Author Archive: carl

more thoughts on the sins of my ancestors – a response to Skylark

Skylark — great questions you’re asking over on the ancestors’ sins thread! Sorry I’m slow to respond. Karissa and I are expecting our first child in the next week or two, and March 31 was the end of MCC’s fiscal year, which meant lots of extra bookkeeping work. Life just doesn’t seem to let up for blogging!

I think I miscommunicated in my “sins of the ancestors” post, and your response is helping me see how. The family research you’re doing is valuable (and by all means I’d encourage you to keep digging into it!), but I’m also talking about “ancestors” on the collective level. Individual family inheritance (of land, wealth, social connections) is one way that privilege (particularly class privilege) is perpetuated from generation to generation, but it’s not the only way. When I say “I benefit from the sins of my ancestors” I’m referring in part, but not solely, to my biological ancestors.

What do I mean by this? I grew up on fertile farmland in northern Indiana. Only a few miles from my parents’ house is the spot where used to stand Five Medals’ Potawatomi village. Five Medals (or Onaska) made peace with the United States in 1795 (Treaty of Greenville) and met with several presidents. Nevertheless, the US Army torched his people’s village and all their surrounding crops in 1812, and then again in 1813. In 1838 Menominee (leader of the last major Potawatomi settlement in northern Indiana) was “tied like a dog” and he and his people were force-marched to Kansas, a journey on which many of them died.


on history and not repeating it

One of the reasons I think it’s important that white people / Euro-Americans become more than passing familiar with our ancestors’ sins is so we don’t repeat them. Which is precisely what we are doing right now in Iraq. And since Sam Hurst has already said this (The New Iraq looks an awful lot like the Old Pine Ridge – Rapid City Journal, Mar 18) more eloquently than I would have, I won’t try to restate it. But do read his piece – it’s excellent.

Bonus link: have you heard about the privately-run prisons we’re building to contain the imminent threat to our national security posed by two-year-old immigrant children?

sins of our ancestors

Hey all – I figure it’s about time for my first post. I was writing a comment over at Hugo Schwyzer’s blog, and despite my best efforts it outgrew comment-hood and graduated into post-dom. So I thought I’d just post it over here, for your delectation and discussion.

In the discussion thread, Hugo said this (if you want the full context, you can go read the thread, which is interesting in its own right. And apologies to Hugo for picking on him, he just happened to offer up a softball-sized version of the same diversionary truisms I hear over and over from white people who don’t actually want to think about historical responsibility) :

We need to be honest about the mistakes of our ancestors. We also need to see those mistakes in a historical context, and avoid the tendency to mythologize and glamorize those who were the victims of colonization. Cruelty is a human universal, and sin — at least the capacity for sin — is found in every tribe and nation under the sun. Collectively, some have inflicted both more harm (and perhaps more good) than others.

And I respond:

On the one hand, yes, of course; and on the other hand, no. These are precisely the vacuous truisms that are so tempting to _replace_ substantive reflection on what our collective history means and what it says about us.