What’s it like to feel connected?

Native American Dancers
America has a history and culture that goes back thousands of years, rich with traditional dances, music, and artforms.
Too bad most Americans don’t know much about it.

What a treat for a traveler to sink into a movie theater seat, with a tub of buttery popcorn and a giant soda, for two hours of air conditioning and Hollywood blockbuster fun! So far, Craig and I have seen Hombre De Acero (Man of Steel) and Guerra Mundial Z (World War Z) here and we had a great time. It’s like returning home for a few hours, a little vacation from our travels. (Cartagena Travel Tip: Catch a movie in English  at the Plaza Caribe Cine. All the movies are dubbed except the 3D ones, which are in English with Spanish subtitles!)

Last time we went to the theater, the coming attractions included a  mini-documentary promoting the indigenous handicrafts of Colombia. I can’t find the exact film on youtube, but it was similar to this one:


The crafts were beautiful — and some were works of art.

My mind wandered as I watched. What’s it like, I wondered, to live in a country that feels connected to its past? That draws its culture from the indigenous people?

Once again, travel gives me new eyes for my own culture.

In my country, the indigenous people were slaughtered, and the few who remain are utterly disenfranchised and separated from society. When the US gained its independence, it wasn’t the indigenous people taking their nation back from the imperialist forces. It was a group of imperialist forces declaring themselves independent of their mothership

What would our country be like, I wondered, if we stopped pretending like the US appeared out of nowhere in 1776 and tracing our history through our European roots, and recognized that our nation has thousands of years of history on its own soil? What if we respected the culture of our Native residents and considered their culture to be the dominant history of our land?

In Ecuador and Peru, I saw  indigenous Quechua people everywhere. They often come into the city to sell handcrafted items and homegrown produce on the street. Although they are still persecuted, they are also integrated (ie not living on reservations, and represented in government). Their situation is far from ideal, but they have a living, breathing culture.

The Maori people in New Zealand  still face discrimination, but they’ve had seats reserved in the Parliament since 1868, and protests in the 60s have led to efforts at cultural preservation and closing the  socioeconomic gap. They are, at least, a living breathing part of the nation, making up about 15% of the population there.

Helped by disease, the US settlers were more successful than most in their attempted genocide of the indigenous people. Less than 2% of our population identified  as Native in the 2010 census. If Native Americans were a species of owl, I suspect we’d consider them endangered and be working desperately to rebuild the population. I can’t speak for the surviving Native Americans and don’t know what’s best for them. But how much richer would our lives be if we integrated their culture into our own?

What if US history classes began with the great Cahok city of the Mississippi River Valley, and included learning about all the various nations that occupied the lands? Instead of beginning in Europe… What if every American knew the names and accomplishments of some great Indian leaders instead of (or in addition to) Queen Victoria and King Henry VIII. A few songs, a few dance steps. What if we thought of Native Americans as part of “us” instead of as “them?”

I wonder what it would feel like if we could reclaim our true history and integrate our cultures?

Published by Lauren

I'm a nomadic freelance writer, out enjoying the world!


  • Jasmine

    July 8, 2013 at 4:53 am

    I was thinking about this just the other day. I’ve never lived so close to a reservation before in my life. I’m scared to go check it out. Then, I thought “I wonder if it’s a tourist attraction for some people, and they don’t rationalize that this is the way of some people’s lives.” A friend of mine works on a reservation in AZ and I don’t even know what that could be like. I think our size as a nation leaves quite a bit to be unchecked or undiscovered.

  • Lauren

    July 8, 2013 at 3:53 pm

    I think reservations are probably nothing like we would imagine. My mom showed me a movie once, called Smoke Signals, that was made by Native Americans and, I suppose, reflects their actual, modern-day experience of life in the US and on a reservation. Here’s the trailer, check it out if you get a chance!