Michigan: A History of the Great Lakes State

By Bruce A. Rubenstein; Lawrence E. Ziewacz | Go to book overview

Chapter 1

The Original Michiganians

FOR GENERATIONS, MOST SCHOOLCHILDREN have been told by well-meaning teachers that their national heritage began in 1492 with Christopher Columbus' discovery of America. Scandinavian scholars have objected to this interpretation, claiming that Leif Ericson arrived in North America before Columbus. In an effort to retain their national pride, Italian historians countered by promoting another of their countrymen, Amerigo Vespucci, as the true discoverer of America. European arguments over who discovered the North American continent are interesting, but they ignore a basic fact: non-Europeans lived on the continent for at least fourteen thousand years before any European arrival. Thus, it is impossible for any European nation to claim “discovery.” Some scholars refute this argument by saying that Europeans can still boast discovery because they had never before seen North America. The foolishness of this contention was shown in 1975 when an Iroquois college professor from New York boarded a plane, flew to Rome, and upon arrival, announced that because his people had never been to Italy before he was claiming that land for the Iroquois Nation by right of discovery!

Ironically, Indians, so named by Columbus because he was certain that he had landed in India, lived in western Europe long before any Europeans established permanent colonies in North America. English fishermen, working the Newfoundland coast in the early 1500s, captured several natives and took them to England as examples of the “savage inhabitants” of the New World. After a few years, the amusement of viewing Indians diminished and another fishing expedition returned the captives to their homeland. Immediately these Indians spread tales of their adventures and told fascinated friends and relatives of the “world across the sea.” English culture and language clearly had intrigued the captives and they taught “white man's words” to their people. Therefore, when the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620 they were astounded when a descendant of one of those early visitors to England greeted them in En-

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