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From Beads to Bounty: How Wampum Became America’s First Currency—And Lost Its Power


When Prince Philip of the Pokanokets (later known as the Wampanoags) proudly wore his wampum—decorative beads made from whelk and clam shells—he was proudly declaring several things about himself: his station, his value (and obligation) to his people, as well as the spiritual message conveyed by the design of those shells. The Englishmen he encountered, however, could only see the commercial value of that wampum, and 20 pounds sterling meant Philip was wearing some very pricey bling.

How wampum changed from bling to money is a complicated story. The colonists back then did not have printed currency, so their trade economy was mostly based on the barter of commodities such as corn and pelts. When wampum became a prime commodity in the Northeast corner of North America in 1630, it forever altered the Native systems of reciprocity and balance in life, labor and trade.

Wampum had a short run, but a long tail. It was a coin of the realm for just 30 years but wampum was commonly used as slang for money well into the second half of 20th century, along with other colorful terms such as moolah, loot, lucre and—more relevant to this discussion—clams. Even today, wampum usually is the answer to this crossword puzzle clue: used as Indian money in the Northeast, even though Natives did not traditionally use wampum as money, in part because they did not use money at all.

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Purple Beads of Death
Wampum was white or purple beads and discs fashioned from two shells: the white beads from the whelk, a sea snail with a spiral shape, and the quahog, a clam with purple and white coloring.

Quahogs are found in the waters from Cape Cod south to New York, with a great abundance in Long Island Sound.

The clams were harvested in the summer, their meat consumed, and the shells were then worked into beads. Wampum beads were difficult to make back then. Drilling (with stones) could shatter the clam and the dust from the drilling contained silica that cut up lungs if inhaled. Water was used to limit the dust. The shells were ground and polished into small tubes with a stone drill called a puckwhegonnautick. They were placed on strings made of plant fiber or animal tendon and woven into belts, necklaces, headpieces, bracelets, earrings—a variety of adornments depending on the status of the wearer.

King Philip, with his wampum belt (AP)

The color of the beads had meaning. For the Algonquians, white beads represented purity, light and brightness, and would be used as gifts to mark events that invoked those characteristics, such as the birth of a child. Purple beads represented solemn things like war, grieving and death. The combination of white and purple represented the duality of the world; light and dark, sun and moon, women and man, life and death. Wampum was given as a gift for many occasions: births, marriages, the signing of treaties, occasions for condolence and remembrance. In his book, Toward an Anthropological Theory of Value; The False Coin of Our Own Dreams, David Graeber says the Iroquois believed wampum was so spiritually powerful it could bring back the spirit of dead loved ones. He includes a Jesuit account of the Huron practice of hanging wampum around a captive Native’s neck; if the captive accepted the necklace, he became the living embodiment of a deceased loved one.

Early English accounts of wampum in the coastal Native nations report that huge strings of wampum were hung from the rafters at days-long games that were similar to rugby and soccer. These games were watched and wagered on by hundreds and sometimes thousands of Natives, and the winning side received the wampum bounty. In Debt: The First 5000 Years, Graeber writes that “[wampum] was a representation of a value that could only be realized through its exchange.”

It took Europeans some time to realize how important wampum was to indigenous cultures. Fur pelts were the globally desired commodities in those early days. Beaver fur in particular was the prime choice for coats and hats—castor gras (greasy beaver) was especially prized. (In possibly history’s only instance of an item preworn by indigenous people being more valuable, castor gras was beaver fur that had been worn by Natives for 12 to 18 months, by which time the long hairs had been rubbed off through wear and tear so the fur was shiny and pliable.)

The white man’s indifference to wampum changed in 1622, when a Dutch West India Company trader named Jacques Elekens took a Pequot sachem hostage and threatened to behead him if he did not receive a large ransom. When more than 280 yards of wampum were handed over, the light bulb above Elekens’s head exploded. The Dutch had been using Venetian glass beads for centuries to trade with Indigenous Peoples in Africa, India and—more recently—North America. (Recall the well-known but probably fictional story of Peter Minuit’s purchase of Manhattan Island for $24 worth of glass, multicolored beads.) Note, however that the long strings of wampum given to Elekens were not, strictly speaking, a “cash payment.” It represented the symbolic value or status of a sachem. As Graeber writes, “there’s no evidence that even the Indians living in the closest proximity to Europeans used wampum to buy and sell things to one another.” The Pequots had traded with the Dutch and knew they sometimes used glass beads and perhaps thought they would appreciate wampum.

