Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Pochantas - The First Allegation of Sexual Assault

I did not sleep last night because of the events of the past week. All week I have been sharing Native Hope posts about the tragedy of the indigenous people of North America destroyed by American militarism and what that means for the struggling cultures that remain. On Sunday evening I watched the movie "Wind River"- a fictional account of what is happening to the indigenous youth on 21st Century reservations who are struggling with the impact of poverty, loss of identity, drug use, suicide and sexual abuse at levels far greater than any minority group in this country. I was stunned that this movie has received such little attention from the Hollywood promoters. Once again, my anger rose just like the first time I saw the movie "Billy Jack" in the 1970's when Hollywood and the national media were at last giving some attention to this Scarlet Letter of American history. Once again, however, these stories have been buried behind sensational headlines that are politically motivated by members of both of the two political parties in order to use the indigenous people to gain power, (Navajo Code Talkers - watch Wind Talkers or the story of Ira Hayes or Jim Thorpe) or take away more lands and pass their agendas (Keystone Pipeline, Dakota Access Pipeline or the Tar Sands Pipeline) under the guise of creating jobs and growing the American economy to keep their careers despite the vast needs of indigenous people.

 The latest in these events is the whirlwind of media attention given to Elizabeth Warren who was "racially slurred" when President Trump referred to her as Pocahantas. The honoring of the Navajo Code Talkers would probably have received about ten seconds of air time on the national news if this had not occurred at the ceremony honoring them. It is also ironic that all this resulted from the President's use of the name of one of the greatest indigenous American females in North American history to "slur" Elizabeth Warren. From what I know, this was no slur against Elizabeth Warren only the latest in the demeaning of indigenous leaders in American history and relegating them to a status like that of Mickey Mouse in order to demean someone. In light of what I have studied and learned about Pochantas over the years, I find it ironic that the President chose this name given his history of allegations of sexual misconduct and misuse of power in regard to women. In addition, the media blowing this up into a political discussion under the guise of a "racial slur" against Elizabeth Warren without regard for the actual person slurred, Pocahantas, is outrageous to me. I feel compelled to get up in the wee hours of the morning and try to put some words to why I find this so disgusting.

In the farming culture of many of the tribes of the Eastern Woodlands culture, women played a very powerful role. The societies were matrilineal which meant that all property and other wealth were controlled by the female side of the family tree. These woodland cultures did not believe in ownership of property but in rights to the property by a tribe or group based on land stewardship. So long as the tribes fulfilled these duties, however, the land belonged to the tribe that maintained and farmed it and all wealth resulting from that was controlled by the female matriarchs or Klan mothers. The chiefs who attended the council meetings and made treaties were under the control of these Klan mothers who appointed them to office and removed them if they violated the peace covenants. These women also had absolute veto over war, therefore, they were extremely powerful with a great deal of status. The Powhatan tribe of the Eastern Alqonquin Indians is the tribe that was living around the settlement that became the Jamestown Colony in the early 17th Century.  The Chief of this tribe was named Powhatan but he had a daughter that we know from historical accounts was an Indian princess. In that role, Pochahantas probably traveled with her father on delegations to meet with and negotiate with the European settlers who were ensconced at the all male colony of Jamestown.

What we know about these settlers is that they had a less than sterling record in England. King James I had sent Captain John Smith on a mission to the New World to establish a colony there in order to find a way to fill England's coffers the way the Spanish had done with their colonies in Mexico. No one wanted to go on this mission, so he emptied the jails of the bothersome criminals and sent them off to explore and settle the New World for England and the King. The colony struggled and almost did not survive due to the fighting and general behavior of these criminals. Enter Powhatan with his lovely 15 year old daughter at his side bringing food and pipes filled with tobacco to seal covenants of peace. The story of what happened to Pochahantas has been so skewed and twisted, especially by Walt Disney, that any attempt to ferret the truth of her experience could be only allegations that would not stand a chance of being believed in today's court of justice. From the fragments of what has been passed down in history along with the myth about the saving of John Smith I have pieced together what I believe to be the first allegation of sexual assault by men of power in American history.

What do we know? We know that Pochahantas was kidnapped and that after her return to her father and tribe, she interceded for John Smith and saved his life. From that story, most of the people I know who even know about Pochahantas associate her with a romantic involvement with John Smith and there the story ends in American history as told by Hollywood. Here is what I think. I think when Pochahantas was kidnapped by whatever villian living at Jamestown, she was most likely raped and not just by one man. Captain Smith, being the civilized leader, probably took her back to her father and when faced with death Pochahantas interceded on his behalf. What happened to Pochahantas after that or as a newsman from the 70's might have said, what is the "rest of the story?" Enter John Rolfe.

John Rolfe was an English gentleman who ended up in Jamestown with John Smith and learned of a desirable drug being smoked by the Indians, called tobacco. Tobacco was in high demand in England and John Rolfe needed land to grow this "cash crop" that sealed the success of the Jamestown Colony leading to the settlement of the colony of Virginia. How to get the land needed without military force? Marry the Indian princess who controlled that land and that is exactly what John Rolfe did. After their marriage, he took "Rebecca" to England and there the couple lived very well on the profits from Rolfe's investments in the New World. What happened after she was taken to England has been lost in American history. Perhaps there might be some of her British descendants who may come to the United States with claims to land in Virginia that is part of their heritage. Who knows? How could any of this be proven in a court of law?

All any DNA test would prove would be that a person has the DNA from the tribes of the Eastern Woodlands people. That would only confirm what many people already know (and I am one of them) from stories that have been passed down in their families about their ethnicity. The faces and voices of these people (especially the females) have been lost and identifying a specific one would take years of research to put a name to these people and finding evidence that would be accepted in a court of law would be next to impossible. Maybe someone might find a piece of clothing that belonged to Pochahantas that could be DNA tested to find out who her assailants were? Or why don't we just accept the truth of the story as it relates to what we know about the treatment of all females in America and stop degrading, exploiting and demeaning any of them in our history and stand together once and for all? We do make up the majority in this country. It will be interesting to see how the women of Alabama vote on December 12th.