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We Shall Remain

August 17, 2009 - Meg Alexander
I've begun watching a five-part PBS series entitled, "We Shall Remain," a documentary describing the past 300 years of American history through the eyes of the land's native people.

The first episode, "After the Mayflower," is not the story like we tend to hear it. As the documentary delved into the natives' lives before and after the Pilgrims came to shore, I found myself struggling to piece together what I know about our history and what was presented from this foreign perspective. Combined, the two sides do present a whole, filling in gaps I didn't even realize existed.

The Web site, www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/weshallremain, uses this description of the first part of the documentary: "In 1621, the Wampanoag of New England negotiated a treaty with Pilgrim settlers. A half-century later, as a brutal war flared between the English and a confederation of Indians, this diplomatic gamble seemed to have been a grave miscalculation."

I have heard such vague statements before, of course, but not the details that fill in the story. For instance, prior to the Pilgrim's arrival, an epidemic had struck the Wampanoag tribe, killing 9 out of 10 people. The narrative describes the survivors as both physically and emotionally devastated. The Wampanoags also lacked the strength to hold off rival tribes, which is why then the Pilgrims came, it seemed to the indigenous people that their best bet was to form an alliance with these strange newcomers.

Maybe this isn't new to anyone else, but it is to me. I must confess, my history lessons on this time period were mostly limited to the Thanksgiving celebration, which involved making paper Pilgrim hats and tracing my hand to resemble a turkey. It did not, however, include stories of the pilgrims' pigs devouring the native people's food and threatening to upend the natural ecosystem.

So far, I highly recommend the series for its informative, provocative presentation of American history as a whole, rather than two halves dissected by ethnic affiliation.

 
 

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