On November 26, we celebrated the EDHS Christmas party at the Prince of Wales Armouries. This year the festive evening featured Dr. Linda Many Guns, who spoke on the wide diversity of knowledge in the Americas before the arrival of Europeans.
The evening started with a traditional Christmas dinner. Dr. Many Guns, a professor in the University of Lethbridge’s Department of Indigenous Studies, pointed out that the meal’s treasured ingredients – turkey, potatoes, squash, cranberries, and others – were once unique to the Americas, where they were cultivated, refined and domesticated through centuries of expertise by Indigenous people.
Citing Spanish journals and other early texts, she led the audience along the Europeans’ travels though the Americas, detailing the astounding Indigenous achievements they encountered, in agriculture, mining, cotton exploitation, rubber production, city building, monumental architecture, and more. Highlighting examples from her own people, the Blackfoot, Dr. Many Guns talked about the incredible number of societal roles, including horse trainers, weapons makers, crafters, traders, historians, warriors (male and female), hunters, medicine people and healers with plant medicines. Blackfoot healers even conducted successful trepanning – brain surgery.
Her presentation struck at the still-powerful myth of “civilized” Europeans arriving with superior technology and expertise, and a more complex societal model. In fact, the lands of the Americas were lands of astonishing wealth, not just in gold and silver, but in cultural and scientific knowledge. Indigenous American civilizations infused Europe and the world with brilliant innovations that helped to create our global culture and economy. Our modern lives owe a very great deal to their genius.