Daniel K. Richter’s Facing East from Indian Country is considered to be a Native American perspective on ancient America. Richter utilizes accounts from both early European settlers such as James Cartier and Hernando de Soto and Native American tribe members. From a personal point of view, Richter’s objective in writing this literary work is not to guilt the American citizens into the belief that they are imposters, contrary to other scholars. Rather, the author develops his work in a purely historical, non-judgmental fashion that allows readers to appreciate this aspect of historical information. While it is evident that the Europeans contributed significantly to the way this vast continent formed into Canada and the United States, Richter’s account outlines many contributions made by the original natives of the American land. Indeed, Richter’s work should not be greatly appreciated since it is an eye-opening American history version.
At the start of the book, the author highlights instances in which the Native Americans and the Europeans encountered each other towards the end of the 16th century. This section pinpoints that a large number of American tribes had some expectations of receiving European visitors in their land (Richter 15). During that time, Europeans bestowed the Natives some gifts which indeed defined their character. For instance, some Europeans were recognized as “wood-workers” due to the wooden crucifixes they provided to various Native tribes (Richter 17). The author then goes deep into history with detailed descriptions of European aggression towards the native tribes. On numerous occasions, the European explorers would keep a significant number of natives under captivity to serve as translators and guides. According to the Europeans, natives were accorded a valuable gift by being given a chance to lead the Europeans’ way of life.
Richter’s book gives insight as to why the Native tribes of America were so easily conquered. Just before the new world was discovered, tribes on the east coast consolidated or conquered each other, leaving vast amounts of land wide open. Along with that, European disease and superior weaponry helped win the country from its original owners (Richter, 36). Another interesting aspect of this book is its focus on the contrast between the European’s material society and the Native American’s largely anti-materialistic viewpoint, and how natives were eventually forced to succumb to this materialist lifestyle. After moving through imperialism and European treatment of the natives, the book ends with the French and Indian War and the Revolutionary War, explaining how and why the natives chose the sides they did and how involved they were in each conflict. According to Richter, most native tribes allied with France because of their more humane treatment of the Native Americans and their location according to these tribes (Richter, 205). Choosing the French side in this war was an easy decision to make. Richter briefly writes about the inclusion of natives in the Declaration of Independence (an extremely small amount) and post-war treatment of the natives until about 1795. With that, the book is concluded, having told the story of early America through its original inhabitants’ words.
This book presents historical accounts of early America in a truly interesting way. Rather than merely stating sources and dates, Richter cleverly flows his sentences in and out of the sources’ words. The book itself is a secondary source in that it presents and analyzes different historical primary sources. Essentially, Richter introduces, summarizes, and picks apart different first-hand accounts of early America. In a way, this book can be seen as a collection of primary sources, each telling their own story. However, Richter presents the information to keep the reader engaged and interested in this aspect of history.
From a personal perspective, Richter’s objective for writing this book was to draw attention to American history’s much-overlooked aspect. When we learn American history, we often start from the earliest colonies. Throughout our country, American history’s focus is one that ignores an integral part of our development. Richter presents this material to rectify a wrong turn in American history. Of course, I believe that the story of the colonies and politics associated with America is very important, but so are our country’s original occupants’ stories. I agree with the point that Richter makes through this book. That is, we cannot simply ignore the aspects of history that make our society look bad, for then our forefathers’ mistakes will only be repeated. Rather, we must recognize the impact that Native Americans had on America and the impact Europeans had on their culture.
One other point Richter makes is that the Europeans’ arrival in the New World had a huge impact on the Native American culture and, more importantly, their health. A large part of the book deals with the Europeans uses of weaponry to conquer many of the tribes. However, one of the largest factors in the wipeout of these tribes was the disease. According to Richter, by the 1580s, “European microbes were levying a serious toll in some locales” (Richter, 59). More specifically, Richter offers the English colony in Roanoke as a prime example. As colonists moved into the area, they began to marvel that “the natives began to die very fast, and many in short space,” and that entire tribes near the town soon perished (Richter, 59). This relates to our class’ focus on the Columbian exchange. The disease proved to be the most important of these exchanges, for European sicknesses such as smallpox caused a mass extinction among the Native Americans.
Another main point of this book was how the Native Americans’ voices were heard in the new society from which they were shunned. In most cases, listening to these voices proved difficult for the colonists, since “literate Indians remained exceedingly rare, and surviving documents they penned in either Native or European languages are rarer still” (Richter, 110). In many cases, the only surviving documents detailing early Native American reception to the colonists were written by missionaries. After they were forced, by the threat of extreme violence, to convert to Christianity, many Native American tribe leaders confessed to sins that they had not committed, in order to save their people (Richter, 111). This aspect of the book fits in almost perfectly with our class readings and lectures about both the sack of the Aztec empire and the slave trade. In both cases, Europeans used extreme violence to strike fear into the hearts of the conquered. Also, this reflects a Eurocentric point of view. According to the missionaries, their religion was the correct religion, and so, they mutilated and killed many innocent natives, all in the name of God. In short, Facing East from Indian Country supports Marks’ view of Eurocentrism – that is, the Europeans essentially thought they were doing these natives a favour in stripping them of their land and culture.
Through a detailed account of early history and with the support of primary sources, Richter demonstrates an ability to present the truth in an informative, non-judgmental way. After reading this book, Americans become much more aware of their country’s true history. From a personal perspective, Native Americans’ story is all too often overlooked, and because of this, America’s history suffers. Rather than trying to hide from the truth, more accounts of history, such as this one, should be included in the country’s lesson plan. This way, the very same grave mistakes can be avoided in the future.
Richter, Daniel K. Facing East from Indian Country: A Native History of Early America. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2001. Print.