What Have We Inherited?

(Image Credit: Here)

Recently, I have been listening to John Trudell’s talks on Youtube, and they have given me quite a bit to think about. John Trudell was a Native American activist and author. I would like to share some of those thoughts with you, because they have left me both in awe, and feeling deeply troubled.

In Trudell’s “What Happened to the Tribes of Europe?” he talks about a great many things that happened to our (Euro-American) ancestors. For a little perspective on that, he talks about the Tribes of Europe, and the Christianization.

Now, for the sake of clarification, there was a time when most of the peoples of Europe were organized into tribes. For sake of this piece, tribe is going to be defined simply as a collection of interrelated peoples (whether by blood, culture, marriage ect.) A tribe is a community of families living together, a knitted group of people. There was a time when even this was true of our ancestors. But as they say, that was a different time and a different place.

There is a great deal of nuance and complexity that can be teased out here, but the exact specifics of the prehistory and history of Europe are way outside the scope of this work. So in the general and broad version, there was a time when Europeans were organized as tribes. Later, this would turn into Fiefdoms, and Kingdoms, and into modern times Nation-States. For the most part, I will be focusing on the Middle Ages and our more recent ancestries. To go deeper would require a much longer piece, and I would have to talk about Indo-Europeans, and ancient migration patterns and so on.

Christianization, is the process whereas a person or group of persons becomes Christian. The history of Christianization of Europe spans centuries, from “Year Zero” AD and ended in Europe by about the 15th century. From there, it was exported to the world through empires and colonialism. Once again this is very nuanced and complex. As before, I won’t have the space to detail all the intricacies here. As such, it must suffice that we are talking in long term trends, and broad terms.

As Trudell points out, by the time Columbus arrived in 1492, our ancestors were already carrying a kind of spiritual disease, or a spiritual pollution. So he wonders what did Columbus come out of? What did he inherit, and then bring to the shores of North America and the indigenous people?

According to Trudell, by about 1000 AD, the Church had decided that it was “God’s Government, The Authority of God on Earth.” By that time, Europeans no longer remembered that they had once been tribes. This was because by this time they were already owned by those that owned the lands, as serfs, fiefs, or peasants. They were owned just like the land, by Kings and Monarchs, and other sources of authority.

But for the most part, through folk beliefs and other methods, the people still worked with the spirits. Especially the women, as Trudell points out. Much of that spiritual folklore still lives on today.

Yet, by about the year 1000, Trudell says that the Church had decided to mine this resource, to “extract” the spirits of the people in order to“save the souls of the heathens and pagans.” Thus according to Trudell, that is part of the reason why the Inquisition happened. People were terrorized, in order that they could be “saved”.

“They wanted to possess the souls of the heathens and pagans. They wanted to possess their souls, in the name of their Lord” as Trudell states so concisely. Like a collection, like items on a shelf, like the land itself, the souls of the Europeans were something to be possessed, like the land they worked on. In order to be “saved” you had to think and believe as the Church wanted you to believe, and if you didn’t… Well, it falls under the convert or die scenario.

To be honest, I can’t blame my own ancestors for converting. They made a pragmatic decision, they decided to survive. I can’t say I would do any different in their shoes. I like to think that I might, when faced with the sword or the gun; that I would die for my beliefs. But when I consider my family, and maybe my future descendants, I cannot say that I would.

In the process of Christianization, we changed our relationship to our spiritual selves, and to everything else. It changed the perception of our ancestors, and that was something their descendants inherited.

Trudell states that with 20 years to a generation, the descendants of the tribes of Europe had been under “spiritual attack” for almost 20 generations before Columbus “discovered” America.

20 generations, at least 400 years. Personally, I bet it goes a lot deeper than that.

But through Christianization, as Trudell says, our ancestors became “spiritually and physically the possession of something else… They were possessed, they were owned, they were property.”

Whether through force or through choice, our ancestors embraced the Church.

But as Trudell points out, this created in our ancestors a kind of spiritual trauma. Whether that is a disease or a sickness, or a kind of corruption, it is hard to say. Yet, as I was talking about this piece with others, it was pointed out that this kind of thing is similar in many ways to shamanic soul loss.

