To the editor:
Perhaps I should not have been surprised that this month the Times carried no articles about Indigenous Peoples Day. For many of us, we’re not exactly sure how to commemorate this day any differently than Columbus Day. It’s a day off and a three-day weekend. For those who have the time, I urge them to visit Virginia’s newest state park: Machicomoco. The history of indigenous peoples in our state is masterfully described there.
I have studied our indigenous peoples and their rich history, visiting many of their sites, including Cahokia Mounds in Illinois, one of the largest cities in the world at the time. I acknowledge their failings as well as their achievements. So should our schools, libraries and our City Council.
Let’s be clear: slavery did not arrive in America with the Spanish and later the English. Indigenous peoples had practiced slavery in a variety of forms for millennia. Whether it was debts due to gambling, hostage trading, war raids among tribes, capturing for ritual sacrifice, this form of what might be considered non-racial, ethnic slavery was very common throughout the Americas.
Our local Algonquin-speaking tribes practiced slavery, while Chief Benge, a strong tribal leader here in Virginia, regularly raided plantations for African slaves to trade. When he battled the settlers in southwestern Virginia, he held Black, white and fellow tribal slaves. At the outbreak of the Civil War, indigenous peoples throughout the Confederate States held thousands of Black slaves and were forced to free them after the Union victory.
The truth, which the Times exhorts, can set you free. Let’s face the truth that like so many humans and as recently as the Civil War, indigenous peoples held slaves. I suggest the members of City Council check our street names to ensure that none of those leaders held slaves. And our schools and libraries should teach the bad as well as the good.
-Jim Larocco, Alexandria