“When you’re in elementary school, you don’t question what you’re learning, you assume the teacher knows everything,” he says. “So I know that Columbus discovered America in 1492.”
The Columbus myth is one of our “origin stories” he says, pointing out that a large painting of the discovery hangs in our nation’s capital. That painting hangs about 400 yards from where he works as the director of the National Museum of the American Indian.
“Think about how powerful that notion is, that Columbus discovered America. There was nothing here, there was nobody here until Columbus arrived,” he tells the crowd.
Gover goes on to discuss the First Thanksgiving myth and how Squanto learned English. The real Thanksgiving story continues about 50 years after that First Thanksgiving. “About 50 years later, there were new generations of Pilgrims, new generations of Wampanoags, and the Wampanoags had sold so much of their land to the Pilgrims that they had fallen into poverty themselves. And they lashed out, and there was a great conflagration known as King Philip’s War,” he says. “King Philip’s War was perhaps the most devastating war in the entire history of North America in terms of the percentage of people who were killed in this conflict. The tribes of New England were virtually wiped out. Those that weren’t wiped out were confined and no longer the powers they had once been.”
When the Pilgrims captured Philip they put his head on a pike and left it there for 20 years. “And most of us don’t know that story,” he points out.
“Our origin myths in America mostly include Indians,” he says mentioning Squanto, Pocahontas, and Sacajawea. “All of these were very important figures in American history, and yet in each case they’ve been rendered imaginaries… they are imaginary Indians.”
Gover also discusses General Custer, Andrew Jackson, and the Trail of Tears.
See his full talk below: