The Europeans that followed Christopher Columbus to the western hemisphere referred the western hemisphere as “the New World.” Of course it was no more a new world than it was India. The people of Europe were wrong—again.
The history we learned in school taught us that this “discovery” was one of the greatest achievements of mankind. The people that were “discovered” had very different views. The people in the western hemisphere, as it has come to be called, with a little more justification, believed that their world was the only world. They were also mistaken. They believed that they lived on a great island floating on an ancient sea. Some of them referred to this world as “Turtle Island.”
These people on the western hemisphere were amazing people. They had occupied all habitable areas of this hemisphere (and some like Manitoba are arguably not really habitable at all) from the Arctic tundra, to the plains, mountains, forests and deserts of North America. They occupied the Caribbean islands, Mexico, Central America and the incredible rainforests, deserts, plains and mountains of South America. They developed many different kinds of society. They included nomadic groups of hunter-gatherers to settled farming communities and cities as large as any in the rest of the world. Numbers vary, but by 1492 there may have been 100 million Native Americans in the South and North combined. This was about 1/5 of the entire human race.
To the people of the Americas, their encounter with people from Europe was not a discovery, it was an invasion! It was an invasion with profound effects for both sides. As Ronald Wright said, “Within decades of Columbus’s landfall, most of these people were dead and their world barbarously sacked by Europeans. The plunderers settled in America, and it was they, not the original people, who became to be known as Americans.” “Unlike Asia and Africa, America never saw its colonizers leave.”
The original people did not however disappear. As Wright put it, “Many survive, captive within white settler states that built on their lands and on their backs.”