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What the Eagle Sees: Indigenous Stories of Rebellion and Renewal

What the Eagle Sees: Indigenous Stories of Rebellion and Renewal

by Eldon Yellowhorn, Kathy Lowinger
What the Eagle Sees: Indigenous Stories of Rebellion and Renewal

What the Eagle Sees: Indigenous Stories of Rebellion and Renewal

by Eldon Yellowhorn, Kathy Lowinger


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"There is no death. Only a change of worlds.”
—Chief Seattle [Seatlh], Suquamish Chief

What do people do when their civilization is invaded? Indigenous people have been faced with disease, war, broken promises, and forced assimilation. Despite crushing losses and insurmountable challenges, they formed new nations from the remnants of old ones, they adopted new ideas and built on them, they fought back, and they kept their cultures alive.

When the only possible “victory” was survival, they survived.

In this brilliant follow up to Turtle Island, esteemed academic Eldon Yellowhorn and award-winning author Kathy Lowinger team up again, this time to tell the stories of what Indigenous people did when invaders arrived on their homelands. What the Eagle Sees shares accounts of the people, places, and events that have mattered in Indigenous history from a vastly under-represented perspective—an Indigenous viewpoint.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781773213286
Publisher: Annick Press, Limited
Publication date: 11/12/2019
Pages: 132
Sales rank: 343,463
Product dimensions: 7.30(w) x 9.20(h) x 0.40(d)
Age Range: 11 - 17 Years

About the Author

Eldon Yellowhorn (Piikani Nation) is a professor of First Nations Studies and archeology at Simon Fraser University. He and Kathy Lowinger wrote the critically-acclaimed Turtle Island: The Story of North America’s First People (2017).

Kathy Lowinger is an award-winning author whose books include Give Me Wings! How a Choir of Former Slaves Took on the World (2015), and Turtle Island: The Story of North America’s First People (2017).

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982 CE to ca. 1400 CE

We've found a land of fine resources, though we'll hardly enjoy much of them.

— Thorvald, son of Erik the Red, Norse explorer, writing about events from 970 to 1030 CE



* * *

First contact! Fans of science fiction know this phrase well because the story that follows is told in novels, television, movies, and video games. Such stories usually begin with the threat created by aliens arriving on earth. The aliens have advanced technology and sinister plans. They try to enslave or destroy humans and lay claim to our planet. People seeing aliens for the first time react with fear and surprise. Then they overcome their shock and organize a resistance. They outwit the alien beings despite the aliens' superior technology. The happy ending always shows humans emerging victorious. For the Indigenous peoples of the Americas, first contact is more than a virtual reality experience. It is a historical fact. We are still living with its results.

How would you react if you heard the news that beings from another world had reached our planet? What language would they speak? How would we communicate? What if you had to speak for humanity? What would you say?

In the ancient Saga of the Greenlanders, a Norse writer describes how a warrior's arrow killed the Norse leader Thorvald. Thorvald pulled the arrow from his intestines, saying, "We've found a land of fine resources, though we'll hardly enjoy much of them."

The first contact between Indigenous people and Europeans probably happened more than a thousand years ago, when two very different groups of people met on the craggy coast of Greenland.

From the west came the Thule, the ancestors of modern-day Inuit. They left their homes on the shores of what is now called Alaska and within a few centuries they had spread across the north, all the way to Greenland and Newfoundland.

From Europe on the east came Norsemen, or Vikings. The word Vikingar means "raiders" in Old Norse. Vikings had a reputation all over Europe for being fearsome raiders.

The Vikings referred to the people they met in Newfoundland and Greenland as "Skraelings." It wasn't a compliment. Skraeling means "little men" or "barbarians" in the Old Norse language. As far as the Vikings were concerned, they had found riches: furs, walrus ivory, and fish. They intended to stay. Surely the Skraelings would be no match for Vikings who had made all of Europe tremble.

But as it turned out, in battle, the Skraelings were so fierce and unyielding that the Vikings were convinced to pack up and go home. At L'Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland, all that is left of the Vikings' settlement are ninety-nine broken iron nails, a single whole iron nail, a bronze pin, a glass pin, and a knitting needle. Even their earthen houses have crumbled away to small mounds of dirt.

