L’Anse aux Meadows

Flags of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, and the United Nations, at the L’Anse aux Meadows visitors’ centre. 

As promised, a post about L’Anse aux Meadows, an archaeological site of some importance, located at the northern tip of the island of Newfoundland and maintained as a National Heritage Site by Parks Canada. The site, discovered in the 1960s, offers indisputable proof that Scandinavians settled in the New World around the year 1000, almost five hundred years before Columbus landed in the Bahamas; for this reason it has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is also quite popular and provides a lot of the branding for local tourism (the Viking Trail, the Viking Lodge, the Great Viking Feast, etc.)

Several Icelandic sagas describe voyages made by the Norse from their settlements in Greenland to mainland North America in search of needed supplies, chiefly timber. The explorers visited places they named “Helluland,” “Markland,” and “Vinland” – and since the nineteenth century archaeologists have tried to identify them. It is reckoned that “Helluland” is Baffin Island, and “Markland” somewhere on the coast of Labrador. Vinland was more elusive: the sagas describe it as a place where wild grapes grew, which could be on the southern shore of of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, or south of that in New England. 

Vínland, with an acute accent over the “i”, means “wineland,” which would be a natural name for a place with wild grapes. The Norwegian husband-and-wife team of Helge Ingstad and Anne Stine Ingstad, however, hypothesized that it was simply “Vinland,” without the accent, which would mean “pastureland,” with northern Newfoundland being a promising site. Visiting L’Anse aux Meadows in 1960, he was shown a series of low turf walls that the locals referred to as “the Indian mounds.” Excavations throughout the 1960s showed that these were the remains of buildings similar to those found in Iceland and Greenland and dating from around AD 1000. What really established the site as Norse, however, were such discoveries as a spindle whorl used for weaving, a stone with a depression in the middle (interpreted either as a lamp or a pivot stone for a door), a bronze fastening pin, and the remains of a forge that had produced iron slag, and the remains of iron rivets used for boat repair. No Natives at this time used such technology. 

Remains of the Viking buildings.

As it turns out, L’Anse aux Meadows is probably not Vinland, which really ought to have a long “i” and mean “Wineland,” as the sagas suggest. Birgitta Linderoth Wallace points out, in Westward Vikings, that the word “vin” as “pasture” had fallen out of use by 1000. She suggests that Vinland was likely somewhere in northern New Brunswick, and that L’Anse aux Meadows is Straumfjord (“Current Ford”) mentioned in Erik the Red’s Saga, a sort of base camp that served as a gateway to Vinland and a place to gather goods before shipping them back to Greenland. The inhabitants at the site did not practice agriculture, but they could spend the winter there if need be, in the substantial turf buildings they had constructed.

Model of the site.

Will we ever discover where in “Vinland” the Norse actually came ashore? Wallace claims that it’s unlikely. Any temporary camps the Norse may have set up in New Brunswick would have left little evidence behind, or at least such evidence would be indistinguishable from sites of Native provenance. Even items of Viking origin would not be proof of an actual encampment, but simply of trade (such items can travel a long way from their point of origin, through many intermediaries). 

Parks Canada reconstruction of Norse buildings at L’Anse aux Meadows.

L’Anse aux Meadows was not occupied for very long, perhaps less than ten years in total (at least, if you don’t subscribe to the most recent scholarship on the place). Our guide claimed that the Ingstads, and subsequent archaeologists, have actually found very little at the site, evidence that it was deliberately abandoned (if it were suddenly and hastily abandoned, the occupants would have left a lot more stuff, since they wouldn’t have had time to clean it up). He also claimed that the abandonment was as a result of the conversion of the Norse to Christianity, which also took place around the year 1000. With conversion, trade with Europe became much easier, obviating the need to sail to Vinland, although Wallace suggests, from evidence uncovered in Greenland, that the Vinland explorers were already Christian. Either way, it was likely just as easy to sail to Norway as it was to Newfoundland, where more interesting goods could be acquired, and where there was a bigger market for Greenland’s walrus ivory. And in any event, Wallace estimates that maintaining the site was too expensive in terms of manpower – it would have required some 5% of the adult male population of Greenland, which was simply too much.

Reconstructed forge, L’Anse aux Meadows.

It is certainly worth a visit if you ever get there. The Visitors’ Centre is excellent, with thorough and informative exhibits, and a great gift shop. The reconstructed buildings, complete with re-enactors, are also a lot of fun. 

But part of me wonders whether it isn’t somewhat ethnocentric to make such a big deal about L’Anse aux Meadows. The place is significant, but far more significant is Port au Choix, an archaeological site which we visited as we drove up the northern peninsula. It features six thousand years of continuous occupation by successive Native peoples, including the Maritime Archaic people, the Dorset people, the Groswater people and the Beothuks, all of whom fished and hunted seals. This place deserves to be better known.

The trouble is that it would be politically very difficult to have re-enactors playing Indians. Even the diorama, you’ll notice, does not feature three-dimensional figures.

