Latinas Talk About Learning Of The Heartbreaking Colonization Of Indigenous Land And The Genocide Of Its People

Even if we just realized it now, many of us ultimately learn that what we learned during our adolescense and from our elementary teachers may not have been what we know now.

Students in the United States who manage to be educated at all about Native Americans are often only taught the bare minimum. They learn some variation of the first “Thanksgiving,” learn about the California Spanish mission and maybe, if they’re lucky, learn about the Trail of Tears. Still, education about the colonization and genocide of indigenous peoples of the Americas is hardly ever comprehensive or thoughtful.

We asked FIERCE readers about how they ultimately learned the truths about the genocide of indigenous peoples in the Americas and the answers were pretty eye-opening.

Check them out below!

“IN UNDERGRAD.” –erixcii

“When I picked up Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States” at a yard sale when I was in Elementary school maybe 8 y/o. I was the book worm that picked up books instead of toys.” –cardcrafted

“Elementary school “Trail of Tears” … You know what’s the BS part about it?. The teacher at the time said that a lot of them died because it was cold and the snow killed them. And there was no emphasis on how the Europeans had killed most of the people before this happened. Like we were made to believe oh it’s the snows fault. … I think her name was Ms. Lambo … Something like that 5th grade…”- magdalena000888

“U mean the part about disease?”- joshstrick

“Just found out I’m 50% Mexican indigenous.” –keepingupwmarlene

“My mother is indigenous and was part of the children removed under the Indian removal act … I’ve grown up knowing this.” –falcon_moss_makes

“I was 30 and a friend that grew up in Northern California challenged my view of Thanksgiving.”- lanarosekauai

“Undergrad at CSUN! Class of 08. “A People’s History of the United States” by Howard Zinn.”- musicchicklily

“Can’t remember a specific moment but I know my parents didn’t sugar coat and regularly called out colonial crap In our curriculum.”- rockandanchorjewelry

“College!!”- ekh_2007

“When my 11th grade US History teacher had us read A People’s History of the United States.”- educe_abril

“When I was 8 years old I had a project to work on about Christopher Columbus. Needless to say I didn’t find much in the kid section, so I looked in the other section and found out the truth. I was so shocked about what they were teaching us in school and what the truth actually was.” –mama__fett

“College and I’m half Native American.”- oliviaguerra7

“Elementary school, since I was lucky enough to attend one of the first Dual Language programs in the country with an emphasis on indigenous cultures of the Americas.” –ycul_999

“Knew about it all my life. Papá grew up on a reservation. “

“First year of college four years ago.” –matyxguzman

“Junior high when we learned about Syphilis…”-sirenagrace_

“I learned in elementary and further educated myself in high school and college. I notice a lot history is omitted in schools these days.”- luvin2lift

“15 when I learned about the Taino peoples of the Caribbean (I’m Puerto Rican) when Columbus came and wiped out the Taino population in Dominican Republic.” –_trini_tea_

“In college, it’s sad that many children grow up never hearing about it and repeating lies that hid history.” –xochiquetzalx

“Grew up knowing this, but had to learn it from family school taught 1 lesson on it during the 7th-8th grade.” –toryyyharp.329

“Unfortunately not till college, Chicano Studies.” –cinnamon_maserati

“I can’t remember but i didn’t dive into it untill i was a full blown adult. Sadly, it took me this long, but my kids are learning it now from me personally. (Elementary school) my parents dont know much of it.. I’ve asked.” –dwaejitokkiiee

“First year of college during my Chicano studies class at CSUN – 1998.” –libbyleec

“Taught my high schoolers about it in September. I started by saying, ‘as you know, Columbus was a terrible person.’ They were all completely shocked by that statement. So I knew I had to do an entire unit on the treatment of the indigenous peoples. I was shocked that, still in 2020, 16 year olds are fed the idea that the “explorers” were good people who deserve our praise. They were ruthless, unfeeling, rapists, murderers, and slave traders. and now at least I know my students are more educated on the topic.” –alfonsina_mj

