How Encyclopaedias Die
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Lakota Native American Man at Pow Wow. Photo by Andrew James/Unsplash
Experiences

How Encyclopaedias Die

Indigenous Americans and the Pandemic
Julia Fiedorczuk
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The COVID-19 pandemic has taken an exceptional toll on Native Americans, leading to twice as many deaths as in the rest of the society. Along with the passing away of the tribes’ elderly, we are witnessing the disappearance of the last link between knowledge, tradition and language. Aid proves harder than usual, owing to a lack of trust between people and a government that has a long track record of using modern medicine as a means of wielding power and effecting violence.

The Indigenous peoples of North America are currently developing unique ways of adapting to the modern world of technology without breaking away from what sustains and nourishes all people: the dynamic, evolving planet. This process is extraordinary, since it occurs after centuries of bloody conquests, thievery of land and resources, manipulation, lies and violation of treatises – not to mention brutal acculturation attempts, which continued almost until the end of the 20th century (including compulsory boarding schools for Native children in both Canadian and the US). Still, Indigenous cultures not only managed to survive, but have also enjoyed a dynamic revival. Tribal languages have been made part of school curriculums, while activists have battled to grant these societies the right to self-determination in political and cultural terms. Finally, efforts have been made to reinstate native legal systems, which take a different approach to Earth and its non-human inhabitants than those characteristic for Western thought.

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The Bloody Conquest
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Fragment of a mural depicting the history of Mexico, in the background the Aztec city of Tenochtitlán, between 1929 and 1935. Diego Rivera, Palacio Nacional in Mexico
Dreams and Visions

The Bloody Conquest

The Colonization of the Americas
Tomasz Wiśniewski

The sentimental depiction of the discovery of the New World as a great adventure is one of the biggest lies in human history. This is why it should come as no surprise that statues of Columbus and Cortés are being toppled. During just the first 50 years of colonization, the Indigenous populations of the Americas were reduced by 90%.

In his book Tristes Tropiques (Sad Tropics), Claude Lévi-Strauss rightly observes that the first encounter between Europeans and the Indigenous peoples of America should be considered the greatest adventure in the history of humankind, which is rather unlikely to be measured up to unless some alien civilization pays us a visit someday. It must have been a breathtaking experience to see for the first time the jungle, paradisical coastlines, volcanoes, animals that brought to mind mythology, cities with large markets, and people speaking languages unknown to the colonizers. When Bernal Díaz del Castillo – one of the foremost chroniclers of the conquest – first saw Tenochtitlán, the capital of the Aztec Empire, he thought he was dreaming. During the second and third expedition, Columbus observed his new surroundings so intensely that his eyes would bleed. 

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