Thursday, December 9, 2010

OPINIO: A Much Belated Thank You Note

Magdalena Potluck
By Don Wiltshire

In my next life, I think I’ll be an Anthropologist. We’re dog-sitting for Pearl, a miniature Boston Bull Terrier. She and our dog, Abby, an Australian Cattle Dog, four times the size of Pearl, have been friends since puppyhood. Like Dian Fossey, I could spend hours watching them work out just who has senior bed-sitting rights. With a minimum of fuss, Pearl always seems to claim the bed for the duration of her visit.
Like Dian’s Gorillas, there is more going on in a dog’s head than we usually give them credit for. They most certainly communicate with each other: vocally, through play, wrestling, posturing, preening, and, of course, the “looks.” An equitable solution is usually worked out as long as each of them gets their fair and rightful amount of attention. If only we could work out solutions to our water rights problems, our unemployment situation and our equitable taxation dilemma with as much care and finality.
At the same time, I’ve been reading Indian Givers: How the Indians of the Americas Transformed the World by Jack Weatherford. Written in 1988, it is still an eye-opening book.  When Columbus landed in the Americas in 1492, thinking that he was in India, he called the native people “Indians.” When asked where the peppers were that flavored their foods, the Spanish explorers were handed our famous chilies. One thing led to another and for the next 500 years, the food crops, the agricultural techniques, the medicinal plants, medical knowledge and the forms of government developed by the Native Americans have changed the world. At the same time, however, the Native American people have undergone systematic genocide, enslavement and plagues of diseases brought to them from the Old World for which they had little or no natural immunity.
The culture and development of the potato alone was one of the greatest gifts of the Americas to the world. A field of potatoes produces more nutritious food with less labor and with more reliably than the same field planted in almost any other crop. The population of Ireland alone more than doubled in the century following the introduction of the potato to the Emerald Isle. If only the Irish had adopted a mix of the potatoes developed by the American Indians, the effect of the great potato blight of 1845 would have been minimized.
Corn, squash, yams, wild rice, beans, peanuts, chilies, avocados, tomatoes and peppers in hundreds of varieties were all introduced to Europe, Asia and Africa.  They certainly improved the varieties of nutrition available at the time, not to mention the improvement of flavors to rather bland European diets, with the help of vanilla and chocolate. Of all the food crops now in cultivation in the entire world, more than three-fifths of them were developed by the Native Americans.
The American Indians also had their medical kits far more developed than their counterparts in the Old World. Surgical techniques and medicinal remedies derived from plants and barks were in common use throughout the Americas at the time of Columbus’s arrival.
The form of government that had been developed by the Native American people proved to be the greatest gift of all. The Iroquois League of five Indian Nations served as the model for our own Congress. Nothing like it had ever been seen before in the world. It has served as an inspiration of democracy and freedom for all of mankind.
Personal liberty with freedom from authoritarian rulers and freedom from social classes based on the ownership of “private property” or masses of money along with a deep respect for the Earth seem to be the hallmarks of the Native American’s form of government. Problems were discussed in councils where one member at a time got to express their opinion without interruption. The final solutions were arrived at through much thought and compromise. The idea of coupling an extension of unemployment benefits with the extension of tax breaks for the wealthy never even came up. Somewhere along the way we seem to have lost touch with the basic concepts. Perhaps it was our insistence on the concept of “private property.”
So here is my Thank You note to our Native American Brothers: Thank You for all that you have so carefully and thoughtfully provided for us. I’m sorry that we screwed things up so badly for you; that we took your land, slaughtered you, pushed you westward, ignored our treaties, polluted the Earth and just didn’t take the time to understand you. Could you find it in your hearts to help us fix our government again, and get us back on the right track?

The Magdalena Public Library is offering three programs for kids of all ages this year.  On Saturday, Dec. 11, Dinotopia: Quest for the Ruby Sunstone will start at 10 a.m.
On Wednesday, Dec. 15, Prehistoric Planet: The Complete Dino Dynasty will start at 6 p.m.
Santa is scheduled to make a special visit on Saturday, Dec. 18.

If you have any comments, problems, solutions, upcoming events or little doggie crowns for “Queen of the Bed,” contact me, Don Wiltshire, at

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