In a brilliant stroke, so short that it hardly reckons in the history of the world, the fate of the North American continent is decided. A two-hundred year shift in humanity curses the lives of thousands, and in after years affects billions. Sparks fly. Fire burns, and it spreads. For as the Native Americans have dwelt in their lands for thousands of years, the coming of Europeans is a doom that swiftly overtakes them; an exponential tumult of carelessness. In just two hundred years, the Spanish explore and establish footholds in Mexico, Florida, and the Southwest; the English found Jamestown and Plymouth, beginning the Virginia and Massachusetts Bay colonies. All major European powers look to the New World and see untouched resources, open land, fuel for their fire. It is plain that European interest will not agree with that of the Native Americans, and obvious that one culture will burn out the other like dry grass.

The Spanish light the first sparks, and in 1492, Christopher Columbus enters the Caribbean and lands on the island of San Salvador. His interest? To find Asia – the Indies – and wealth. He is in search of riches and fame, on behalf of Spain, a country that is not even his own. In his descriptions of the land, he mentions only things that may be of worth: the fruit trees are not beautiful, and the aloe trees are not lofty; they are “valuable.” He does not bother to comment on how a European intrusion on these natives will affect them, but rather his hope of discovering “gold and spices in abundance.” Additionally, in the expeditions of Cabeza de Vaca and Coronado, both held virtually no regard for the original inhabitants of the areas they explored, and, more often than not, ravaged the land. In Castañeda’s account of Coronado’s expedition, he mentions the heedless killing of hundreds of buffalo: “during this fortnight, they killed 500 bulls.” Additionally, the Natives seem to be agitated with both parties; de Vaca is hardly out of the boat when fighting with native Floridians, and Coronado’s Indian guides attempt to lead him off course, delaying him many weeks. Heedless of all these resistances, Spanish conquest continues, and it is only the beginning.

Several hundred miles north, the English are establishing footholds on the eastern seaboard. Jamestown is the first, permanent English settlement to “succeed” in the New World, and is the beginning of the colony of Virginia. It is funded by a royal charter to the Virginia Company of London, in hopes of a profitable merchant outpost in the New World. As far as English capitalists are concerned, the Natives are a non-issue. John Smith refers to them as “barbarians” and “savages,” depicting the Europeans, or, more-specifically, himself, as the protagonist. He’s obviously not ignorant of the fact that the land he treads upon is essentially theirs, but he remains disinterested. The Jamestown colonists, once past initial survival, are interested only in economics (gold, corn, and finally tobacco), very much similar to the Plymouth colonists’ interest in religious freedom. They are much less obtrusive, but the Pilgrims on the Mayflower are evidently just as preoccupied with their own interests. Squanto, the English-speaking native, is “sent from god,” and not a helpful friend, or an embodiment of his people’s generosity. On the contrary, he is but a useful tool; a convenience that will help them through the hard times. He is tolerated, but in the Puritan mind, European interest is supreme and the non-Christian peoples they discover are secondary.

Secondary to what? In sharp contrast to European self-interest, Native American sentiment is generally tied to prosperity and environment – all humans are second to nature. Their descriptions of human origin, such as in the Walam Olum of the Delaware and the Origin Legend of the Navajo (‘When the enclosure was finished, First Man and First Woman entered … the gods said to them: “Live together now as husband and wife.”’), all relate directly to the earth and the natural environment that surrounds and provides for them. Even in their poetry (see: “From the Houses of Magic,” Pima, or “Spring Song,” Chippewa) a strong relation to nature is evident. It is this unselfishness and interest in a universal, long-term well-being that characterizes the Native Americans; and contrasts them so strongly with the Europeans. They are not obsessed with improving their status, advancing their power or their wealth; but are focused, rather, on preserving a more natural ambience that works in tandem with all life. On the other hand, the Europeans are in a constant “progression” which, from many points of view (such as in Thoreau’s Walden) could actually be considered a regression. Unfortunately, this reflected, mature, and more-pacified culture has doomed itself. The Natives' own lack of greed keeps them from contending with Europeans; they seek trust and to continue life as it is, while their enemies scrounge to take more and more. It is a terrible curse, and the ramifications are not far off.

In three centuries, the Europeans will have swept over the continent. The Europeans and Natives don’t know it, but it’s clearly outlined in their contrasting accounts. The Spanish seek wealth, while exploring and ravaging, heedless of the results of their actions. (The buffalo that Coronado’s expedition slaughters are part of a species that will be nearly extinct in a few years.) In the north, the Jamestown settlement is purely economical, and the English are careless in their treatment of the natives. The pilgrims at Plymouth are just as corrupt, and in a few years, King Phillip’s War will ravage Massachusetts: the result of increasing outrages against the Native Americans. Thousands will die, and it is only the beginning. One culture is clinging to life, while the other advances with destruction. And the Natives shake in the wind. They are destined to be burnt out by European Wildfire.

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