Nacotchtank

In Australia, it is becoming a relatively common practice to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land where important meetings and government functions take place. They recognize the people who occupied the land they are on and sometimes are given a little bit of relevant history by a representative of the tribe. Australia has a VERY VERY shaky history with indigenous people, in ways similar to and distinct from the US, but that is evidence that at least some effort toward peace and justice is being made.

I had never heard of the Nacotchtank until yesterday, when I decided what I wanted to write my Independence Day blog post about. They are a tribe that is no more, one of the countless victims of White People in History. Facing encroaching violent settlers and dwindling numbers, they departed their homeland and became absorbed by larger tribes in the area.

They lived throughout what is now the District of Columbia, including on Capital Hill itself. Archaeological relics, including pottery and bones, have been found under and around the Supreme Court, White House, and Bolling Air Force Base. We owe them at very least the name Anacostia, some weird Latinization of Nacotchtank. In case you haven’t heard of it, the Anacostia is the river that flows into the Potomac in the southeast part of the District.

The National Museum of the American Indian (which, yikes, not even going to talk about that) has said that they only briefly mention the tribe because it essentially ceased to exist in the early eighteenth century, instead preferring to speak with the living tribes in the area–which they do, so that’s good. I’m not convinced we need to go back and find all the historical groups, especially on the East Coast, that’s just not really possible.

However. On some level, we need to remember. Not only were other people here first, people were here first and we deliberately exterminated them.

To be clear, I think America is a good idea. I appreciate the thought, and in many ways the reality, of the United States. But there’s a lot of very dark history that we consistently, as a nation, refuse to reckon with. I think that’s a big reason why there’s a lot of very dark present times. Because people who are not indigenous feel no compunction about railing against ‘illegal’ immigration.

ALL WHITE PEOPLE EXIST IN THIS COUNTRY BECAUSE OF COLONIALISM ie theft, murder, and genocide.

In a practical sense, yes, we are here and we have set up a government and that government should function appropriately. But in a sort of macro sense, we are still an occupying force hostile toward the local population. In a practical sense, immigration policy needs reform of course but is itself, in principle, a valid thing. In a larger way, though, borders are arbitrary and imaginary so why not let any and all people live anywhere they wish. Reality is a thing that we have to deal with, definitely, but so is morality so…

I do not imagine or expect this country to be perfect. And as a citizen, I am certainly not exerting every possible effort to effect the change that I wish to see. Even so, I think it is important that we, collectively, at least are trying to work toward justice and peace in a meaningful way. And we aren’t. Instead, we’re setting up concentration camps and killing innocents, then dehumanizing them by calling them illegals.

This is a pretty good place to live. A good place to be born. Especially but not exclusively for white men. But most of the ‘American idea’ stuff also exists in other countries and a lot of them do it better. Now more than ever, I just don’t feel much like celebrating. I don’t know exactly what should be done, Australia is an example of some bare minimum effort but isn’t necessarily the template to follow. And I think that I, as a white guy, probably shouldn’t be the one figuring it out. At least not on my own.

But here and now I want to apologize for my complicity in the oppression of indigenous peoples here and abroad. And I want to continue to do better.


I apologize, I’m too upset thinking about all this to include cats. I don’t want to subject them to this level of negative emotion.

Leaving tomorrow morning for a brief stop in St Louis. Wish me luck, it’s a long drive.

ᐃᓄᒃᑎᑐᑦ

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Ottawa Airbnb cat. So affectionate.

Lest ye imagine that my trip to Canada in late March was a vernal dream and that I walked about with perambulatory ease, allow me to set you aright. I woke up my last morning in Ottawa to snow, still descending, which decayed into freezing rain as I drove to Montréal. Upon reaching that municipality, rain and ice unabated, I proceeded to wander a while upon Mont Royal, the landmark which furnished the city with its name, and cover myself in ice while seeing only fog-obscured views and getting a little lost along poorly labeled paths. My last morning in Montreal preceded in line with that, a dusting of snow once more. And, about an hour out from home, more snow. And waking up the next morning, first morning back in Glen Arbor, just a teensy bit more.

So you know, spring.

People have talked about the great variability of spring in this region but I have not seen it. I have seen only more winter with slightly warmer temperatures. As my dear Edna St Vincent Millay put it, “Time does not bring relief; you all have lied”.

Anyway. I thought instead of a play-by-play of the rest of my trip, I would offer just a few summarized points and then move on. I had a lovely time, truly, but I have to say that I wasn’t overly impressed on the whole. In Canada, as in the US, it seems the west coast really is the best coast. But it was not all in vain.

[As a general aside, I’m confident that all this was very colored by my experience of the weather. If I were to visit for the first time maybe in May or something, my review might have sounded quite different. I tried to enjoy regardless, and mostly succeeded, but snow in April simply isn’t my scene.]

Ottawa was kind of an odd city. I told a friend it gave me a feeling that somehow combined Dublin, IE and Anchorage, AK and Burlington, VT. None of those are ringing endorsements (though I do love Burlington). I really appreciated the way indigenous art was presented, included, and described (in indigenous languages) in the National Gallery of Canada. And the buildings of Parliament Hill (and a few others) were absolutely exceptional, loved them a lot.

My experience of Montréal was, I think, the most hampered by inclement weather. I just didn’t want to go see much. I did hit my few highlights, so that was nice. I appreciated some nice architecture, and was pleased to walk through the Gay Village which was right near by Airbnb. But it was the end of my trip, it was cold, it was rainy, I stayed inside and read a good deal. The book wasn’t even that great so.

Finally, I arrived in Rochester, NY, for a visit with an old friend and her fiancé. It was very rejuvenating, just chatting and catching up and hanging out. Relaxing with someone who knows me well. Saw a bit of the city, which seemed nice enough, but mostly enjoyed a quiet finale to the journey.


My host in Montréal, interestingly, was French. From Brittany, which proved especially interesting when I learned (and told him, because he hadn’t known) that the much-celebrated Jacques Cartier, essentially the European who first got what became Canada going, was also born in Brittany. In fact, he was not even born in France. The Duchy of Brittany formally became part of France by an edict in (its status was super complicated so assigning a single year is iffy but) 1532 when the explorer was middle-aged.

I do not know a whole lot of Jacques’s biography other than a perusal of his Wikipedia page. I do not know his native tongue. But I do know that Wikipedia lists his name first as Jacques Cartier and second, suggestively, as Jakez Karter. Did he speak Breton?

I noted this to my host, and rather ham-handedly compared it to Québec in terms of linguistic imperialism. He replied that that was of an earlier age, that it was the time of colonization, whereas Québec was not. We moved the conversation on from there and it was all good but I have to tell you, I disagree strongly.

First, let it be said that a) yes, the whole Québec thing is an entirely different question than Brittany, that wasn’t really a good comparison, and b) I love minority languages and cultures and all that, preserve preserve preserve! But. You’re white Canadians mad about people barging into where your ancestors lived and foisting their culture and language on you? Tell me more.

I don’t want to get super political on a topic about which I am very poorly informed. So I will only say this: the people with the best claim to Québec–and all of Canada and really the Americas– speak, historically, neither French nor English.

Like I said, I really know nothing about this. But it seems to me that Canada seems to be trying, for French-speakers and indigenous peoples alike. Not doing super well all the time, but trying. And that’s more than I can say for my current country of residence. My two cents, at least.

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