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Richter's Facing East Essay

985 words - 4 pages

In order to feel we are creating a complete picture of history when we conduct research, historians must rely on any primary documents they can find to piece together the puzzle of a person’s life or the events surrounding a person or point in time. As I read Facing East, Richter provided constant reminders that Early American history is constructed from only one perspective – from those who possess the power of the pen. There may be artifacts that survive from the various indigenous cultures of North America dating back before non-native people arrived, but those artifacts cannot tell us a complete story of the lives of the people who used these objects, because they left no written history; no primary documents. It solidifies the point Richter wants us to think about in regards to who is writing history, and the fact that the group of people who dominate or command language and technology at the time will dictate how generations will perceive the way in which events occurred.

Early American History is not necessarily in my comfort zone in regards to the amount of knowledge I can share off the top of my head. Facing East was the best book for me to start with, I feel, because it affected my ideas about the ways in which Historians have written about conflict between Native Americans and European settlers. The only perspective I have ever read has been a westward-facing perspective. I was almost ashamed at how surprised I was that I had not considered the fact that conflict and distrust existed in North America long before non-natives arrived, rather than what I believe is often portrayed as this harmonious network of Native American tribes who slowly succumbed to encroachment by settlers. The rivalries and wars that existed between tribes were just as devastating as many of the conflicts that occurred between Native Americans and non-natives. Also, the stories of inner-tribal conflicts - of how tribes would shun their own people due to physical imperfections, spiritual choice, etc., gives a twenty-first century reader a much needed fresh perspective on how “they” were just like “us” in that society then and now is quick to shun someone for being different or imperfect.

In additional, we are often taught that the changes which occurred to Native American life during the 16th Century was a direct result of the arrival of Europeans, when in fact the changes were not all set in motion by their arrival at all. Richter continues to visit the idea of conflict and distrust as the source of tension between tribes and between non-natives and natives (I say non-natives, because Europeans were not the only people taking land and prisoners/slaves from Native Americans. The Spanish were just as involved in the Southern regions of North America).

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