Monday, May 14, 2007

Pocahontas and the stories about Jamestown

The media carried many reports last week about the Queen's visit to Jamestown. Today, I direct your attention to the editorial in Indian Country Today, for an assessment of her visit and the commemoration itself, from the perspective of the editors of the paper, all of whom are American Indians.

Here's an excerpt:

Just as the legend of Pocahontas as Jamestown's princess heroine persists in the American psyche, so does the myth of the ''founding'' of an American society based on the rights and dignity of the individual. Pocahontas, the young daughter of Powhatan, is almost always depicted as a love-struck teen who willingly aided the hungry settlers. Rarely is she imagined as a child captive of an unhygienic man twice her age. She is one among the handful of internationally famous Native Americans because she helped the Europeans in their quest to tame the New World. The message is loud and clear: The only good Indian is one who can be honored as a symbol of colonization, of a better life through white ''civilization.''

The Virginia tribal representatives who attended the events commemorating Jamestown hoped they might raise awareness of their survival and contemporary struggle for federal recognition. Despite a few vague euphemisms regarding historical or modern relations with the tribes of the Chesapeake area by either the queen or President Bush, the Native peoples of Virginia were clearly not considered one of the nations that, as Bush said, ''hold fundamental values in common.''

The editorial is called "The emperors have no clothes". Many of you will dismiss it as whining or political correct nonsense. I find the editorial crucial reading for anyone who teaches children, be it in the classroom, driving to the park, walking to the library, or flying to Disneyland. Engaging children with the content raised in the article is important---that is, if you wish them to be critical thinkers. Read the editorial, discuss it with your friends and colleagues, and consider the editorial as you plan and teach about America's founding, or about Pocahontas, or John Smith.

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