As a boy watching TV documentaries about the environment and historical monuments, I used to wonder about what our ancestors might have built. I knew we had tepees and the I remember reading about the Iroquois building longhouses and the Haida building beautiful cedar houses.
My paternal grandparents used to have an encyclopedia set called, “The New Book of Knowledge,” where I read about Canadian and American history. These publications did not have much information about First Nations people. I did not learn about our real history until high school and university from other sources.
I had only known about the Pyramids of Giza because they would be prominently shown in magazines and of course, on television. In high school, I learned that there were pyramids way down south in Mexico, not exactly our ancestors but Indigenous people nonetheless.
The most famous one I found was the Chichen Itza (pictured). Not as big as the Giza pyramids but a historical monument built by North American Indigenous people, the Mayas. While my discovery was and is somewhat satisfying, it does not tell of the horrible history the Mayans had to face.
The Spanish conquistadores received permission from the King of Spain for the right to conquer Yucatán. This started a series of campaigns where the Spanish attempted to take the land from the Mayans and pillage the villages of their gold. Many of the Mayans had been massacred as they tried to defend themselves. 1
Mayans proved difficult to Christianize, but the Spanish managed to convert more and more of them as they continued the conquest to go further into the land in search of riches. The Mayans fought hard and actually did well in their battles, however, the introduction of Old World diseases, such as smallpox, devastated populations of their people. 2
There are many articles and videos available these days regarding the atrocities of the conquests and not all are in favour of the way it was done. It is not unlike what our ancestors had to go through in Canada. Like the Mayans, “[t]hey formed complex social, political, economic and cultural systems before Europeans came to North America.” 3
I recently found out that:
The world’s largest pyramid can be found not in Egypt, but hidden beneath a hill in a small town in the central Mexican state of Puebla. Known variously as the Great Pyramid of Cholula 4
The pyramid was covered with dirt and plant life by the time the Spanish arrived and they built a church on top of the supposed hill. (Video at bottom of page).
It is no surprise that the Mayans have continued to rebel against their governments and have clashed time and again. 5
All of the activities toward Indigenous people have been horrendous. The stealing of land, the diseases, and residential schools, a terrible history, and the demoralizing nature of such treatment continue to this day. The lack of resources and underfunding of Indigenous programs is prominent in many of our communities. The lack of respect for our language and culture is evident when our governments continue to undermine the importance of our heritage. It is only through our perseverance and determination that we are still here.