500 Nations is an eight part documentary which explores the history of the indigenous peoples of North and Central America, from pre-Colombian times, through the period of European contact and colonization, to the end of the 19th century and the subjugation of the Plains Indians of North America. 500 Nations relies on historical texts, eyewitnesses accounts, pictorial sources and computer graphic reconstructions to explore the magnificent civilizations which flourished prior to contact with Western civilization, and to tell the dramatic and tragic story of the Native American nations' desperate attempts to retain their way of life against overwhelming odds.Written by
John McClain <email@example.com>
An engrossing exposition of the tragic Amerindian history
For people of European descent who believe that their ancestors brought enlightenment and "civilization" to the Americas, this should be a lesson in humility. For among the some 500 native American nations, there were those that practiced direct democracy (the Oneida), built cities, organized federations of tribes (the Sioux) and administered empires (the Aztecs and Incas).
The tragic history of the native Americans is laid bare as hitherto little known details as to how they were systematically deprived of land, food and sometimes outrightly massacred are brought to light. Most shocking was the revelation that US government officials murdered Amerindians in reservations by giving them blankets used by victims of smallpox. Moreover, moving them to reservations far from their native environment deprived them not only of food but also of the plants that they used as medicine. The buffalo was hunted to near extinction by government hired hunters like Buffalo Bill in order to starve the Plains Indians. The Cherokee who adapted to the white man's culture, became successful farmers and entrepreneurs were disenfranchised - their properties seized and the whole nation sent to reservations. The episode about the "Trail of Tears" was heart wrenching.
The most interesting part for me was the exposition of the North Amerindians' cosmological and religious beliefs. For example, one North American nation believed that God placed them in an ideal world akin to paradise. This would imply that they do not long for an afterlife.
I don't know if it was in this series, but I recently found out that the Black American Indian contingent in the New Orleans Mardi Gras is not merely the product of fiesta fantasy. Those people really have a claim to native American ancestry as when the US army and the settlers were exterminating the Indians, African Americans in Louisiana absorbed those coming their way into their community to protect them. I understand some of the Seminoles who were hunted into the everglades of Florida managed to find their way into the black community of New Orleans. This resulted in an admixture of the two races. This brings to mind the American blacks who were in the US invading force during the Philippine-American War who joined the Filipinos. Obviously, they saw the war as a battle between races and it they decided they belonged to the colored side. Unfortunately, they were later captured and executed.
If you like movies that are sympathetic to the Amerindians, see also Soldier Blue, Dances with Wolves, The Royal Hunt of the Sun and Geronimo: An American Legend.
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