to read further into history. Black people also owned slaves. Forgot that part didn’t you? I also noticed you made absolutely zero mention of the Aztecs or Incas. What about the Irish slaves? The bog bodies found in Florida that denote an earlier European presence? No? Nothing? Bueller….Bueller…Reading. It does a mind good. Might I suggest you expand your academic horizons. Or don’t. I have no expectations from anyone who would air this abysmal attempt at defining humanity’s future and present by relying solely on the past. Know what happens when you drive a car while only looking in the rear view mirror? You hit things. Try looking ahead sometimes.

    You anarchism is part of your paganism? That’s sad. I don’t think those words means what you think they mean. Look deeper than the mud puddle you’re currently wading in, trying to make sense of your idealistic and very self-centered view of life.

    This article reads like a B-level, amateur, opinion column that is rooted in furthering dividing people not proposing practical levels that are solvent and applicable. I wouldn’t grace my trash can with this. Nice to know that this site doesn’t care for actual information, but rather the social and political modern agendas.

    • Lēoht “Sceadusawol” Steren

      You said: I noticed you never once mentioned moving home to the land of your ancestors.

      From Rhyd’s original article: I cannot merely “go back to Europe,” to my ancestral lands, because I have no legal claim to do so.

      I’d say that addresses it. “White” Americans are not European. They’re American. Heading across the Atlantic en masse is just not an option.

    • Wheeeeeee!

    • thehouseofvines

      *waves a magical wand and all of history and it’s consequences vanish*

      Okay, Keith, what’s the way forward?

  • Technothrope

    Overall, not a bad article. The past certainly must be remembered, and atrocities must not be glossed over. Each of us has a duty to try and leave the world a better place.
    What I do take issue with is the line about “Indian Country.” I have served in the US Army for 8 years. Not once have I heard ANYBODY refer to enemy territory as “Indian Country.” A Soldier who did so would be asking for a swift reprimand from the majority of NCOs. If you’re going to make claims about how my culture talks, get your facts right first.

    • Hi.
      It is not official policy, no. I did not mean to suggest it was official.

      I first heard it from a roommate 6 years ago who was army reserve at the time. Heard it again from one of his friends, and then a co-worker who had just come back. Also heard it in several media interviews from soldiers, including one from last year.

      Just like anti-discrimination policies, you would surely agree that, though official policy forbids certain things, the culture takes a much, much longer time to change.