We cast out, fishing turquoise-starred red bream, the same the native people have caught in moderation for millennia. That people dwelt gently upon this coast, shell middens their only refuse. I pointed out the shells to my friend, but he hushed me: “They might claim their land back!”
The injustice, the invasion, the occupation—forgotten—or, worse, silenced. A people no longer allowed to roam freely as the nomadic caretakers of the land. Now another people who work long hours in the city, drive to look out over these bays, leaving heavy footprints on fishing and hunting grounds turned million dollar views.
- A beautiful world that once was not owned by people, but the land owned the people. It had entrusted itself to their way of life.
Years later, in Spain’s capital’s bustling train station, we fare-welled friends, setting out, moving (slightly nomadic ourselves) from stagnant city apartment life to a village on the northern coast. As our train pulled away, there were no signs displaying المجريط Majerit, the source of Madrid’s name, Arabic for “source of water”.
The train carried us up through the arid olive groves, passing through the ancient kingdoms of Castile and Navarre. The landscape flushed green as we entered the mountains. We were headed to explore—not discover—a dwelling place, a lush mountainous land among the native Basque people, a language and a people that, with its light steps, have survived empires and kingdoms for time beyond memory.
A few scanty puffs of diesel pollution rose to the clouds, and the cadence of the tracks lulled our little one to sleep in my arms. We paused with a gentle halt, a hiss of the hydraulic door, and I caught a glimpse of the past. Across from the station rose a stately manor house, it once was the home of conquistador Cristóbal de Oñate.
United States of America
Basque explorer Cristóbal would one day sail to “New Spain” (Mexico), and his son Juan de Oñate would follow in his heavy-armoured steps and travel on horseback with Spanish soldiers and a few priests north to the Rocky Mountains of Colorado in what is now the USA. Theirs were ambitions, lust for gold, power, and fame—heavy imperial religious footfalls. The Ute people in that land Oñate called “Coloured Red” were startled by the shining armour, the strange horses, unsure how to react,
- Only knowing of a land without ownership, a land that owned them.
They had survived for millennia in this land, the entire Rocky Mountains as their hunting grounds, having learned the art of survival in the harsh winters. They were a people living softly off the land with the noble nomadic principles of taking what they needed and no more, so that others and they themselves could live in abundance.
The Ute people were displaced, forced off the land they had loved for millennia, from beyond memory. Now just a memory, their dream of a roaming life among a land freely roamed;
- They were free long before democratic laws ensured freedom for all.
The native peoples were told to settle down, to farm, to give up their pagan ways. Yet in their worship, their deep connection to the land, I see a love for the Creator. Much more so than can be seen in the lives of the men who killed them, such as former pastor John Milton Chivington, a man verbally condemned, yet who never faced justice in court for the “Sand Creek Massacre” of Native American women and children. Sparing the gory details, his own words testify against him: “Damn any man who sympathizes with Indians! … I have come to kill Indians, and believe it is right and honorable to use any means under God’s heaven to kill Indians. … Kill and scalp all, big and little. Nits make lice.”(1)
Back inland, far into the west, where fresh snow gathered on plains and mountains, there lay another deep footprint, one of the most disturbing on record: that of blankets covered with the fluids of small pox patients “gifted” to native families—a biological weapon amounting to genocide. Thousands upon thousands were dead, the airborn virus given as a handout of hatred, invisible, powerful and history-shaping.
Yes, there were friendships and noble people who learned from the native people, yet we hear those stories from the invading perspective, and without reflecting upon the deep wrongs, the crimes committed against the native peoples of the world. The heavy feet have left their mark, written history; the soft feet have been forgotten.
- Let us listen to the song of the soft feet.
By Jonathan McCallum