The Vikings had come to settle, but by around 1340, they had left Turtle Island. The first invasion by Europeans ended with them being driven back across the sea.



* * *

The Vikings didn't have any military or technological advantage over the Indigenous peoples in Greenland or Newfoundland, and they didn't carry any new deadly diseases to North America, so these first invaders did not bring about the end of one world and the beginning of another. Life went on for the Thule much as it had before, except for the stories they told of light-skinned, hairy strangers.

The Vikings abandoned their colonies in North America around 1340. When they returned home, they told their stories about sailing to the faraway countries they called Vinland and Greenland. They shared these sagas for generations before someone wrote them down.

What the Vikings wrote about the fertile land of grassy meadows and rivers teeming with salmon that lay across the ocean likely inspired more tales. Many people in Europe already had heard tales of seven cities of gold that stood on an island called Antillia in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Shipwrecked sailors had brought home tales of a mountain of silver. Some believed there was a fountain running with water that would grant eternal life to anybody who drank from it.

Rumors of those riches convinced Christopher Columbus and his peers to go out and find them.

In March of 1519, the Aztec king Moctezuma II heard news of bearded men who had arrived by sea from the east. He believed that Quetzalcoatl's prom- ise had been fulfilled and that the god had come back. Instead of preparing his people to defend themselves, Moctezuma welcomed the Spaniards. When the Spaniards saw the Aztecs' elaborate buildings and beautiful jewelry, they believed that they had found the city of gold.

What resulted was a fatal misunderstanding. The powerful Aztecs could have defeated these light-skinned invaders, but they didn't because they believed their beloved god had returned. As for the Spaniards, their dreams of treasure seemed to have come true, and they believed that those treasures belonged to them, not to the Aztecs.

The Viking incursion had not changed daily life for the people of Turtle Island, but this new invasion was different. The Spaniards kidnapped and killed Moctezuma, and soon the Aztec empire fell. That was just the beginning of the violence and bloodshed that would affect Indigenous lives for centuries to come.



After 1492

We shall take you and your wives and your children, and shall make slaves of them ...

— The Spanish Requirement of 1513

* * *




Christopher Columbus landed on the island of Hispaniola in the Caribbean in 1492 looking for riches to send home. The first riches he loaded onto his ships were the human beings he planned to auction off in the slave markets of Europe.

Slavery has been practiced all over the world at one time or another. Turtle Island was no stranger to slavery. In the northeast forests, the Haudenosaunee waged "mourning wars" on neighboring groups, taking slaves to avenge and replace their dead. Among the Kwakwaka'wakw of the Pacific Northwest Coast, raiders who captured nobles to make them slaves returned them if they were paid a ransom. When Blackfoot warriors killed a foe in combat, they would take his scalp to send his spirit to be a slave of their ancestors in the spirit world.

The rules about slavery were laid out in the Spanish Requirement of 1513 ("The Requirement"), a document the Spanish were supposed to read to every Indigenous group they found.

The scene sounds ridiculous, but it was deadly serious. When they marched into a settlement, the Spanish invaders, sweating in their heavy armor and elaborate clothes, were under orders to gather the whole community together. One of the Spaniards would hold up a piece of parchment and read out words in Spanish, a language that meant nothing to the baffled crowd.

The Requirement, written in 1513, demanded that Indigenous people recognize any king or queen of Spain and the pope as their rulers, or: "We shall make war against you in all ways and manners that we can, and shall subject you to the yoke ... we shall take you and your women and your children, and shall make slaves of them ... and we protest that the deaths and losses which shall accrue from this are your fault."

The deaths and losses came, though the fault did not lie with Indigenous people. Thereafter millions of Indigenous people were enslaved and sold in the Americas from the late-fifteenth century through the mid-nineteenth century. In North America, the Indigenous population fell by more than half.


After the conquest, the Spanish took over the Aztec silver mines and expanded them. They looked north to New Mexico to find enough slaves to do the work. Forced silver mining was just one of the ways that the Spanish invaders made life intolerable for the Pueblo people who lived there. It was one of the reasons the Pueblos made a bold plan to end their oppression.

The Pueblo world was made up of some seventy communitie called pueblos, each with its own customs and beliefs and language, spread out along the Rio Grande Basin through more than 483 kilometers (300 miles) of spectacular mountainous terrain.