The Dutch start trading furs acquired along the Hudson River for wampum from the coastal nations. They then used the wampum for their transactions with Native fur traders. This influx of wampum piqued the interest of the more northern Native fur-trading nations that normally conducted business with the French hunters and traders. (The French had no wampum, so they suddenly found it hard to compete with the Dutch for the furs.)

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Now that they were using wampum as currency, the pragmatic and profit-minded Dutch knew it would be cheaper and easier to manufacture beads in the New World. Graeber says, “English and Dutch colonists apparently found it a relatively simple matter to force [the Narragansetts and Pequots] to mass-produce the wampum beads, stringing the them together in belts of pure white or pure purple and setting fixed rates of exchange with the Indians of the interior; so many fathoms of wampum for such and such a pelt.” The Narragansetts and Pequots and their tribute nations and tribes saw the advantage of becoming integral players in a lucrative trade market with a rare local commodity they could control. These powerful neighboring nations were the favored trade partners of the Dutch, and within a few years, wampum production became the primary occupation for both. The Pequots made an alliance through marriage with the Mohegans and their influence increased. The Dutch, meanwhile, expanded their operations up the coast into Narragansett Bay and set up a trading post in 1627 near present-day Warren, Rhode Island. This incursion prompted the Plymouth colonists to demand that the Dutch stop trading with their Native allies, and the Dutch and English soon reached an agreement to stay off each other’s trade turf.

Tribes boxed out of this trading loop—such as the Montauks and Shinnecocks—paid tribute to the larger nations with wampum. Neal Salisbury explains the consequences of that dynamic in his book, Manitou and Providence: “In order to trade, the disadvantaged bands paid tribute.… Thus, the ceremonial exchange of goods which had once reinforced equality among bands became a source of inequality.”

Using beaver pelts to trade with white traders (AP)

William Bradford, the governor of Plymouth Colony, recorded that the Natives the English dealt with were initially hesitant to use wampum as currency, but Salisbury says, “After two years of trader persistence, wampum became an item of mass consumption, and Plymouth had effectively eliminated most of its small-scale competitors.… [Once] a symbol of prestige, wampum had become a medium of exchange and communication available to all, leading Indians through-out New England toward greater dependence on their ties with Europeans.”

In 1630, great numbers of English Puritans landed in America, ready to acquire land and make a living. They brought fake wampum beads to present to the “squaw sachem” of the Massachuset tribe in exchange for land. Now there were two English colonies competing for economic success. Both were using wampum to trade.

As wampum production was ramped up in the south, hunting and trapping was ramped up in the north. The Abenaki were so focused on supplying large amounts of furs and pelts in order to acquire more wampum that mass depletions of fur-producing animals resulted. The beaver and marten populations were hardest hit.

A War Started by Hope
With Dutch traders and two English colonies vying for financial success, and two Native nations producing wampum, there was bound to be a violent collision. In fact, there were several.

Dutch traders decided to start a trading post along the Connecticut River at what is now Hartford, Connecticut. The post, known as The House of Hope, allowed the Dutch to beat out other European competitors trading with the northern nations along the Hudson River, and allowed the Dutch to trade with formerly disenfranchised smaller bands and tribes. The Hope was a place, the Dutch proclaimed, where “all tribes of Indians shall be permitted to come freely…to trade with us; and [where] the enemies of the one or the other nation shall not molest each other.”

This was a problem for the Pequot, who no longer controlled the river trade and were no longer the primary trading partners of the Dutch. So they start attacking other Natives trading at the Hope. The Dutch retaliated, killing the Pequot sachem Tatobem and his followers.

