PBS’ American Experience history program presented the first of a five part series last night called We Shall Remain: American History through Native eyes.
This series is a riveting wake-up call for everybody who thought they knew American history. Histories of America that neglect or shunt to the side what was happening with the Native people of the continent would be like a history of the Japanese invasion of Korea that doesn’t mention the Koreans. This accessible, detailed film goes a long way toward filling in the gaps that many Americans aren’t even aware we’re missing.
Episode One: After the Mayflower (available for viewing in its entirety online here) retells the story of the English coastal occupation/settlement of what is now Massachusetts from the perspective of the Wampanoag (People of the First Light) confederacy. In 1621, the Wampanoag were staggering from the loss of the majority of their people to an epidemic of disease brought by largely unseen Europeans who had been dabbling around the shores, trading and scouting for over a century.
Grief-stricken, in danger, Massasoit, chief of the Wampanoag chose to spare the lives of the rapidly dying English Pilgrims camped in his midst by allying with them against other powerful groups who had been spared the epidemic. Massasoit made sure the survivors didn’t starve by having his people show them how to cultivate maize.
For decades, they lived among one another, in an awkward peace. But a rising tide of English immigration would become a massive tsunami staring down the next generation of Wampanoag, who would be led by Massasoit’s son Metacom, also known as King Phillip. The English employed various tactics in dealing with the Wampanoag and other area groups: religious conversion (basically a rejection of their own culture) and brutal willingness to murder women and children (the massacre of an entire Pequot village was an unheard-of act of savagery). This was fueled by an overwhelming hunger for land rippling about the packed, industry crusted English peninsula. Land – any land – even the land that another people, an ocean away, considered part of their very being.
Next week – Monday, April 20th: