Our celebrant began Mass today remembering the Spanish, the Dutch, the French and the English who came to the New World as colonists and conquerors, engaging the native peoples and settling in the lands where they lived.
“Lord, have mercy.” For the injustices against the native peoples and the land God provided here.
The native peoples are often forgotten in the story of the “discovery” of America. Our heroes tend to be the settlers who came on ships, built towns and cities, explored the land and gave us what we have today. But it came at a price.
The smallpox that disfigured and partially blinded Kateri Tekakwitha, who lived along the Mohawk River past Albany, NY, was brought to this continent by European settlers. Diseases like it brought death to large numbers of the native peoples. Wars and greed for Indian lands caused further diminishment among them.
If you visit New York harbor by way of the Staten Island Ferry look towards the various shores , once the lands where native peoples fished, hunted and traded. The water was fresher then, fish and shellfish plentiful, the air cleaner, the earth less damaged by human activity.
The National Museum of the American Indian, located in the old customs house across from Battery Park near the ferry, is a good place to remember the place of the native peoples in the story of America. They were the first the Europeans traded with; they were the guides into an unknown land; they provided some of the foods that fed growing populations in Europe and America. Their respect for the land was greater than those who came here.
At the museum I always remember Father Isaac Jogues, the Jesuit missionary, who was eventually killed by the Mohawks at Ossernonon (Auriesville). Previously, he fled from Indian captivity and came to New Amsterdam (New York) where he was put on a ship for France by a kindly Dutch minister. Dedicated to the native people, he returned hoping to bring them the Christian faith.
Civilizations clashed when Europeans and native peoples first met.