There was now a complicated and dangerous chess game going on between the two English settlements, the new English arrivals, the Dutch, the large Native nations and small tribes—all of them angling to gain access to the trade networks along the Connecticut River. After some bogus provocations about the murder of a British man, the Pequots skirmished with some English settlers. In a predawn attack of the Pequot’s Mystic River village, the English then slaughtered between 300 and 700 men, women and children. The English won this war decisively—in 1638, the Treaty of Hartford dissolved the Pequot nation. Stepping into the void, the Narragansetts became the primary producers of wampum.

The 1652 Pine Tree shilling (AP)

Meanwhile, the Dutch abandoned southern New England and concentrated on trading with the Iroquois nations to the north that still had access to quality furs. Information as well as wampum flowed north and the Iroquois recognized the need for a strong unified front of Native nations to meet the threat of the white traders and their guns. They knew they needed an empire to deal with empires.

The Iroquois forged alliances and their access to the Dutch wampum increased their power. Graeber writes that “wampum…came to play a central role in their political life, even, one might argue, in the constitution of Iroquois society itself.… Wampum was the essential medium of all peacemaking. Every act of diplomacy, both within the League and outside it, had to be carried out through the giving and receiving of wampum. If a message had to be sent, it would be spoken into belts or strings of wampum, which the messenger would present to the recipient. Such belts were referred to as words; beads were woven into mnemonic patterns bearing on the import of the message. Without them, no message stood a chance of being taken seriously by its recipient.”

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The Iroquois nations continued to use wampum to convey important messages during turbulent times, such as the French and Indian War—a string of white brought by messenger meant the sender spoke words of peace, a string of dark purple meant words of war. If the receivers agreed with the message, they kept the belt; if not, the belt was cut up.

Bead of the Realm
The value of wampum was volatile in English hands. Just 10 months before the Pequots were officially “dissolved” as a sovereign nation, the Massachusetts Bay Colony’s General Court declared that white wampum beads would pass at six to a penny as lawful payment. No mention is made of the purple beads, which were always worth more than the white ones.

Wampum was officially recognized as a currency by Massachusetts Bay Colony on October 18, 1650, and rates of exchange were formalized. Strings of eight, 24, 96 and 480 beads were valued, respectively, at one, three and 12 pence and five shillings. Purple beads were worth twice as much as the white ones. For the next 10 years the standard exchange rates for wampum was very stable.
Then, suddenly, everything changed. Trade with the West Indies grew to be more lucrative than the fur trade and European coins were being used as currency in the islands. Many of those coins eventually found their way north and into New England purses. In 1652, the Bay Colony opened the Boston Mint and in 1661 the wampum valuation law was repealed; wampum was designated as random species (value would be arbitrary dependent on individual agreement). The “triangle trade”—slaves from Africa; sugar cane, tobacco and indigo in the West Indies; cloth and other goods from Europe—became the dominant profit dynamic. The English colonial merchants shifted from the fur trade to timber and shipbuilding. The colonies manufactured molasses and rum from imported cane sugar and ironworks. Native nations, like the Pequots and Narragansetts, which were now reliant on the wampum business, had no trade good on which to fall back. The fur market was depleted and wampum lost most of its trade value.

Mass Production, After the Fact
There is scant information on who was producing wampum for the next 150 years. There is mention of an outfit in Albany, New York but no description of who was making the wampum or of how long the group was in business.

The next blip of mass production happened in 1812. John W. Campbell, son of an Irish immigrant, started the Campbell Brothers Wampum Mill in New Jersey, around 1775. His two sons and four grandsons inherited the business. Initially the family farmed during the summer and produced wampum during the winter. They purchased shells from the fish market in New York City and used West Indian conches brought in on ships as ballast. The Campbell mill sponsored quahog-shucking contests in Rockaway on Long Island in which the contestants got to keep the meat and the Campbells kept the shells. One grandson invented a drill in 1812 that quickly and precisely drilled a hole in the wampum, then used a grindstone to fashion the shape. This made production quicker than traditional hand-drilling and the mill was operating full-time and became the largest employer in the area. The mill sold strings of 50 beads, 20 strings carried 1,000 beads; 20 strings of purple equaled $5 and 20 strings of white were $2.50. The mill specialized in crafting wampum “hair pipes” that could be strung together to form breastplates and necklaces; Comanches favored the breastplates.

