The cheeseburger is an iconic American food. Invented in the early 20th century in the American Heartland, it is a national fast food staple and a small-town culinary item. Today, as fast food chains extend their reach across the globe, cheeseburgers can also be found in Europe, Asia, and South America. Now picture this: in 2100, the Chinese government claims that the cheeseburger was invented by them. What?! Imagine if every history book then adopted this stance the world over. And what if it was called pseudoscience to believe otherwise?
The hypothetical ire that Americans would have from this is the very real anger that Dr. Yvette Running Horse Collin, an indigenous studies scholar of the Ogala Sioux, has toward this narrative of the American horse. If you recall from American history, the Spainards brought horses to the U.S., which then escaped into the wild. These “mustangs” and “caballos” were then captured by Plains tribes, transforming them. Supposedly the ancestors of these cultures, Paleoindians, had hunted the previous Ice Age horses to extinction.
Collin dismantles this claim as a colonizer story that attempted to show the barbarity of cultures without exposure to Europe. Her paper exposes the literature, archaeology, and Amerindian culture that paints an America filled with horses. Explorers like Don Juan de Onate and Sir Francis Drake reported thousands of wild horses in New Mexico and California. For the Choctaw, the horse had been domesticated in distant ages, and they and other southeastern cultures had oral legends that indicate ancient dealings with their “younger brothers.” Along with proposing guidelines for sorely needed genomic studies, Collin reexamines archaeological digs in the southeast and in Maya Mexico—as well as drawings and sculptures—that indicate that the dog and the llama had the horse as a fellow American animal of labor.
While it may seem inconsequential to you that the horse is a native American animal, the implications start with your nation itself. Given that modern American horses are of European, African and Arabian descent while others are American, they are actually a reflection of our multi-ethnic America. Second, they show that even a small minority can outshine any other culture in a skill, just as the Nimiipuu (Nez Perce) and the Numunuu (Comanche) did as a people of the horse. And finally, care for animals did not begin with the environmental movement. The horse grew up in a world where it was a younger brother, not a beast of burden. Just as few Americans in the 1800s listened to the Judeo-Christian command to regard the life of your horse, few have listened to the Numunuu saying, “These are our younger brothers.”
Collin, Yvette Running Horse. “The Relationship between the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas and the Horse: Deconstructing a Eurocentric Myth.” University of Alaska Fairbanks, 2017.