Before the year 1492, when European explorers and settlers began to arrive in the Americas to stay, it is estimated that there were over one hundred million natives already living there. They lived in great cities or small tribes, on vast plains, and settled into jungles. They were everywhere, and they had developed complex societies and created intricate forms of government, ranging from divine kings to matriarchal democracies. They were here and they were important, and it is only now that the descendents of the European settlers are starting to understand their ways of life.
This is the subject of the new PBS documentary series Native America debuting on October 23rd. Native America looks at these societies in close detail, beginning with the great City of Chaco in the American Southwest. New discoveries have proved how it was connected to civilizations thousands of miles away, that before had always assumed to have stayed in their separate environmental enclaves.
The series discusses the common threads that ran through these societies, threads of stories, myths, and attitudes. We are taken to the settlement of Chavin, a great city that was built and inhabited thousands of years before people were thought to have come to South America.
The stories are told by experts, archeologists who’ve made these surprising discoveries, and by descendents of these natives, who maintain they’ve been saying these things all along. But it’s not all about history. The series deals a great deal with the ways Native Americans today are keeping these cultures, these histories, alive.
The series shows the startling connections between the past and the present. We are given the history of the five warring tribes that made peace and formed the first democracy in the Americas, six hundred years before Ben Franklin heard the story and the founding fathers included its concepts while writing the constitution of the United States.
It’s a fascinating journey through the past both ancient and modern, giving us a look at a world that was and making us consider how it might have developed without contact from Europe, which would, through war and disease, strike down 90% of the native population within a relatively few decades. But this series is a celebration of what remains, and what lessons they can teach us as we learn more about them, and walk together with their descendants into the future.
Native America debuts Tuesday, October 23rd at 9:00 p.m. on KIXE Channel 9.