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Home / Poetry R. M. Rilke / Poetry / indigenous names



What indigenous place names tell us

Alabama, Alaska, Algonquin, Allegheny, Apache, Apalachee, Appalachian, Appomattox, Arizona, Arkansas, Biloxi, Calumet, Calusa, Canada, Caribou, Cayuga, Chatanooga, Chautauqua, Chepanoc, Cherokee, Chesapeake, Cheyenne, Chicago, Chickasaw, Chippewa, Clatsop, Colusa, Comanche, Connecticut, Cree, Dakota, Delaware, Detroit, Erie, Hialeah, Hiawatha, Hopi, Huron, Idaho, Illinois, Inyo, Iowa, Iroquois, Kalamazoo, Kansas, Kenosha, Kentucky, Klondike, Lillooet, Mackinac, Malibu, Maliseet, Manhattan, Manitoba, Massachusetts, Merrimac, Metoac, Miami, Miccosukee, Michigan, Micmac, Milwaukee, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Modoc, Mohawk, Mohegan, Mohican, Monache, Montauk, Muscogee, Nakota, Nanaimo, Nantucket, Napa, Narragansett, Naugatuck, Navajo, Nebraska, Niagara, Norwalk, Ohio, Okanagan, Okeechobee, Oklahoma, Omaha, Omak, Oneida, Ontario, Oregon, Orono, Ottawa, Palouse, Pataha, Pawnee, Pennacook, Pennamaquan, Pensacola, Penticton, Peoga, Peoria, Peotone, Pequot, Poconos, Pontiac, Potomac, Poughkeepsie, Quebec, Roanoke, Sarasota, Saratoga, Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Savannah, Sawhatchee, Scituate, Seattle, Sebago, Sequoia, Seminole, Sewanee, Shannock, Shawnee, Shenandoah, Shetucket, Shoshone, Sioux, Sonoma, Spokane, Squamish, Sunapee, Susquehanna, Tacoma, Taconic, Tahoe, Tallahassee, Tampa, Tecumseh, Tennessee, Texarcana, Texas, Ticonderoga, Topeka, Toronto, Tucson, Tuscaloosa, Tuscarora, Tuskegee, Utah, Wabash, Waco, Walla Walla, Wallowa, Wanakit, Wasco, Waupaca, Wausau, Wenatchee, Wichita, Winnebago, Winnimac, Winnipeg, Wisconsin, Wyoming, Yosemite, Yukon, Yuma – what language do these sonorous names speak? What message do they convey to us?

Indigenous names, vestiges of the first nations who lived and prospered in the rich lands of the Americas. Anthropologists estimate that some ten million human beings resided in North America when their lands were “discovered” by the Europeans. This vast continent was theirs, full of villages, wigwams, laughter and life.

Where are these people now? Where have they all gone? Gone and forgotten, blown with the wind and the clouds.

What does Chapultepec, Chichen Itza, Machu Picchu and Tikal tell us? That south of the Rio Grande the continent was populated by millions of human beings, perhaps as many as 60 million. Their land was not terra nullius. We can still recognize the Aztec, the Maya, the Inca, the Quechua in the populations of Central and South America. From the writings of the Dominican friars Bartolomé de las Casas and Antonio de Montesinos we have learned that the Arawacs, the Siboneyes and Tainos were massacred and enslaved. How many indigenous lives were deliberately extinguished by the European colonizers (migrants with the sword)? How many died or disease and deprivation? Ten million? Twenty?

The “Christianization" of Latin America and the Anglo-Saxon policy of “manifest destiny” constituted perhaps the greatest demographic catastrophe in the long history of mankind


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