Fur magnate John Jacob Astor purchased wampum from the Campbell mill to use in trade with Natives around Montreal, where his American Fur Company acquired most of its lush furs. Other clients were federal Indian Agents. Between 1835 and 1866, the Campbell mill produced a million purple beads a year. Production dropped during the Civil War. By 1890 most Native nations had been placed on reservations, and the wampum boom was over.

In an ironic evolution of contemporary globalized economics, wampum beads are now being mass-produced in China. Acrylic reproduction beads sell the most—one website on Native beading explains that real wampum beads are too expensive at $5 per bead. However, indigenous artists in the Northeast are still crafting wampum jewelry from the quahog and abalone on a small scale. It’s hard not to marvel at the incredible journey of a bead made from the shell of a stationary bivalve—from sacred object to commodity to cultural icon, crossing the continent and the world, and finally returning to its starting point.

This story was originally published on  January 14, 2013.

The post From Beads to Bounty: How Wampum Became America’s First Currency—And Lost Its Power appeared first on Indian Country Media Network.

Oneida Nation to Donate Indian Country Today Media Network Assets to NCAI


The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) today announced that it is assuming control of the assets of Indian Country Today Media Network (ICTMN), the result of a donation to the organization by the Oneida Indian Nation.

“NCAI’s Executive Officers and I are humbled by this donation from ICTMN and the Oneida Indian Nation,” said NCAI President Brian Cladoosby. “Their love for Indian country carries through their every word and has inspired our tribal communities to tell their own stories. This is an immense responsibility; NCAI will approach this responsibility thoughtfully and deliberately with an eye towards strengthening Indian country’s voice.”

ICTMN recently halted operations to evaluate its next steps in the face of unprecedented changes in the publishing industry, changes that have presented complicated challenges for every media organization across the country.

“ICTMN has been the flagship publication producing unique and original reporting about Indian country—and the Oneida Indian Nation has played a pivotal role in forging that legacy,” said NCAI Executive Director Jacqueline Pata. “After years of strong investments, we appreciate the Oneida Nation now turning over ICTMN’s assets to our organization, and we look forward to convening meetings with key stakeholders over the next several months to construct a blueprint for how to best respectfully carry on ICTMN’s mission.”

Over the past four decades the ICTMN has evolved from a local weekly print newsletter, to a national magazine, and now an online news syndicate reporting on the ground from— and for—Indian country about the critical issues impacting Native nations and peoples in the United States and around the globe.

“When the Oneida Indian Nation decided to purchase Indian Country Today Media Network, we had a singular goal in mind: we wanted to create award-winning journalism that gives voice to Native Americans, wherever they lived. ICTMN clearly achieved that goal,” said Oneida Indian Nation Representative Ray Halbritter. “We know that when we leave our stories to be told only by other media outlets, those stories too often go untold—or aren’t told accurately. ICTMN proved that we do not have to sit idly by while that happens. We are very happy to be able to donate ICTMN’s assets to NCAI—an organization whose entire mission is to advocate for tribal sovereignty and treaty rights and advance a common understanding of who Native nations and peoples are today.”

During its years being supported by the Oneida Indian Nation, the organization was recognized for its groundbreaking journalism spotlighting the complex issues facing Native nations and communities, earning several prestigious awards—30 alone in 2017 from the Native American Journalists Association (NAJA); multiple Clarion Awards; and individual awards and grants to contributors from the Society of Professional Journalists, the Herb Block Prize for cartooning, USC’s Annenberg Center, and the Playboy Foundation.

Additional information will be shared as we move forward in the coming months on both ICTMN and NCAI platforms. For questions email NCAI at ICTMN@ncai.org.

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Nammy 2017 Special Performances Include Gary Farmer and Joseph FireCrow Tribute


There will be a great selection of special performances and celebrations this year when Seneca Niagara Resort & Casino hosts the 17th Annual Native American Music Awards on Saturday, October 14th.

The Native American Music Awards (Nammys) is the world’s largest awards show dedicated to Native American musicians, and this year, special performances on the schedule include Shakopee Sioux vocalist Josh Halverson, who made serious waves on The Voice television show.

In addition to Halverson, actor and musician Gary Farmer will be given a lifetime achievement award as well as perform on the Nammys’ stage live as Gary Farmer and the Troublemakers.

