Native Americans

Native Americans. In defense of the ‘Noble Savage’

Savages we call them, because their manners differ from ours.

Benjamin Franklin

An idea, central to how the indigenous tribes in Northern America perceived the world around them, was that all humans are Mother Nature’s children. Equal. Brothers. Native Americans showed everyday their respect to the Eternal, the Great Mystery as they called it. That worship was silent, solitary, free from all self-seeking. Native tribes such as the Apache believed that the Great Spirit breathed life to all Creation, so they held the idea that the universe and all natural objects, humans, animals, plants, trees, rivers, mountains, etc, they all have souls/ spirits. A simple but deep consciousness of the divine. For this reason, their everyday acts & deeds were dictated by a sense of modesty and humbleness.

When hunting, Native Americans never killed more animals than it was just enough for them to satisfy the needs of their community. Isn’t it remarkable that the Natives of N. America never regarded their immediate surrounding and environs as their property? Territory: yes. Property: no. The concept of land ownership was alien to them!

Apache warrior painted for war, wearing a red head-band. By Greek artist Christos Giannopoulos.

Dignity and respect were vital characteristics of their way of life. When a traveler happened to be approaching an Apache settlement, it was considered inappropriate to enter the village unexpectedly by not announcing his/her visit. When travelers approached a settlement (the Apache lived in family groups, rather than villages) and they were close enough for their voice to be heard, it was considered polite to stop and announce their presence. Only when their voice was heard and themselves invited to approach, only then they would proceed to enter the village.

The White Man’s illusion of moral superiority

Hospitality was highly valued. Welcoming a foreigner was a custom, much like it was for the Ancient Greeks or the Ancient Indians. In every Apache village for example, there was always a spare tent ready to host any lone, foreign traveler. Villagers would always welcome foreigners with good will, entertain them, offer food and any clothes that the visitor needed, and provided shelter and a place to rest. After that, villagers would offer tobacco to the traveler and sit all together to smoke and engage in conversation.

Before departure, villagers would provide the traveler with any other convenience he/she might need, including clothes, provisions, or even a local guide to help with the continuation of the journey. Native Americans regarded this as their moral duty, doing it out of kindness,  asking nothing in return.

Geronimo and fellow Apache while being ‘transported’ to Florida in chains. Only 5,000 Apaches survive today.

Their politeness, kindness and ‘Spartan-like’ character made a huge impression on Benjamin Franklin. Franklin couldn’t hide his admiration for those “savages”, as Westerners called them: ‘…there is no Force, there are no prisons, no officers to compel obedience, or inflict punishment… Having few artificial wants, they have abundance of leisure for improvement by conversation.

Map of culture areas of Northern American native tribes

Modern day political scientists cannot but marvel at the uniqueness of the Iroquois Confederacy. I’m sure that Aristotle would have found it exciting to study the unique democratic league that those tribes formed. A league that included women too!

Civil virtue. Ethical code. Empathy

The Apache would never share their opinion about an important subject on the same day that they were asked. Instead they would wait a day, as a sign of respect, dedicating more time so as to show that they take the question asked, under serious consideration.

In their public assemblies and gatherings they always displayed discipline and respect. Whoever wished to address the assembly, would stand up while the rest would listen in total silence. Interrupting a speaker was considered rude, shameful and unforgivable. Everyone present was carefully listening to the speaker, focusing on the opinion being heard, nodding,  listening, showing empathy. Even if the opinion expressed was different than the one they held.

Photo portraits of Apache. Far left: Geronimo.

The chief (or in some cases a chieftainess) was chosen for his courage, wisdom and personal generosity. The war chief led the Apache in negotiations and, if necessary, battle (in Apache, chief translates to he who speaks).

A trailblazer: George Catlin

The great  American painter George Catlin, an advocate of Native American cultures, dedicated most of his life creating paintings, immortalizing America’s ‘vanishing race’.

One day in Philadelphia, Catlin happened to come across a group of Native Americans who were on their way to Washington, D.C.
He described the scene:

“A delegation of some ten or fifteen noble and dignified-looking Indians, from the wilds of the ‘Far West,’ suddenly arrived in the city, arrayed in all their classic beauty–with shield and helmet-with tunic and manteau-tinted and tasseled off, exactly for the painter’s palette. In silent and stoic dignity, these lords of the forest strutted about the city for a few days, wrapped in their pictorial robes, with their brows plumed with the quills of the war-eagle.

