Nanye’hi (Cherokee: ᎾᏅᏰᎯ: “One who goes about”; Nancy Ward)

An estimated 10 million Native Americans were living in the land that is now the United States when European explorers first arrived in the 15th century; by 1900 there were less than 300,000. Three-quarters of the Lakȟóta tribes were destroyed in the smallpox epidemic of 1772–1780.


Nanye’hi (Cherokee: ᎾᏅᏰᎯ: “One who goes about”, Nancy Ward)

“Nancy Ward was a ‘Beloved Woman’ of the Cherokee, which means that she was allowed to sit in councils and to make decisions, along with the chiefs and other Beloved Women. She believed in peaceful coexistence with the European-Americans and helped her people as peace negotiator and ambassador.” Wikipedia

 Trail of Tears

“In her last years Ward repeatedly had a vision showing a “great line of our people marching on foot. Mothers with babies in their arms. Fathers with small children on their back. Grandmothers and Grandfathers with large bundles on their backs. They were marching West and the ‘Unaka’ (White Soldiers) were behind them. They left a trail of corpses the weak, the sick who could not survive the journey.

 “The Trail of Tears was a series of forced removals of Native American nations from their ancestral homelands in the Southeastern United States to an area west of the Mississippi River that had been designated as Native Territory. The forced relocations were carried out by various government authorities following the passage of the Indian Removal Act in 1830. The relocated people suffered from exposure, disease, and starvation while en route, and more than four thousand died before reaching their various destinations. The removal included members of the Cherokee, Muscogee, Seminole, Chickasaw, and Choctawnations. The phrase “Trail of Tears” originated from a description of the removal of the Cherokee Nation in 1838.


Jared Diamond’s “Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies” ‘attempts to explain why Eurasian civilizations … have survived and conquered others, while arguing against the idea that Eurasian hegemony is due to any form of Eurasian intellectual, moral, or inherent genetic superiority’. (Wikipedia review).It makes fascinating if sobering reading. The author argues that the modern world has largely been shaped through disease, conquest and genocide.


Susan Sontag wrote,

“The white race is the cancer of human history. It is the white race and it alone – its ideologies and inventions – which eradicates autonomous civilizations wherever it spreads, which has upset the ecological balance of the planet, which now threatens the very existence of life itself.”


Truth is, reading recently about the genocide of the native americans see I can easily agree with Sontag. But how is one to live with the burden of such a history?

I know, I know: already I can hear my denialist accusers sneering, “You bleeding heart liberal!”. I can easily imagine Riaan Malan mocking me, observing caustically that I too will finally discover my own traitor’s heart. The white liberal always finds himself twice accused: perceived by his own race as a sort of sellout and by other races as a useless and aberrant version of the same white problem. But frankly, does that matter? one must see things honestly and squarely not in order to be loved or thought well of, or to maintain privilege.

The Atlantic Slave trade. Colonialism. Two world wars. The Holocaust. Leopold’s Congo. The Boer War   concentration camps. Nagasaki and Hiroshima. The list of my people’s folly is a long and dismal one – and yet just yesterday a stranger in a bookshop was waxing lyrical about the merits of colonialism and the cirtues of Caucasian race!  Perhaps Sontag was right, and cancer is not too strong a word.



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