NATIVE PEOPLES CLUB
MERAMEC CAMPUS, KIRKWOOD, MO.
Here in East Central Missouri and West Central Illinois, where once proud peoples built the Mound City at Cahokia, IL, hunted this land, farmed its fields, fished the rivers and lived their lives in harmony with nature we seem to have suffered a tragic loss.
I am a full time student at Meramec Campus, St Louis Community College in Kirkwood, MO., a suburb of St. Louis, MO. When I registered for classes I became curious about the origins of the name, Meramec. I knew it was also the name of nearby river but no one actually knew what it meant or its origins. Having spent some time as an investigator before retiring, I decided to find out. It took me a matter of minutes, not hours, not days, not years but minutes to learn that Meramec is an Algonquian word meaning “Ugly Fish”. It seems the native peoples named it for the catfish which is an ugly fish to some, but great eating to most. Irrespective of its meaning, Meramec is a Native Peoples’ name which has lost its meaning in our present cultures as have the contributions of the people who created it. I find that to be very tragic.
With that discovery in hand, I explored the Meramec campus for anything that might say, Native Peoples are here. The only thing I found was a painting in the entry hallway to the President’s office. If memory serves, it was a Cheyenne warrior on horseback overlooking a prairie – I’m still looking for that prairie here in foothills of the Ozark Mountains. I’ll get to finding the Cheyenne after I’ve found the prairie.
My search for classes offering Native Peoples in this area was just as unproductive. The course catalog listed three offered by the Anthropology Department but when I went to registration they said, huh? Literally, the lady said “huh”? She had never heard of any classes relating to Native Peoples being currently offered. She did however give me the name of one of the Anthropology professors who taught them at one time. I got to talk to him briefly before he retired and discovered that he had been actively involved in several archaeological digs at ancient Native Peoples settlements and hunting camps in and around St Louis over the years. He told me the classes were not well received by students because they may not have related to present day people. He felt my idea of forming a student Native Peoples Club could be a positive impetus and perhaps even bring pre-Columbian history to life on the “Ugly Fish” campus.
I immediately started talking up the idea of a Native Peoples Club on campus to anyone who would listen. Reception was at first cool but during the last semester it began to blossom and we hope to produce a large bouquet by the November, Native Americans Month, 2014.
Now one might ask why we didn’t name the club the Native American Club. Here’s a good answer for you: “Why would any Native of South, Central or North “America” even consider identifying with a 15th century Florentine merchant because an ignorant arrogance of a German? Read on:
“It is an irony of history that the name “America” did not come from Christopher Columbus. That distinction belongs to a German writer of geography.
In a further twist of events, America was named after Amerigo Vespucci, a 15th century Florentine merchant who owned a business in Seville, Spain, furnishing supplies for ships, preparing them for mercantile expeditions.
How do we explain what seems to mock the reality of history?
Stirred by the achievements of Columbus and envious of the reputation his discoveries brought, Vespucci endeavored to cultivate Columbus’ friendship and trust.
Seven years after Columbus’ first voyage and while Columbus was still alive, Vespucci accompanied an expedition that consisted of four ships. They sailed past the eastern coast of South America, and visited Trinidad, which Columbus had named the preceding year. On his return to Europe Vespucci wrote letters with glowing descriptions of the newly discovered countries. He called the lands he had visited a “New World.”
Some years later Vespucci’s letters were published and read by Martin Waldseemuller, a noted geographer, and by Mathias Ringmann, a schoolmaster. Recently arrived from Germany to the province of Lorraine they were attracted to the town of Saint-Die because of a newly established print shop. Both men were engaged in working on a reproduction of Ptolemy’s treatise on geography, to which they were adding a preface.
After reading the account of Vespucci’s travels in “Quatre Navigations d’ Americ Vespuce,” they decided to incorporate Vespucci’s voyage into the treatise. Ringmann, acting as editor, wrote in his introduction:
“There is a fourth quarter of the world which Amerigo Vespucci has discovered and which for this reason we can call ‘America’ or the land of Americo.”
Apparently ignorant of the discoveries and achievements made by Columbus fifteen years earlier, Ringmann continued:
“We do not see why the name of the man of genius, Amerigo, who has discovered them, should not be given to these lands, as Europe and Asia have adopted the names of women.”
Their work was published on April 25, 1507 under the title “Cosmographiae Introductio.” It marked the first time the word AMERICA appeared in print.”
Ellis, Edward S., Library of American History, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1895. Steele, Joel Dorman and Steele, Esther Baker. A Brief History of the United States, 1871 Patton, Jacob Harris and Lord, John. The History and Government of the United States, 1876 Montgomery, D.H. An Elementary American History, 1904.
For me, this entire article is a study in white European arrogance and ignorance – an insult to the Native Peoples who have been living in this hemisphere for thousands of years prior to the arrival of any Europeans. I will not add to that insult by referring to them as Native “Americans”. They took their names from the earth and sky, not from a German schoolmaster.
We elected to identify the Native Peoples as THE NATIVE PEOPLES in the hope of encompassing all who were (and are) here and contributed so much to our world. It is our hope to honor them by sharing their knowledge, skills, philosophies and memories.
We need help to do this. We need good advice, direction and, when possible affiliations.
Some of the activities we are considering include:
Lectures and classes on contemporary life for Native Peoples.
Art and craft shows and sales to introduce contemporary Native artists.
Sponsor story tellers both for registered students and the public.
Sponsor guest speakers on various contemporary issues affecting Native Peoples
My personal favorite Native Peoples lunches – fry bread tacos are aces!
Bring to life the Native history an area that was a hub of civilization (Cahokia Mounds)
once larger than London, England.
The most important thing we want to do is bring Native Peoples’ presence back to the area.
Their absence is a void desperately in need of filling for we are all related.
We need your help and ideas to attain and maintain our goals.
R. Nyk Lindsoe
Native Peoples Club
St. Louis Community College