George Catlin
George Catlin (1796 – 1872)

Catlin later, summarized wonderfully the heart and soul of those peoples:

•             I love a people that have always made me welcome to the very best that they had.

•             I love a people who are honest without laws, who have no jails and no poorhouses.

•             I love a people who keep the commandments without ever having read or heard them preached from the pulpit.

•             I love a people who never swear or take the name of God in vain.

•             I love a people who love their neighbors as they love themselves.

•             I love a people who worship God without a Bible, for I believe that God loves them also.

•             I love a people whose religion is all the same, and who are free from religious animosities.

•             I love a people who have never raised a hand against me, or stolen my property, when there was no law to punish either.

•             I love and do not fear mankind where God has made and left them, for they are his children.

•             I love a people who have never fought a battle with the white man, except on their own ground.

•             I love a people who live and keep what is their own without lock and keys.

•             I love a people who do the best they can. And oh how I love a people who do not live for the love of money.


Martin L. King and Robert Kennedy

April 4th 1968. Martin Luther King, Jr was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee.

Robert Kennedy, that was at the time serving as senator of New York, wanted personally to deliver the shocking news to the people of Indianapolis.

Robert Kennedy
In his improvised speech, he informed the gathered crowd of the assassination, adding:

‘… But we have to make an effort in the United States, we have to make an effort to understand, to get beyond these rather difficult times.

My favorite poet was Aeschylus. He once wrote: “Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”

What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black’.

History Politics

JFK and Solon

John F. Kennedy’s Address before the American Newspaper Publishers Association, April 27, 1961

‘Without debate, without criticism, no Administration and no country can succeed–and no republic can survive. That is why the Athenian lawmaker Solon decreed it a crime for any citizen to shrink from controversy. And that is why our press was protected by the First Amendment– the only business in America specifically protected by the Constitution- -not primarily to amuse and entertain, not to emphasize the trivial and the sentimental, not to simply “give the public what it wants”–but to inform, to arouse, to reflect, to state our dangers and our opportunities, to indicate our crises and our choices, to lead, mold, educate and sometimes even anger public opinion.’

The politically fertile ground of Athens needed someone to sow the seeds of Democracy. That someone was Solon.

‘Society is well governed when its people obey the magistrates, and the magistrates obey the law’

Growing up in 6th c.BC Athens, he was fortunate enough to receive his education by the best teachers and he used to frequent among the most respected philosophers of the day. That superior education earned him the reputation of not only being the most learned Athenian of the day but also one of the wisest law-givers of the ancient world, admired both by Greeks and Romans.

SOLON (640-558 BC, Athens)

Athenian society was on the brink of collapse and Solon was called in to save the day. He immediately introduced a number of measures:

  • He cancelled all debts
  • He forbade loans
  • He freed the enslaved

All this was possible after he persuaded all citizens of Athens that from now on, the Law and only the Law shall be above all.

We have to keep in mind that Solon lived during an age of tyrants. Athens was governed by rulers that were in possession of political power through violence and force. Solon’s behavior in this politically hostile and perilous environment was always dictated by his zest for freedom, equality and social justice.

‘Men keep their agreements when it is an advantage to both parties not to break them; and I shall so frame my laws that it will be evident to the Athenians that it will be for their interest to observe them’

Even when he was really old he never stopped reminding his fellow citizens that it was their duty to get rid of all tyrants as soon as possible -and he did this publicly, displaying unprecedented boldness.

He even ignored the continuous threats of the notorious Peisistratus -one of the most powerful and feared demagogues of the day. Even though Peisistratus’ rule was actually fair and temperate (Aristotle notes that his administration was ” more like constitutional government than a tyranny”) in the eyes of Solon, Peisistratus was still a tyrant, as he wasn’t chosen by ‘The People’. When the ruler’s attempts to shut the wise statesman ‘s mouth proved fruitless, Peisistratus asked him what makes him so determined to continuously oppose his government! Solon answered: “My old age” [Diod.Sic. Book 9,4]