“7th grade.” –alexandriatrece

“In grad school!” –fortheculturenyllc

“Learned from my family. Not school.” –carrasvilla

“Since elementary but pretty much by myself.” –

“In college, learned about it and other invasions on the Americas. The Alamo and TX “history” is a buncha shit!” –liz_laprieta

“As a teen I learned a little bit in Middle School in the mid 1990’s. Then in college and a documentary I saw on PBS when I was in my early 20’s.”  –jenro395

“I didn’t know about infected blankets until my kids asked me. They saw reference to it on The Simpson’s! I must’ve been around 50 years old at that time.”- becky.hernandez.33

“High school. The way it is taught I always thought indigenous people helped the colonizers and moved. I didn’t realize the extent of the atrocities committed.” –d.a.l.i.a_no_h

“We did learn. The problem is the lack of identity work interconnected when it comes to learning these sensitive topics. It became “read chapter 3.2 and listen to me talk for an hour about my slides” instead of orchestrating productive and sensitive conversations.” –infinitelove0124

“Very young.. in school. But unlike my children, I didn’t grow up in the US. I was baffled to see what version they were tought, repeatedly year after year. Over and over again and not even close to what happened. Happy Thanksgiving brainwashing… My husband is native American we tought our children to think critically for themselves as well as showed them different point of views.” –maggelanese

“My english teacher in high school(who is white) would make this into an entire class project. We would read about what Christopher Columbus did to the indigenous population..close to decimation and then we would each paint our hands and mark the halls, as representation of the lives lost.” –yvonnebonz

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This App Can Tell You The Indigenous History Of The Land You Live On

Things That Matter

This App Can Tell You The Indigenous History Of The Land You Live On

Erika Reid / Getty Images

Wondering about the Indigenous heritage of your city, your neighborhood or even your street? Well, there’s an app for that. Native Land, a Canadian nonprofit, has mapped Indigenous territories across North America, South America, and parts of Europe and Asia. 

For all the selfish and banal uses of social media out there, sometimes developers use the geolocative capabilities of smartphones to make the world a more inclusive place.

This app looks at the history of a place and reveals how it was originally organized by the traditional owners of the land before processes of colonization and dispossession reshaped the maps of what is now known as the Americas. This app is digitizing Indigenous history, so next time you step on indigenous land you can quietly acknowledge it. 

Native Land is the app to better understand the extent of Indigenous communities around the world.

Whose land are you on? Start with a visit to Native Land is both a website and an app that seeks to map Indigenous languages, treaties, and territories across Turtle Island. You might type in New York, New York, for example, and find that the five boroughs are actually traditional Lenape and Haudenosaunee territory.

On the website and in the app, you can enter the ZIP code or Canadian or American name for any town. The interactive map will zoom in on your inquiry, color-code it, and pull up data on the area’s Indigenous history, original language, and tribal ties.

The project is run by Victor Temprano out of British Columbia, Canada. A self-described “settler,” he said that the idea came to him while driving near his home—traditional Squamish territory. He saw many signs in the English language with the Squamish original place names indicated in parentheses underneath. He thought to himself, “Why isn’t the English in brackets?”

As a ongoing project, the app clearly states that: “This map does not represent or intend to represent official or legal boundaries of any Indigenous nations. To learn about definitive boundaries, contact the nations in question. Also, this map is not perfect — it is a work in progress with tons of contributions from the community. Please send us fixes if you find errors”.

Ready to find out more about the place that you call home? Click here

Remember: maps are only political and not set on stone, so the map you know was drawn by colonial powers.

Credit: Native Land

Contrary to what we might believe, maps are hardly set in stone. In fact, how a territory is named and where boundaries sit is evidence of historical processes through which lands are taken.

Just look at this map of North America and think about all the blood that has been shed by the original owners of the land just so we can identify only three countries today. There were hundreds of discreet ethnic groups in Canada, Mexico and the United States before the European superpowers of Britain, France and Spain landed and created havoc. 

