To the editor:
I must debate my friend Dino Drudi and his understanding of the conquest of the New World, expressed in his letter, “The facts about indigenous peoples,” in the Sept. 19 Alexandria Times. I admire people like Dino who get involved whether I agree with them or not.
Clearly Drudi’s education about the conquest comes from the European view. He mentions the desire of Catholic Church leaders to convert the indigenous peoples. Unfortunately, the conquest fell not to the priests, but to land-grabbing adventurers in both North and South America. The church created something known as the “Regimento.” The adventurers were directed to read this to the indig- enous peoples. If they accepted this document, they could be treated as civilized people, otherwise they were subject to theft and enslavement.
The indigenous peoples had to understand and accept, not just the Christian God, but the supremacy of the pope and the Spanish monarch. They must have felt as we would feel if we witnessed aliens climbing down from a space ship.
Priests struggled to build understanding between wildly different cultures. Bernardino de Sahgun, a Franciscan missionary, wrote a 12-volume encyclopedia of Aztec life and is remembered gratefully by ethnographers for his invaluable work.
In the Yucatan, Diego de Landa, third bishop of Yucatan, cornered a Maya nobleman – one of a few who could read and write the complicated Mayan language – and forced him to give lessons. The lessons did not go well, but de Landa wrote them down. Centuries later his notes turned up in a Spanish library and provided the key for translating written Mayan, a system recognized as true writing. Spoken Mayan languages are still used by millions of people in Mexico and Central America.
History shows that European diseases brought by Old World visitors caused far greater loss of life than the Aztec human sacrifice and other indigenous peoples practices. Indigenous peoples in Mexico and Central America had no impunity to these diseases, and whole villages were quickly wiped out. For all these reasons I support having Indigenous People’s Day, although for the sake of primary school children, I would have preferred to call it First Americans Day.
-Katy Cannady, Alexandria