|During a tour of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, the Park Service guide asked us to guess of which country we
would have considered ourselves a part if we lived in Pennsylvania in the early 1700s. ‘Well, that depends,’ I
Was he thinking of the Lenape? Of Sháwanwaki or Onöndowága?
Of Europeans, and if so from where? Or of the Africans present in the
Our guide fished briefly for the response he wanted before giving it
to us: England.
He was trying to remind us that the United States did not exist before 1776,
but surely the Native people at the time did not consider themselves to be part of
England. Our guide was excluding those people from consideration. They were
in the way of the narrative he wanted to tell us about our country’s past.
Later I visited the State Capitol in Sacramento. The tour was great, but I
perked up when the docent said there were only a couple of hundred people living
in Sacramento at the onset of the Gold Rush. He wanted to give us a sense of how
much immigration into California increased after gold was discovered, but I had
“Does that figure include indigenous people?”
“Good point,” he replied, and no, it didn’t. If the indigenous people were included, he said, the figure would
certainly be higher. John Sutter, indeed, interacted extensively with Indian people after he established New
Helvetia within walking distance of the Capitol steps, fewer than ten years before the Gold Rush began. There
were lots of people in the area at the time.
These are examples of how even today, Native people are often excluded from narratives about who and where
we are. I am sure you can think of others from your own experience. It seems odd to have to ask why Native
people aren’t counted or considered in these stories about the country when they were and are obviously here, but
it happens frequently, so we have to ask.
To avoid perpetuating such omissions at historical sites, in schools, in the media, and in all of life, we need to stop,
think, question, and make sure Indian people are included. Otherwise, the narrative simply won't make sense.