There will also be a special musical tribute to the late GRAMMY winning Native artist Joseph FireCrow.

Courtesy

The Seneca Niagara Resort & Casino is hosting the 17th Annual Native American Music Awards on Saturday, October 14th.

source: nativeamericanmusicawards.com

Joseph Firecrow and band at the 6th Native American Music Awards in 2003

The 2017  Native American Music Awards will be hosted by Ernie Stevens, Jr. the Chairman and national spokesperson for the National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA) in Washington, D.C.

The awards show is put on by the Native American Music Association, which started the Native American Music Awards to promote greater cultural understanding and a revival of Native American music and culture.

Courtesy Native American Music Awards

The stars will shine when Seneca Niagara Resort & Casino hosts the 17th Annual Native American Music Awards on Saturday, October 14th.

According to organizer Ellen Bello on the Nammy’s website, “Our recordings span from historical initiatives to present-day questions for the great leaders, and [to] Native youth speaking louder than ever with their powerful raps about their poignant plights, armed with a spirit of undaunted perseverance. No other organization can reflect such an impressive and diverse array of talent and soundscapes from all ages and tribal nations throughout the Americas.” For complete details and show information, visit www.nativeamericanmusicawards.com

Tickets are now on sale. Look for the special “Me Plus 3 Offer” available at www.ticketmaster.com.  If you buy 3 tickets, you get one free. Tickets start at $15.

Follow the Nammy’s on Twitter @NativeAwards

Visit their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/NativeAwards/

Visit their YouTube Channel at https://www.youtube.com/user/NativeMusicAwards

The Seneca Niagara Resort & Casino.

About The Seneca Niagara Resort & Casino

The Seneca Niagara Resort & Casino is just minutes from the world-famous Niagara Falls in Western New York, near the Canadian border. The property is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

Guests can enjoy 147,000 square feet of gaming space with more than 3,600 slot machines and 90 table games, the all new Pulse Arena/STIR-the area’s ultimate high-energy electronic table games, Blackjack Party Pit, and feature bar with live entertainment, signature cocktails, and a stunning 43-foot high-definition video wall.

The property also has 10 restaurants, live entertainment, a AAA Four Diamond Award-winning, 26-story hotel that has 604 deluxe rooms and suites, a spa and salon, fitness center and an indoor pool.

More info is available at 1-877-8-SENECA (1-877-873-6322) or www.SenecaCasinos.com.

Facebook: Seneca Niagara Resort & Casino

Twitter: @SenecaCasinos

Instagram: Instagram.com/SenecaCasinos

Download our mobile app, view us on YouTube and use the hashtag #SenecaNiagara to connect with us on social media.

Follow Vincent Schilling (Akwesasne Mohawk) – ICMN’s Arts and Entertainment, Pow Wows and Sports Editor Follow @VinceSchilling

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Trauma May Be Woven Into DNA of Native Americans


Trauma is big news these days. Mainstream media is full of stories about the dramatic improvements allowing science to see more clearly how trauma affects our bodies, minds and even our genes. Much of the coverage hails the scientific connection between trauma and illness as a breakthrough for modern medicine. The next breakthrough will be how trauma affects our offspring.

The science of epigenetics, literally “above the gene,” proposes that we pass along more than DNA in our genes; it suggests that our genes can carry memories of trauma experienced by our ancestors and can influence how we react to trauma and stress. The Academy of Pediatrics reports that the way genes work in our bodies determines neuroendocrine structure and is strongly influenced by experience. [Neuroendocrine cells help the nervous and endocrine (hormonal) system work together to produce substances such as adrenaline (the hormone associated with the fight or flight response.] Trauma experienced by earlier generations can influence the structure of our genes, making them more likely to “switch on” negative responses to stress and trauma.

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Download our free report, Intergenerational Trauma: Understanding Natives’ Inherited Pain, to understand this fascinating concept.


In light of this emerging science and how it works with the way we react to trauma, the AAP stated in its publication, Adverse Childhood Experiences and the Lifelong Consequences of Trauma, “Never before in the history of medicine have we had better insight into the factors that determine the health of an individual from infancy to adulthood, which is part of the life course perspective—a way of looking at life not as disconnected stages but as integrated across time,” according to the AAP in their recent publication examining the role of Adverse Childhood Experience (ACES) on our development and health. The now famous 1998 ACES study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Kaiser Permanente showed that such adverse experiences could contribute to mental and physical illness.

