European-American versus Native American Respect For Our Ancestors

As mentioned in my previous post, I have been watching and absorbing a new appreciation of the Native American peoples who lived in the Americas before the beginning of European conquest. One fact that was never communicated to me when I studied “American History” in high school was that the first Spaniards, who murdered and subjugated the Incas, confronted over 10,000 years of Native American existence, culture, beliefs and traditions. I had no idea how well-educated and well-organized this population of over 100 million souls was when European began destroying them. For example, their expertise in the area of astronomy far exceeded the Europeans until the time of Galileo in the 1600’s.

Did anyone ever teach me these facts when I was studying the history of the world? Did anyone even care?

I have also learned recently that one of the factors that strengthened the bonds of Native Americans through many centuries was their reverence for their ancestors:

Due to the sacrifices of our ancestors, we live.

As a scholar of Chinese history, this reverence reminded me of traditional Chinese society. Those that had the resources often built large shrines to their deceased ancestors and worshiped them. This parallels the Native American honor and respect for their elders.

While I was watching the PBS series “Native America” this week, I kept thinking about how we European Americans feel towards our own elders. I spoke to one friend about this contrast and he said, “It seems like we just want to send them away and lock them up in a nursing home…”

Did your family honor and appreciate your great-grandparents and grandparents while you were growing up? Did you sit with them and ask them to share their stories of sacrifice for their country and their families?

Where would you be without them?

One factor to consider in our own history is that only those Europeans who were willing to leave their ancestors behind emigrated to the Americas. Most of us left centuries of family history behind to move here.

Our recent pandemic is decimating our elderly population as I write this. Covid-19 is hardest on the elderly, with those 65 and older accounting for 80% of U.S. deaths from this disease, according to the CDC. So many lives and stories lost. And yet I feel little sadness nationally. These are the Americans who helped to build our world, and now they die lost and alone.

As I age, I feel our disrespect for the wisdom of our elders. I just turned 65 and I certainly do not feel respect or reverence for my own hard-earned wisdom.

Those who do not learn from history are destined to repeat it…

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