Returning Honor to His Name

A lot of you know I was offline last weekend because I had a great chance to go visit the American Native Museum the Smithsonian has located on the Mall in Washington, DC. Most of you also know I’m an archaeology nut/addict/enthusiast. My heritage is fascinating to me, and I adopt all the heritage I can dig up, or that has been dug up for me.

On my first visit to the exhibits there, on the native tribal cultures we found on this continent, I was struck particularly by description of the collections that did not pretend they were come by honestly. On labels to exhibits of potlatch gifts, the admissions that they had been confiscated from the tribes because of objections to their religions and practices were a pleasant surprise. Being honest about our errors is not a common human tendency, and I am delighted curators were up to that information being given to the public.

On this visit, I really was impressed to find an admission that a chief’s name had been mistranslated. For years our histories talked about “Young Man Afraid of His Horses,” the name that should have given him honor used instead to demean a tribal leader. Tosunka Kokipapi (Tȟašúŋke Kȟokípȟapi) means that his horses struck fear in others’ hearts instead.

What sort of history did you learn in school and from the things you studied that you’ve been able to correct and learn right when you came across the true story? Have you learned something from research or from things you came across that showed you a completely different story or background than what you believed previously?

It’s easy to think of something we were taught as being the whole story. I went to high school in Virginia and remember being taught that the Civil War was fought because of economic abuse by the north, and I was made indignant at our southern sufferings.

Yesterday I read a letter written home in 1851 to the family I’m visiting, about an experience by a young woman who’d traveled to Bonham, Texas, about half an hour away from where I now live. She had seen a beating of an older black man by a woman who owned him, who she made furious by telling her that her behavior was not Christian. Her handwritten letter talked about facts, and belied what I was taught as a student. I’m incredibly glad to find true experiences that give me insight from all directions, but this is so close a revelation in my own immediate family and friends that it’s earthshaking in ways.

Have you learned from surprising coincidences, from close family and friends’ sharing their stories with you, something valuable in your own life and experience?