But the past is past, right? So why should we care? Well, we should care, a lot, particularly in today’s political climate. Let’s take this map of the California area as an example.

Credit: Native Land

So why is becoming familiar with the indigenous past of place important? Because it tells us that the borders that exist today are practically a human invention rather than something set in stone, and that unless you have Indigenous heritage, we are all guests.

California, for example, was populated by a wide variety of peoples who were conquered by the Spanish or assimilated into mestizo culture through religion and language. So when white supremacists get all “America for the Americans” on Brown folk, they should be reminded that the land is and has always been Indigenous.

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Many Native Languages Are Dying Off But Here’s How Indigenous Millennials Are Using Tech To Save Them


Many Native Languages Are Dying Off But Here’s How Indigenous Millennials Are Using Tech To Save Them

Education Images / Getty Images

The Americas are one of the most linguistically diverse regions in the world. In fact, in Mexico alone there are 68 different Native languages spoken. But many of those Native speakers point out that this diversity and cultural richness is under threat.

At a recent speech in Mexico’s House of Deputies, Doraly Velasco León, speaking in her native Pápago, spoke about the difficulties of preserving the language of her ancestral land, which has been divided by the border between Mexico and the United States.

“Only eight speakers [of pápago] remain, including the one addressing you today . . . Our language is in its death throes, but not our world view or our historical memory, because we have left perennial footprints in our path along those lands that sustain our lives, in our songs and traditions.”

She denounced the extinction of her native tongue, charging that it was not a natural occurrence, but rather the result of borders and walls that divide the lands she and her people call home. Her and other tech-savvy Millennials – from Canada to Brazil – are working hard to preserve their heritage and traditions through apps and technology partnerships.

Tech-savvy Millennials are fighting to preserve their culture and language.

Across the Americas, Indigenous languages are disappearing at alarming rates. For example, in Canada’s British Columbia, the majority of Native languages are already at risk of total extinction.

Many experts and human rights activists agree that Indigenous communities are facing a cultural epidemic, one that is leaving Millennials scrambling to save their endangered heritage.

Across several Canadian First Nations, tech-savvy Millennials have helped to set up organizations that aim to increase access to technology for Indigenous communities. Many point out that technology and the Internet are colonized spaces that have more information created about Native tribes than content that’s actually created by Indigenous communities.

Denise Williams, the First Nations Technology Council executive director, believes that Indigenous people have already used the limited tech tools available to embrace progress and independence—on their own terms. “It’s really important that Indigenous people lead our technological progress, and that it’s never the current dominant paradigm shaping how we will use the technological tools available,” she told VICE News.

Goozih as well as other technological initiatives driven by Indigenous millennials aren’t just practical solutions. In fact, they’re catalysts for cultural empowerment.

The app’s co-founder admits that they’re not exactly knowledgeable on how to formally teach their languages but that the mere existence of the app will be a huge catalyst to get people to connect with their elders.

Thanks to colonialism, there are many roadblocks stopping some Indigenous people from embracing technology.

For many Indigenous people, technology is viewed as a symbol of colonialism and forced oppression – so it carries with it a very negative connotation.

Williams points out to VICE News that Indigenous memories of colonialism may bar them from embracing modern technology. “One of the original ways contemporary technology was introduced to First Nations communities across Canada was by the federal government,” she explains.

Even today, she says, the First Nations Technology Council faces resistance from some community members who view tech as a symbol of colonial oppression. 

For many, the process is a very emotional one as they rush to save traditions.

Credit: INAH / Gobierno de Mexico

One of fewer than 500 speakers of Kumeeyaay, Norma Alicia Meza Calles said that a lack of attention from the government has played a role in the death of her language.

“We aren’t folklore. We are a form of life that needs to be treated with respect. We are those who take care of our environment . . . at times confronting the same government that grants permits without taking us into account,” she said in an interview.

“Public services are not part of our lives, but we still defend our lands . . . from people who have no love for their heritage. The hills, the trees, the animals are our brothers and we take care of them.”

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