Celebrating the Real First

Oct 9, 2018


On a recent boat tour aboard Pittsburgh’s Gateway Clipper, our guide told us that about 30 miles down the Ohio River lies what is reportedly the first human settlement in North America, the Meadowcroft Rockshelter. Archaeologists have dated it to some 16,000 years ago.  


I wasn’t able to visit in person but began imagining the first residents of this New World country. 


Yesterday some people celebrated Columbus’ so-called discovery of America while others marked it as a day to recognize and honor Native American life and culture. I applaud the states of Alaska, Hawaii, Oregon, South Dakota, and Vermont for replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day, a national observance much worthier in my book. 


Perhaps colonization was inevitable, but it came with a radically different set of values, particularly in relationship to the natural environment.  


In New Zealand there’s a Maori word, “kaitiakitanga,” which refers to guardianship of nature. In both New Zealand and Australia you’ll find the practice of acknowledging the traditional custodians of land where public events are held. And I recently witnessed a similar custom at the Schingoethe Center for Native American art and culture at Aurora University. 


Nature was intimately connected with the spiritual realm for our native ancestors, and although research and common sense suggest that Native American interaction with the environment was not idyllic, I think it’s reasonable to say that it was a far cry from where our selfish treatment has brought us today. 


I’m Paula Garrett and that’s my perspective.