Few Spaniards lived in New Mexico then — probably around three thou- sand — but they were armed with guns. A thousand lived in the city of Santa Fe near the central government building. That building, the casa reales, was so strongly built that it could withstand a siege. The rest lived in small settlements.

In the spring of 1680, the pueblos of New Mexico planned to free themselves from the Spanish. They agreed that each pueblo would revolt on the same day to overthrow the invaders, burn down their churches, and unmake all Christian baptisms and weddings. By working together, they could erase every trace of the Spanish.

The plan would only work if the Spanish were taken by surprise, so secrecy was of utmost importance. Each pueblo had a medicine society that organized the town's ceremonial life. Only members of the medicine societies knew how to conduct the all-important rituals, so they were experts at keeping secrets. In total secrecy, all through the spring and summer of 1680, the societies met inside underground ceremonial centers, called kivas, to plan the revolt.

A fifty-year-old man named Po'pay became the leader of the revolt. Po'pay had personal reasons for hating the Spanish. Not long before, he had been one of forty-seven men the Spanish had accused of having supernatural powers. They accused Po'pay of carrying out the devil's work. Several of the men captured along with Po'pay were hung. One committed suicide. The rest were lashed or sold into slavery. Po'pay was one of the "lucky" ones. After he was lashed, he was released. He went home to Taos pueblo eager for revenge.

The date for the uprising was set for the full moon of August, after the corn had ripened. In late July or early August, Po'pay sent out the runners with the news. It was the only way to communicate with the other pueblos.

The runners were astonishing athletes. Taos Pueblo is 113 kilometers (70 miles) from Santa Fe. To go from Taos to Isleta, the Pueblo that was farthest south, the runners would have to run 225 kilometers (140 miles) — that's like running five marathons in a row — in the scorching summer heat. To get to the Pueblo of Acoma, located on top of a mesa, they would have to run 290 kilometers (180 miles), or seven marathons. And to reach the Hopi Tribe, they had to cover 483 kilometers (300 miles), or twelve back-to-back marathons!

In pairs, the runners skirted mountains and followed rocky paths in canyon bottoms under the brutal sun. They had memorized everything about the plan, but they carried a bit of insurance: a cord of yucca fiber tied with as many knots as there were days before the uprising. Each pueblo would untie one of the knots to show that they would take part in the revolt.

Only a few days were left before the full moon. There were only two knots left to go. Then — it looked like the revolt was over before it had begun.

The leaders of three of the pueblos dropped out. How could they possibly succeed against armed soldiers on horseback? Besides, every past uprising had failed. One uprising in 1650 had ended with nine leaders being hanged and many others sold as slaves.

Not only did the three pueblos want out of the rebellion, but their leaders traveled to Santa Fe to warn the Spanish about the plot. On top of that betrayal, they even told the Spanish where two of the runners were. Nicolas Catua and Pedro Omtua were still running with the cord.

The Spanish governor ordered the arrest of the runners. When Catua and Omtua were brought to him, they broke down and gave away the plan. The governor acted fast. He made sure that the Spanish in Santa Fe had firearms, he posted soldiers in the main church, and he stocked the casa reales with food and water so that Spaniards taking shelter there could survive a siege.

When Po'pay heard that the plan had been exposed, he didn't give up. He sent out more runners with a new message: "Don't wait for the full moon. We strike tomorrow."

Though they were many miles apart, on August 10, the pueblos acted as one, destroying Spanish houses, ranches, and churches. Some four hundred Spanish men, women, and children were killed. Po'pay rode from pueblo to pueblo telling the people that they should return to their old ways. The pueblos waded into the rivers so that they could wash away the Christian baptisms that had been forced on them.

In Santa Fe, the Spanish residents crowded into the casa reales for safety. The small building must have been hellish in the sweltering heat with a thousand men, women, and children packed into it.

Five days after the rebellion started, a Pueblo chief called Juan appeared in the plaza in front of the casa reales wearing war clothes. Indigenous people were forbidden to ride, yet Juan sat boldly atop a horse. Pueblos were banned from having Spanish weapons, yet Juan carried a heavy Spanish gun, a sword, and a dagger. Juan delivered the Pueblos' demands to the governor: all the Pueblo slaves were to be released, including his own wife and children.

