Whose North America is it? “Nobody owns it. It owns itself.”

Margaret Connell-Szasz

Abstract


Responding to the question, “Whose North America is it?,” this essay argues North America does not belong to anyone. As a Sonoran Desert Tohono O’odham said of the mountain: “Nobody owns it. It owns itself.” Contrasting Native American and Euro-American views of the natural world, the essay maintains that European immigrants introduced the startling concept of Cartesian duality. Accepting a division between spiritual and material, they viewed the natural world as physical matter, devoid of spirituality. North America’s First People saw it differently: they perceived the Earth/Universe as a spiritual community of reciprocal relationships bound by intricate ties of kinship and respect. This clash has shaped American history. From the sixteenth century forward, many European immigrants envisioned land ownership as a dream. Creators of the Declaration of Independence and US Constitution thrust “happiness”/“property” into the nation’s mythology. Southern Euro-Americans claimed “ownership” of African Americans, defining them as “property”; Native Americans resisted Euro-Americans’ enforcement of land ownership ideology; by the late 1800s, Euro-Americans’ view of the natural world as physical matter spurred massive extraction of natural resources. The Cartesian duality persisted, but, given its dubious legacy, Native Americans question the wisdom of this interpretation of the natural world.

Keywords


property; Cartesian duality; natural world; Native Americans; spirituality

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ISSN: 0044-8060
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