Author busts myths many are taught in school about Native Americans

MARQUETTE — A best-selling author visits Northern Michigan University to try to correct lies that many of us are taught in school about Native Americans.

Dr. James Loewen is also an historian and a retired sociology professor. His books include the 1990s bestseller, “Lies My Teacher Told Me.”

NMU’s Center for Native American Studies hosted a lecture this morning in which he discussed U.S. history textbooks and their treatment of native people.

“The first problem with the textbooks is that they simply say people came across — walked across — the Bering Strait when it wasn’t a strait, when it was a land bridge,” Dr. Loewen said. “We don’t know that. It might have happened. I think it’s much more likely they came by boat. And, plus (as a possible reason why textbooks continue to present it in this fashion), ‘we don’t have any actual fossil evidence of the boats’. Well, no primitive people were so primitive as to have invented a stone boat, and we don’t have evidence of anything more than 10,000 years ago that wasn’t made of stone, pretty much. You can’t do it out of wood and have it survive that long, so I think there’s some good reasons to believe that it was probably by boat. And as soon as you say that, it makes you realize, ‘hmm; maybe these folks weren’t so stupid after all’.”

Many Americans learn in elementary school about the Dutch purchase of Manhattan, supposedly for $24 worth of trinkets. The actual price was much higher than that, and in fact, the Dutch paid the wrong tribe.

“They bought it from the Canarsies, who lived in Brooklyn! The Indians who lived in Manhattan weren’t thrilled with the Dutch presence at all,” Loewen said. “And it wasn’t $24 worth of beads, either. It was $2,400, about, and it was not beads. It was stuff like axes, steel axes, steel knives, guns.”

Dr. Loewen is also presenting a program tonight at 7:00 at NMU. It concerns the years from about 1890 to 1920, which he and others sometimes refer to as the low point in the history of American race relations.