The Cherokee Nation

I like a lot of what Massachusetts senator and presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren has to say, but the fact remains that she repeatedly and deliberately claimed Cherokee ancestry over the course of her academic career, for the sake of whatever boost that particular valence of identity would give to it. Frankly, I don’t understand how people can get away with this grift. Unlike the categories of “Hispanic” and “African-American,” “Native American” is buttressed by a specific legal status. The “Cherokee grandmother” (or worse, “Cherokee princess”) that you’re supposedly descended from might be interesting to you, but it is of no more moral significance than having Italian or Irish ancestors. Unless you are a member of a federally-recognized tribe, then you don’t get to say that you’re a Native American! Alas, a buyer’s market exists for these claims: liberal academic institutions are so desperate for American minorities, both as students and faculty, that they (apparently) won’t investigate them too deeply. But it is still fundamentally dishonest, not much different from plagiarism, that is, stealing someone else’s stuff and passing it off as your own, which is the unforgivable academic sin.* 

I was glad, therefore, to read this piece by Rebecca Nagle on Huffpost Personal (hat tip: Funk Heritage Center):

The center of this controversy is not Warren’s political career, it is Cherokee sovereignty and self-determination. The monster I am trying to wrestle to the ground is not one white woman who claimed to be Cherokee. It is the hundreds of thousands of white people claiming to be Cherokee and the broad social acceptance that emboldens them. It threatens the future of my tribe. Warren is just the most public example.

When white people took over our land, they outnumbered us. Today, Cherokees are once again outnumbered by outsiders, claiming not our land, but our identity. In the last U.S. census, there were more white people claiming to be Cherokee than there are Cherokee citizens enrolled in our tribes. These fakes are writing our history, selling our art, representing us to the United Nations, fighting for the same legal status as our tribe, and stealing millions of dollars from federal programs set aside for people of color. And they all have stories that sound just like Warren’s. 

Read the whole thing

* Of course, we could obviate this entire problem by not caring about someone’s racial, ethnic, or sexual identity, but that’s not the world we live in, alas. 

New Echota

On Saturday we had the pleasure of visiting New Echota State Historical Site near Calhoun. New Echota was the capital of the Cherokee Nation from 1825 until 1838, when U.S. government forces, under the command of Winfield Scott, rounded them up and forced their removal to Oklahoma. This is the infamous Trail of Tears, and a monument commemorates this as you arrive at the visitors’ center.

The flag on the left is that of the United Keetoowah Band, and the flags on the right are those of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and the Cherokee Nation, the three federally-recognized Cherokee tribes. (The United Keetoowah Band and the Cherokee Nation are headquartered in Tahlequah, Okla., while the Eastern Band is headquartered in Cherokee, N.C.)

A plan of the site. Alas, the Worcester House (8) is the only original building here. This was the home of Samuel Worcester, a missionary to the Cherokee and publisher of the Cherokee Phoenix (see below). Convicted by the state of Georgia for living in Cherokee territory without a license, Worcester appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which found the Georgia law unconstitutional, as it was the federal government that had the exclusive right to treat with Native Americans. President Andrew Jackson is reputed to have said in response that “John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it!” Worcester went west with the Cherokee and died there in 1861.

Other buildings are reconstructions, like the Council House (3), where the Cherokee legislature convened…

…or the Supreme Courthouse (4), which doubled as a school.

What made this visit especially pleasurable was to see Reinhardt history graduate Cole Gregory, now employed with the state parks service. Here he is in the Vann Tavern (9), explaining how it worked (an interesting detail: a window on the back served as a drive-thru for people that the manager did not want coming in). James Vann was a Cherokee leader who owned several taverns; this one does date from the early nineteenth century but was originally located in Forsyth County and moved here in the 1950s.

The reconstructed Print Shop (11) represents the locale of the famous Cherokee Phoenix. A friendly and knowledgeable volunteer explained things to us. The newspaper was largely written by Elias Boudinot, who believed that relocation to the west was in the best interests of the Cherokee and who thus signed the Treaty of New Echota with the federal government. This “Treaty Party” represented a minority of the Cherokee Nation, and the signatories, including Boudinot, were assassinated not long after they arrived in Oklahoma.

You can buy a copy of Vol. 1, No. 4 in the gift shop. This one contains notice of Cherokee laws passed, news of ongoing negotiations with Washington, poetry, and news of the escape of some missionaries from Maori cannibals. As you can see, it is printed both in English and in Cherokee, using Sequoyah’s syllabary. (We learned that they type foundry had changed some of his characters for easier casting – and that archaeologists at New Echota had recovered a cache of individual letters [“sorts”] at the bottom of a well, into which they had been thrown by U.S. troops in 1838.)

We were pleased to find this book in the gift shop. John Ross was a Cherokee leader who opposed forced resettlement in the west; his house is in Rossville, Georgia, less than 1000 feet from the Tennessee state line. Jeff Bishop is Reinhardt’s new director of the Funk Heritage Center and, as you can see, an expert in Cherokee history.