“Native healers, medicine people and elders have always known this and it is common knowledge in Native oral traditions,” according to LeManuel “Lee” Bitsoi, Navajo, PhD Research Associate in Genetics at Harvard University. (Courtesy SACNAS)

Folks in Indian country wonder what took science so long to catch up with traditional Native knowledge. “Native healers, medicine people and elders have always known this and it is common knowledge in Native oral traditions,” according to LeManuel “Lee” Bitsoi, Navajo, PhD Research Associate in Genetics at Harvard University during his presentation at the Gateway to Discovery conference in 2013.

According to Bitsoi, epigenetics is beginning to uncover scientific proof that intergenerational trauma is real. Historical trauma, therefore, can be seen as a contributing cause in the development of illnesses such as PTSD, depression and type 2 diabetes.

What exactly is historical or intergenerational trauma? Michelle M. Sotero, an instructor in Health Care Administration and Policy at the University of Nevada, offers a three-fold definition. In the initial phase, the dominant culture perpetrates mass trauma on a population in the form of colonialism, slavery, war or genocide. In the second phase the affected population shows physical and psychological symptoms in response to the trauma. In the final phase, the initial population passes these responses to trauma to subsequent generations, who in turn display similar symptoms.

According to researchers, high rates of addiction, suicide, mental illness, sexual violence and other ills among Native peoples might be, at least in part, influenced by historical trauma. Bonnie Duran, associate professor in the Department of Health Services at the University of Washington School of Public Health and Director for Indigenous Health Research at the Indigenous Wellness Research Institute says, “Many present-day health disparities can be traced back through epigenetics to a “colonial health deficit,” the result of colonization and its aftermath.”

According to the American Indian and Alaska Native Genetics Research Guide created by the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), studies have shown that various behavior and health conditions are due to inherited epigenetic changes.

Authors of the guide refer to a 2008 study by Moshe Szyf at McGill University in Montreal that examined the brains of suicide victims. Szyf and his team found that genes governing stress response in the victim’s hippocampus had been methylated or switched off. Excessive trauma causes us to produce hormones called glucocorticoids which can alter gene expression. Chronic exposure to this hormone can inhibit genes in the hippocampus ability to regulate glucocorticoids. Szyf suggested that the genes were switched off in response to a series of events, such as abuse during childhood. All victims in the study were abused as children.

Nature or Nurture? It’s Both!

Szyf, in collaboration with another scientist at McGill, Neurobiologist Michael Meaney, did research showing a significant difference in the hippocampus between adults rats raised by attentive and inattentive mothers. Adult offspring of inattentive rat mothers showed genes regulating sensitivity to stress to be highly methylated. The rats with attentive moms did not.

To test their research they switched the parents for rat babies born to bad and good mothers. The babies born to attentive moms but given to inattentive moms also developed highly methylated genes and grew to be skittish adults. The opposite proved true for babies born to bad moms but given to good moms. As adults the rat babies born to bad moms but raised by good mothers appeared calm.

This research seems to combine the historically polarizing theory of nature versus nurture in determining behavior. Nature is that which is inherited while nurture is the environmental influences.

Native researcher Teresa Brockie PhD, Research Nurse Specialist at the National Institute of Health suggests that such gene methylation is linked to health disparities among Native Americans. In her article in Nursing and Research and Practice, she and her research colleagues note that high ACE’s (Adverse Childhood Experience) scores have been linked to methylation of genes that regulate the stress response. They further noted that endocrine and immune disorders are also linked to methylation of such genes.

The researchers found that Native peoples have high rates of ACE’s and health problems such as posttraumatic stress, depression and substance abuse, diabetes all linked with methylation of genes regulating the body’s response to stress. “The persistence of stress associated with discrimination and historical trauma converges to add immeasurably to these challenges,” the researchers wrote.

Since there is a dearth of studies examining these findings, the researchers stated they were unable to conclude a direct cause between epigenetics and high rates of certain diseases among Native Americans.