The governor refused to give in. As each day passed, the stench and heat in the casa reales got worse. The Spanish knew that the people inside would die of thirst, hunger, heat, or attack. At last, on August 21, 1680, they surrendered. They staggered out of the casa reales into the bright sun and set out for the south. The Pueblos could have killed them all, but they let them escape.

For the Hopi, descendants of the rebels who took part in the Pueblo Revolt, runners still bring blessings for the rain, for the harvest, and for a long life.

The Pueblos could have killed the fleeing Spanish, but they did not. The Pueblo Revolt had succeeded. Over the following centuries, it would inspire Indigenous people to fight back against harsh treatment.

Although the Spanish returned to New Mexico twelve years later, the Pueblo Revolt is still remembered as an incredible story of leadership, cooperation, and bravery.



WE FORGE NEW ONES 1592 to the present

A single twig breaks, but the bundle of twigs is strong.

— Tecumseh (Shawnee, 1768–1813)


Slavery and disease almost wiped out the Indigenous peoples of North America. Imagining the destruction is almost impossible: 90 percent of the population died. Nation after nation disappeared. The survivors had to find ways to replace them. And they had to do it fast, if they were going to stand up against European invaders. The stories of Deganawidah the Peacemaker, Wahunsunacock, Tecumseh, and the Red Sticks tell us about just four of the very different confederacies that formed on Turtle Island.



1451 to the present

Indigenous peoples in the northeast came together to create one of the world's oldest confederacies. The Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy were joined by the Tuscarora in 1722. Since then, they have been called the Six Nations. The center of life for the people of the northeastern forests was their hodensote, or longhouse. Haudenosaunee means "the whole house."

Longhouses were large wooden buildings framed with saplings and covered with spruce bark. An average longhouse was 18.3 meters (60 feet) long, 4.9 meters (16 feet) wide, and 4.6 meters (15 feet) high. A long corridor ran the length of the building, dotted by hearths, one for each family connected by blood or marriage. Along the sides were platforms on which families slept together near their hearth.

If you were going to live in peace in such close quarters, you had to learn how to get along. Harmony is an important value for all of Haudenosaunee life. The confederacy is modeled on a symbolic longhouse that covers all of the Six Nations, and each nation has its place in it. For example, the Mohawk are known as the "keepers of the eastern door," and the Onondaga are the "keepers of the fire."

THE REAL POCAHONTASAND THE WAHUNSUNACOCK (POWHATAN) CONFEDERACY1595 to 1617 The first federation to form after the English came to the green, rolling hills of what is now Virginia was called the Powhatan Confederacy. The people there called their homeland Tsenacomoco. As a defense against settlers from England, a man named Wahunsunacock (the English called him Powhatan) brought together people from thirty different settlements, each with its own chief or werowance. Wahunsunacock had 14,000 to 21,000 followers. He made himself the mamanatowick, or chief of chiefs.

The colony of Jamestown was turning out to be a disaster for English settlers. They were hungry and sick. They would have died except that Wahunsunacock's people provided them with food. He was happy to offer whatever help he could, because he hoped that the English would become the thirty-first chiefdom, and he would be their leader.

One of Wahunsunacock's many daughters was named Amonute but was often called Pocahontas ("mischievous one"). She had always been curious about the English people at Jamestown. She was funny and good-natured and soon became a lively favorite with the English.

John Smith was one of the men governing Jamestown. In 1624 he wrote about his experience as Wahunsunacock's prisoner. According to Smith, he was about to be clubbed to death in a ritual execution ceremony. Pocahantas, who was then 11 or 12, intervened to save his life.

Smith had not been in danger at all. There was an Indigenous ceremony in which young men went through a mock execution with a sponsor "saving" the "victim." Pocahontas "saved" John Smith as part of this "sparing the life" ritual, which was a step in his being accepted by her people.

There are countless stories about Pocahontas. Even though some may have been made up, she really was a skillful go-between who constantly tried to help her own people and the English understand each other.


Excerpted from "What the Eagle Sees"
by .
Copyright © 2019 Eldon Yellowhorn and Kathy Lowinger.
Excerpted by permission of Annick Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Author’s Note
Eagle’s Tale
The Story of the Old North Trail
CHAPTER 9 Eagle’s Lesson

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