***

On our way home we stopped at the Rock Garden, situated behind Calhoun’s Seventh-Day Adventist Church. The Rock Garden is the creation of one DeWitt “Old Dog” Boyd, and features sculptures made up pebbles glued together to form miniature buildings. My favorite was this interpretation of Notre Dame cathedral, complete with flying buttresses, but I loved the whole thing – I respect anyone with the vision and the patience to realize art like this, like Howard Finster and his Paradise Garden.

News from Canada

• A statue of Canada’s first Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald has been removed from the front of the Victoria (BC) City Hall, on account of him being a “key architect of the Indian residential school system.”

• Canada might be getting a new statutory holiday “to mark Canada’s ‘tragic and painful’ residential school legacy.”

• One alumnus of the residential school system was Tom Longboat (1887-1949), a Mohawk from Brantford, Ontario, and the premier long-distance runner of his day. The National Post‘s Joe O’Connor remembers Edgar Laplante, a con artist who traveled around the United States pretending to be Longboat while Longboat was actually fighting in France, and then, when the jig was up, “Chief White Elk.” (Reminds me of Grey Owl, a.k.a. Englishman Archibald Belaney.)

More Indians on Seals

According to Campus Reform, by showing a white explorer being guided by a Native American, the seal of Marquette University of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, constitutes a microaggression. According to one professor, Fr. Jacques Marquette, who is depicted on the seal and after whom the school is named, “took advantage of an economic disparity to have a Native American as his guide.”

Wikipedia.

Native people on seals is somewhat of a theme here at First Floor Tarpley, but so is good design. Personally I don’t see much wrong with Marquette’s seal from a symbolic perspective. He hired a Native guide, and the seal acknowledges this! Surely this is better than erasing Natives from the picture entirely, something that has certainly happened before.

But from the perspective of design, this is a train wreck. Why can’t people criticize it on account of that?

Lachlan Macquarie

From the antipodean ABC, courtesy my friend Lachlan Mead, an article assessing the George Washington of Australia:

Fact check: Was Lachlan Macquarie a mass murderer who ordered the genocide of Indigenous people?

The claim

Lachlan Macquarie, governor of NSW from 1810 to 1821, is often remembered by history as a man of the enlightenment who brought civilisation to the colony.

Indeed, the plaque attached to his monument in Sydney’s Hyde Park reads: “He was a perfect gentleman, a Christian and supreme legislator of the human heart.”

But late last month Bronwyn Carlson, head of Indigenous Studies at Macquarie University, challenged this during an ABC RN Breakfast interview.

Asked if she would be satisfied with a different or additional plaque, Professor Carlson said: “Would people be satisfied to say this: ‘Here stands a mass murderer who ordered the genocide of Indigenous people’?”

Is this characterisation of Macquarie accurate? Did Macquarie commit mass murder? Did he order genocide? RMIT ABC Fact Check delves into a fraught and controversial part of our history.

The verdict

The issue is not cut and dried.

In April 1816, Macquarie ordered soldiers under his command to kill or capture any Aboriginal people they encountered during a military operation aimed at creating a sense of “terror”.

At least 14 men, women and children were brutally killed, some shot, others driven over a cliff.

Although Macquarie’s orders included an instruction to punish the guilty with as little injury to the innocent as possible, archival evidence shows he knew innocent people could be killed.

In addition, Macquarie explicitly instructed his soldiers to offer those Aboriginal groups encountered an opportunity to surrender, and to open fire only after meeting “resistance”.

These instructions appear to have been ignored. Historical records suggest the soldiers offered no opportunity to surrender, opening fire on a group of people ambushed at night and who were fleeing in terror.

Macquarie appears to have glossed over this failure in the weeks following the massacre, telling his superior back in England that his men acted “perfectly in Conformity to the instructions I had furnished them”, and claiming the soldiers had indeed encountered resistance before opening fire.

Macquarie was ultimately responsible for his men. By today’s standards, his actions — and lack of action in not bringing soldiers who disobeyed his instructions to account — would, as a minimum, likely be regarded as a war crime involving a disproportionate response that led to a significant loss of life.

And, depending on the definition, the incident might also be described as “mass murder”, perhaps akin to recent military massacres in which innocent civilians attempting to flee were killed.

The issue of whether or not the actions amount to genocide is a complex one. A legal definition of genocide did not exist until after World War II. It is questionable whether this can be applied retrospectively to Macquarie’s actions, which took place some 130 years before the UN General Assembly made genocide a crime under international law.

Furthermore, it seems unlikely that Macquarie set about deliberately to “destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”, as per the UN definition, however misguided and destructive some of his Indigenous policies might have been. It is, therefore, problematic to suggest that Macquarie, as an individual, was guilty of ordering genocide.

However, it can be argued that the impact of the wider conflict between Aboriginal people and Europeans (whether soldiers or vigilante settlers), combined with a range of other factors — the loss of land and food sources, the spread of disease, the removal of children, and alcohol abuse, for example — contributed to the large-scale loss of life and culture that resembled genocide.

Experts contacted by Fact Check acknowledged the nuance in the arguments, but differed in their interpretations of Macquarie’s actions and his culpability or otherwise.

Read the whole thing.