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Download our free report, Intergenerational Trauma: Understanding Natives’ Inherited Pain, to understand this fascinating concept.


One of researchers, Dr. Jessica Gill, Principal Investigator, Brain Injury Unit, Division of Intramural Research, National Institute of Nursing Research wrote in response to questions to the NIH’s public affairs office, “Epigenetic studies provide a unique opportunity to characterize the long-term impact of stressors including historical trauma on the function of genes. The modification of gene function through epigenetic modifications can greatly impact the health of the individual and may underlie some of the health disparities that we observe in populations including Native Americans. This line of research is of great promise for nurse scientists, as it will be instrumental in the promotion of the health and well-being of patients impacted by trauma and stress.”

Although epigenetics offers the hope of creating better and more specific medicines and interventions for mental health problems, it also suggests the notion that Native peoples and other ethnic groups may be genetically inferior.

Researchers such as Shannon Sullivan, professor of philosophy at UNC Charlotte, suggests in her article “Inheriting Racist Disparities in Health: Epigenetics and the Transgenerational Effects of White Racism,” that the science has faint echoes of eugenics, the social movement claiming to improve genetic features of humans through selective breeding and sterilization.

Inherited Resilience

Epigenetics is indeed a hot topic, and pharmaceutical companies are actively searching for epigenetic compounds that will help with learning and memory and help treat depression, anxiety and PTSD.

Many researchers caution, however, that the new science may be getting ahead of itself. “There is a lot of research that needs to be done before we will understand whether and how these processes work,” says Joseph Gone, professor at the University of Michigan and member of the Gros Ventre tribe of Montana.

Scientific developments such as epigenetics can offer exciting new insights not only into how our bodies react not only to trauma but also how we manage to survive it.

Native peoples ability to maintain culture and sense of who they are in the face of such a traumatic history suggests an inherited resilience that bears scientific examination as well, according to Gone.

Isolating and nurturing a resilience gene may well be on the horizon.

This project is made possible by support from The Rosalynn Carter Fellowships for Mental Health Journalism and Annenberg School for Communications and Journalism, University of Southern California;  the Dennis A. Hunt Fund for Health Journalism.

This story was originally published on May 28, 2015.

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Scalping In America


Scalping has long been a sensitive topic in the history of this country. The books, newspapers, magazines and films about Indians have almost always said Indians scalped their victims, but almost never did the whites scalp Indians. The opposite is true; both sides killed and scalped each other. After digging into it for my next book, “Indian Massacres in the U.S.,” I have found something much closer to the truth; both Indians and whites scalped each other, but whites got paid for it. Whites also did it to help the colonial legislature achieve their goal to exterminate all Indians and control their land in the budding United States.

Scalping was over 2,000 years old in Europe. Herodotus wrote in 440 B.C. that the Scythian soldiers scalped their dead enemies, softened them, and used them as napkins. The Scyths lived in the Black Sea area of Europe.

Scalping in England preceded the settlement of North America by at least four centuries. The Earl of Wessex, Harold Godwine, scalped his enemies as early as the 11th century, bringing the scalps back from battle to prove they were dead.

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Gov. Charles Lawrence of Canada issued a resolution calling for scalping in 1756 against the Micmac and other Indians. His proclamation said:

And, we do hereby promise, by and with the consent of His Majesty’s Council, a reward of 30 pounds for every live male Indian prisoner, above the age of sixteen years, brought in alive; or for a scalp of such male Indian twenty-five pounds, and twenty-five pounds for every Indian woman or child brought in alive: Such rewards to be paid by the Officer commanding at any of His Majesty’s Forts in this Province, immediately upon receiving the Prisoners or Scalps above mentioned, according to the intent and meaning of this Proclamation.

This proclamation is still on the books. A motion in 2008 to reverse it did not pass. However, the Canadian government says it is not in effect.

Hannah Dustin, the first woman in the United States honored with a statue, was honored for scalping Indians. The statue shows her holding Indian scalps in her left hand and can be seen in Boscawen, New Hampshire.

Craig Michaud/Wikipedia Commons

This statue of Hannah Dustin (or Duston, Dustan or Durstan) stands on the island in Boscawen, New Hampshire. She was honored for scalping Native Americans.

