Nearly Erased, but Not Forgotten, by Rebecca Mezei

When I was little, and even to this today, I loved to color, draw, and just make art. I found that making art was a fun way of expressing myself, allowing myself to convey feelings without having to say words or without having to formulate emotions into a cohesive thought. Furthermore, very early in life, I formed a habit of being eraser-happy. One misstep of my colored pencil and out the eraser would go, ready to cover my mistake in a layer of shed rubber. Even if the misstep was an improvement to my work, it was gone, forgotten, erased. A piece of the story to never be shared and to never be remembered.

As I walk around White Clay Creek I feel as though I see a similar behavior in the world. I walk in the snow and I leave footprints. These footprints will melt by the next time I return. I breath in the air and a cloud of smoke appears, yet quickly disappears. As I walk, I kick leaves and sticks around in all directions. However, even that is fleeting as the wind will surely move them back. Every action I have taken while at the park, erased. I tried to test this further. I made a ripple in the water. It eventually dissipated. Nothing I did was lasting, a phenomenon which in nature is relatively reassuring. My actions did not leave a permanent impact, allowing for others to experience as I have. However, the same phenomenon is also scary; it is terrifying to think that something could be so easily forgotten, so easily erased.

Thinking about this in the middle of a natural park makes it hard to ignore how the indigenous people seemed to suffer and be erased. The settlers came to North America with the goal of a fresh slate. Upon their arrival, they realized this clean slate “for them” could only be achieved with messy conflicts and bloodshed of others. The indigenous people were the ones to suffer the disappointment and the disappearing. They were treated as having no value: less wealthy, less deserving and generally worthless. Their lifestyle and lives were ignored. Their progresses trampled. Their villages and societies burned. Ultimately, they were brutally killed and mutilated, with only fractions of the initial populations left to remain. More than hundreds of thousands of Native American Lives, forgotten, ignored, erased.

Thinking about that is so crazy to me. It is inconceivable to think that anyone would be willing to cause such suffering in order to further themselves to a goal they conceived only a few years prior after facing societal injustices in their place of origin. What should be more important? Why were the settlers the ones who claimed the right to decide? They should not have had the ability to erase entire cultures as they had done. They erased populations of animals, they erased buildings, they erased most of entire societies without a drop, a speck, or even a thought of remorse.

I am not related to an indigenous person. I am a child of two families who immigrated here: one from Hungary and the other from Belarus &Ukraine. For me, my cultures have felt very distant from me in some respect, separated by borders and oceans. However, my parents and grandparents, and even my aunts and uncles, have taught about how they grew up. They have made family recipes passed down through generations and have even taught bits and pieces of their languages. They have told me stories about my grandparents when they were in Europe and about the struggles they faced to get to the United States. They have played songs, showed me pictures and helped me try to learn to feel connected to a culture that I do not live in, a generation removed. However, for the few indigenous individuals who survived and were able to live on in this country, covered with eraser shavings of their cultures, their experiences must have been very different.

For descendants of the indigenous people who survived, their connection to their culture must be hard and painful, as their very way of living is a reminder of what they lost in the past. While their parents and families are probably still present in their lives, their communities are likely small. I expect that their experience of trying to connect to their culture is more difficult, as many people were killed, or forcibly assimilated, in an effort to erase them from the slate of North America. Many traditions, family recipes, songs, and other cultural aspects of importance likely fell to the same fate.

In class we watched a video about chief Quiet Thunder, a direct descendant of an indigenous individual in the Leni Lenape tribe. In the video he talked about his culture and how his tribe thought of food and of the pipe and how they continue to plan to treat the earth to prepare for seven generations to follow. This video was informative, of course, but it also made me upset. These cultures should be one which we are all well informed about and familiar with. It shouldn’t take a video of a late chief to open our eyes to these cultures. There should not be only a few individuals who participate in these cultures that were here so long before the settlers. It is unfair and it is inconceivable that anyone considered it to be okay to try and erase a culture. It is worse that they succeeded for a large fraction of the populations that were here and are here no longer. While the indigenous populations were nearly erased, it is our responsibility now to make sure that they are not forgotten.  We should be doing everything in our power to help them prosper and grow and regain some of what was taken away, regain some of who they were and should be again.

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