I argue that it goes even further and deeper than soul loss. We didn’t misplace part of our spirits, it was taken. Either that or we gave it away to another, to a King, to a Priest, to the Church, it doesn’t matter specifically who. We forgot who we once were, and insisted that others do the same.

Part of our souls was gone and this was inherited generation after generation. Then through processes such as colonialism, imperialism, and the slave trade; we inflicted this trauma onto others. For countless generations this spiritual trauma was inflicted on our ancestors, and we have perpetuated it right up until the modern time. We passed on that trauma to others. We became the perpetrators of that trauma. To this day, I am not sure we can say that we have broken that cycle.

Some have called it Wetiko, but I don’t know what to call it. Spiritual trauma is the closest I am going to get.

All this leaves me in a really strange place when I am thinking about my own ancestry and my own relation to the overarching culture. My ancestors, through various lines, have been in the US for a long time, probably since the 1600’s. There is little doubt in my mind that they brought that spiritual trauma with them. The colonized became the colonizers.

But at the same time, my ancestors have been Christian for most of the time they have been in this country. More than a few of them took great pride in that faith, and it was part of their reality. I don’t fault them for being Christian. I’m not here to bash Christians, but to merely critique the process by which they were Christianized. Something happened to their spirits during that process, and I don’t think they ever questioned that.

Yet, none of the “Old World” was ever passed down to me. There is very little “Europe” in my childhood as a direct inheritance. My parents were born American, and so was I. I was taught the stories and history of America from my first day in grade school. Yet, I am not a Native to America, as my ancestors came from somewhere else. But yet, they left behind most of that “somewhere else” behind them when they became immigrants. They were uprooted, and brought little of the old ways with them.

So it leaves me in an odd place. I was born here, the waters, sky, and land of this place are in my blood and bones, but I am not native to this land. Nor am I of the old world, as none of that was passed on to me, except for the trauma inherited by my ancestors. It leaves me a child of two worlds that does not belong to either.

It’s a hard state of being, being white like a blank page of paper. I am empty, ready to be filled with the great glories and stories of the US. Whatever this Nation decides to feed me, that is who I was to be.

Yet, that is not who I want to be. I no longer wish to continue to perpetuate the trauma I have inherited. I want to break that cycle, and start a new. I have nothing from the old world, and nothing of the new. So my only real choice is to start from scratch, to help heal the trauma of my ancestors, and to find new roots in a new place.

To perhaps, return to the ways my ancestors once forgot. To find my way back to the tribes of Europe.

Thanks for reading.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rbCar3aGadc – What Happened to the Tribes of Europe, John Trudell

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6GgUyZ4F7CU – Mining our Minds for the Machine





  1. Interesting and thoughtful post. I, too, am here by way of very early European arrivals in the early 17th century. And I feel no “cultural affiliation” other than being an American, which is kind of like being…nothing.

    I think the history of racism ties into this. In order to lump Black people as inferior, American culture created a category called “white” which is defined only by skin color, not any kind of culture or history. We are the inheritors of this. It simultaneously leaves us culturally impoverished and yet socially privileged.

    For myself, I have been cultivating a relationship to the land of a particular place for a long time, in the hope that one day will come a dawning and I will simply “get” this place at a deeper and more integrated level. It could happen, but after 35 years, I’m doubtful.

    I write stories about this landscape: myths with the native fauna and flora as characters. I do this because I don’t feel it is right to appropriate the stories of the Native people who live here, but I need a mythological “map” to these landmarks and the natural history of this place, too. It seems to help.

    Anyway, thank you for a thought-provoking piece.

    1. Thank you for commenting Mark!

      I have gotten a fair bit of feedback on this piece, and I am quite grateful for it. Thank you for your thoughtful addition to this conversation.
      I have already started to work on a followup post that will explore all of this in more depth.
      You are absolutely correct, racism does tie into this heavily. As does I think nationalism as well as capitalism in the more recent centuries.
      I took a dig at “whiteness” with the white blank page part of this post, but didn’t have the space to develop that more fully.

      It is fascinating you write stories about the landscape. I try to do some of that too, and I have a few of my own. 🙂
      Keep up the good work.

      As a last question, aside from racism, is there any other direction you would like to see me develop?

      Thanks for reading!

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