The Dutch governor of Manhattan, Willem Kieft, offered the first bounty in North America for Indian scalps in 1641, only 21 years after the Puritans landed at Plymouth Rock. The Massachusetts Bay Colony first offered $60 per Indian scalp in 1703. The English and the French introduced scalping to Indians. The governors of the colonies instituted scalping as a way for one Indian tribe to help them eliminate another tribe, and to have colonists eliminate as many Indians as possible. In an article for The American Historical Review, Benjamin Madley wrote in 2015, “Policymakers offered bounties for Native American heads or scalps in at least twenty-three states of their colonial, territorial, or Mexican antecedents.”

The New Hampshire legislature authorized scalping Indians in 1724, paying 100 pounds for each male scalp turned in. Women’s scalps typically brought half of what men’s scalps did, and children’s scalps brought half of women’s. But white men got paid for bringing in the scalp of a 10-year-old Indian child. As the most racist killers, Col. John Chivington, said before ordering the attack on peaceful Cheyenne on the banks of Sand Creek: “Damn any man who sympathizes with Indians. Kill and scalp all, big and little; nits make lice.”

It was better to kill an Indian child than to let him grow up and kill you.

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The infamous Paxton Boys killed and scalped 20 Indians in Pennsylvania in 1763. Even though Benjamin Franklin wrote a broadside attacking them, nothing was ever done to punish the killers. They had killed the last living members of the Conestoga Tribe. Colonials also killed and scalped Indians in Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Colorado, Arizona, California, New Mexico, and other states. Indians returned the favor, killing and scalping white people in as many states.

Mexico had its own bounty laws on Indian scalps. In 1837, the Mexican state of Chihuahua passed a law offering a bounty on Indian scalps. Indian men brought $100, Indian women brought $50, and Indian children brought $25. A hard working plainsman might work all year and not make $100, so the reward for Indian scalps was high. Apache and Comanche Indians were both popular with scalp hunters. One bounty hunter in 1847 claimed 487 Apache scalps, according to Madley’s article.

John Glanton, an outlaw who made a fortune scalping Indians in Mexico, was caught turning in scalps and ran back to the U.S. before he was caught. He and his outlaw gang had collected over 500 scalps, which in today’s money would make them almost millionaires. The Yuma Indians killed him in 1850, and ironically scalped him.

In 1814, Indians killed seven members of the Moore family in Illinois and scalped all of them. Miner John James Johnson and his companions killed and scalped 20 Apache Indians in 1837 during the Johnson Arizona Massacre. The Mimbres Apache chief Juan Jose Compa was one of those killed. The great Apache chief Mangas Coloradas (“Red Sleeves”) may have been present and it turned his heart against the Americans for the next 30 years. He was captured and placed on a fort in New Mexico and shot and killed when he tried to escape.

John Hart, one of the Fannin County Rangers determined to take Texas from Mexico and make it part of the U.S., killed and scalped three Caddo Indians in Texas in 1838. Major Mark Lewis and his men killed and scalped four Comanche Indians on the Llano River in 1841 and collected the bounty on them from the state of Texas. Indians killed and scalped three men in Kansas during the Fort Mann Massacre in 1847.

Kit Carson, perhaps one of the most famous guides and mountain men, also scalped several Indians in his career, which took him all over the West. He scalped his first Indian when he was 19 years old. But he also married an Arapaho Indian woman, Singing Grass, and had a daughter with her before she died.

My book has dozens of instances of scalping recorded in it, and the book is not yet complete. I estimate it will have information about 2,200 to 2,300 massacres when it is done.

Altogether, the record shows that there were more Indians who scalped white people than there were white people who scalped Indians. But the abomination lies on both sides. There is still a question in my mind about who originated it in the U.S., but I believe it was Europeans who brought it with them.

Dr. Dean Chavers is Director of Catching the Dream, a national scholarship organization for Native American college students. The organization’s most successful student last year won 65 scholarships to attend Stanford University without any loans. His last book was “Reading for College,” an annotated bibliography of books students should read to prepare them for college. Contact him at CTD4DeanChavers@aol.com.

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