Native Peoples, Colonists and Missionaries

H.Hudson halfmoon

For the injustices against the native peoples and the land God provided,“Lord, have mercy.”

For the brave missionaries that ministered to them. “Thanks be to God.”

The native peoples are often forgotten in the story of the “discovery” of America. Our heroes tend to be the settlers who came on ships, built towns and cities, explored the land and gave us what we have today. But it came at a price.

If you ever visit New York harbor by way of the Staten Island Ferry look at the  shores now crowded by the buildings and piers of today.  Native peoples once fished, hunted and traded in large numbers here. The water was fresher then, fish and shellfish plentiful, the air cleaner, the earth less damaged by human activity.

The National Museum of the American Indian , located in the old customs house across from Battery Park near the ferry, is a good place to remember the role of the native peoples in the story of America. They traded with the Europeans; they were their guides into an unknown land; they provided many of the foods that fed growing populations in Europe and America. They respected  the land more than those who came after them.

A young Indian woman, Kateri Tekakwitha and a Jesuit priest, Isaac Jogues, are figures to remember  in the customs house. They represent the clash of civilizations that occurred when Europeans and native peoples met. Across the street from the customs house is the statue of Christopher Columbus.

Europeans brought disease.  Smallpox  disfigured and partially blinded Kateri Tekakwitha, a young Mohawk woman who lived along the Mohawk River past Albany, NY. The native peoples had no immunity to small pox and other diseases. Three out of ten died from it. By some estimates 5 million native people lived in North America when the first Europeans arrived. Within a hundred years there were only 500,000. Besides disease, the major cause of their diminishment, the native peoples also suffered from wars and greed.
Museum of American Indian

At the museum, besides Kateri Tekakwitha remember Father Isaac Jogues, the Jesuit missionary who, while attempting to advance peace-keeping efforts with the Mohawks at Ossernonon (Auriesville) was killed by a war party on October 18, 1646. Previously, in 1642  Jogues had been captured by this same tribe. He escaped in 1643, fled here to New Amsterdam (New York City) and then was put on a ship for France by a kindly Dutch minister.

The French missionaries came to the New World out of the turmoils of the Old World expecting a new Pentecost among the native peoples here, but it didn’t turn out that way. Instead, disease and political maneuvering made the native peoples suspicious of  foreigners and the seed of the gospel fell on hard ground.

Letters back to France from the early Jesuits–marvelously preserved in “The Jesuit Relations”–often express the missionaries’ disappointment  over their scarce harvest, but it didn’t stop them. They were well grounded in the mystery of the Cross.

 “My God, it grieves me greatly that you are not known, that in this savage wilderness all have not been converted to you, that sin has not been driven from it. My God, even if all the brutal tortures which prisoners in this region must endure should fall on me, I offer myself most willingly to them and I alone shall suffer them all.” St. John de Brebéuf

The Indian woman and the priest persevered. We forget how difficult it is when civilizations clash– like now. We remember the Christian missionaries: Saints John de Brébeuf and Isaac Jogues, Priests and their compassions on October 19th..

Columbus, Central Park, NYC
Indian behind symbols of European trade and expansion: Customs House, New York City

Here’s a video on the Jesuit Martyrs at Auriesville:

Saints of Auriesville

5 thoughts on “Native Peoples, Colonists and Missionaries

  1. Gloria

    Re: “What Happened to the Native Peoples?”

    The Wind Walker

    The Spirit of The People
    walks high above the trees
    through misty clouds and biting winds
    over snow-capped mountains
    his lone companion, Brother Eagle.

    He searches for Mother Earth,
    the land The People knew and loved.
    He sees her ripped and slashed by
    huge machines he cannot comprehend.
    Tears roll down his face in frozen tracks.

    Instead of trees he sees huge houses
    built into the mountain side
    and shopping malls where Mother Earth
    has been torn and ravaged,
    leaving a small bit of forest
    for his Brother Animal friends
    to eke out food and shelter.
    Tears roll down his face in frozen tracks.

    The humans in the huge houses consider
    the animals a nuisance and a danger
    and want them driven away or killed.
    Tears roll down his face in frozen tracks.

    He trudges on against the biting winds,
    searching, always searching, for Mother Earth
    while tears roll down his face in frozen tracks.

    Gloria Ziemienski, July 11, 2004

    Liked by 1 person

  2. cenaclemary12

    That ship in the post called the half moon was the one Henry Hudson sailed. Built in 1989 by Dr. Andrew Hendricks, The Replica Ship The Half Moon is a working, full-scale model of the vessel that brought Henry Hudson to North America nearly 400 years ago. It has a small engine and other amenities hidden deep in what would have been its historic hold. Dr. Hendricks envisioned it as a physical tool for interpreting the history and legacy of the New Netherlands, and its captain and crew today are doing just that. As the New Netherland Museum (NNM), they divide their time between Albany, New York City, and excursions on the Hudson and other historic waters of New Netherland—from the Connecticut to the Delaware Rivers.
    More info


  3. cenaclemary12

    People in huge houses,
    As Gloria’s poem states.
    Now we call them McMansions.
    These may be built one after the other,
    As former homes are bulldozed.
    People in huge houses
    With two car garages and verandas,
    Often see neighbors as nuisances.
    No time taken to get to know them.
    Like those colonists in New England
    Who treated natives unjustly,
    Dismissing their ways of life,
    Never sat on a neighbor’s stoop,
    Sharing life stories of joy and sorrow.
    May we be good neighbors,
    giving hearty hello and doing favors,
    Seeing not nuisances but nuances
    in the communities where we live.


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