A review of Not Stolen by Jeff Fynn-Paul
I grew up in a time and place where diversity meant mixing Protestants and Catholics and there was only one actual minority. These were the American Indians, or Native Americans as they’re called now, who mostly lived by themselves in county-sized reservations. As children, we regarded them with a mixture of fear and awe, finding it hard to believe the quiet, pathetically poor people who occasionally drove their pickups into town had once been fierce warriors who could shoot a buffalo from the back of a galloping horse. It was a time when America was starting to acknowledge the raw deal these people had gotten from the Europeans and others who flooded this continent. But though we realized our forefathers had done wrong, nobody talked about “genocide.” These claims came later.
Since then I’ve met a fair number of Native Americans and gotten to know a few of them. In particular, there was a Lakota fellow who married into our family. He and I got along well and we would joke about sensitive issues in a way that other people found shocking. It was interesting to see both Dances with Wolves and Black Robe with him and get his perspective on these movies. Though his outlook was quite different than mine, we respected each others’ viewpoints. Later on, after he’d been estranged from the family (by his own choice, I must note), his outlook became increasingly more radical. When he claimed that the term “Native American” was racist because America was named for a white person, I could only shake my head.
I bring this up to illustrate that I’ve tried to keep an open mind on the topic. I’ve always been a history buff and I’ve come to understand that the story of humanity has been a long struggle of war, struggle, and death. To me, the recent academic brow-beating about the fate of Native Americans seems very one-sided. So when I saw a review of a book with a different take on the topic, I downloaded it at once. It’s called Not Stolen, the Truth about European Colonialism in the New World by Professor Jeff Fynn-Paul, PhD. (published by Bombardier Books, 2023) The cover features a classic painting of European settlers meeting with a party of Native Americans back in the early days of colonization. It presents an interesting counterpoint to the current hypercritical, anti-American view of The 1619 Project and other screeds of the mainstream media.
This is ostensibly a book about history, but it’s also a political treatise. The author’s premise is that we should not view America as being “stolen” from its original inhabitants. Though he admits that the white settlers committed the occasional atrocity, the real story is much more nuanced and complex.
The first of his points are that there was no “genocide” of Native Americans by whites. This is an argument I’ve long been using myself. At the time when the Plymouth and Jamestown colonies were founded, the original population had already suffered a huge reduction due to epidemics brought by early explorers. These sixteenth-century Spaniards had no concept of the causes of disease, much less the lack of immunity in this alien population. Furthermore, Fynn-Paul argues there is no evidence of any US government entity deliberately spreading smallpox among the Indian tribes. Yes, a few individuals discussed this notion but by that time the greatest damage had already been done. In fact, the US government did its utmost to treat the residents of Indian reservations for epidemic diseases, bringing the new smallpox vaccine to them before it was distributed to whites.
Besides this forceful argument, the book debunks the idea that Indians were peaceful stewards of the earth, giving ample evidence of brutal inter-tribal war and extermination of numerous indigenous species well before whites arrived. They were essentially like Europeans, subject to the same flaws as our ancestors. For example, Southern tribes such as the Cherokee embraced African slavery, bringing their human chattel with them after their expulsion to Oklahoma. In addition, Natives were not as naive and foolish in their dealings with whites as progressives would have us believe. Among the so-called “trinkets” they received in trade for land were valuable goods and technologies such as firearms, metal tools, horses, and medicines.
Not Stolen is a detailed, well-researched book written in a style that’s quite accessible to the average high-school-educated American. Fynn-Paul pulls no punches, discussing land treaties, the “Trail of Tears”, reservation schools, and so on. Many of the most egregious incidents, though tragic, have been exaggerated by progressive self-loathing. This one-sided mythology has led to hysterical, knee-jerk reactions such as the demonization of church-run residential schools in Canada. Despite the outrage, there is no evidence that extensive abuse happened. Many of the alleged “mass graves” don’t actually exist.
Some of the author’s arguments are more semantic than factual, in particular, the title itself. One can argue that you can’t steal a country from a people who have no concept of land ownership. Yet we must acknowledge that staking a claim to a place deprives others of their use, much as Great Britain’s Enclosures Acts abolished the system of open fields, driving English peasants from their towns and into London slums. While I’d dispute the accuracy of Fynn-Paul’s title, its incendiary phrasing should help sell copies of the book and that’s a good thing.
In particular, I take issue with the author’s closing statement that America needs to clean up its historical image so it can speak with authority on human rights issues such as the alleged Uighur “genocide” in China. We do need to tell the Chinese to “butt out” with their hypocritical accusations of American “racism” but their internal politics are none of our business. The US government already interferes far too much, encouraging Islamic radicalism in Russia and China while pretending to be fighting it elsewhere. But this is not a major point of the book.
Suffice it to say that although I don’t agree with all of Fynn-Paul’s arguments, this book brings forth many important counter-arguments against the overwhelmingly anti-American tenor of current historical scholarship. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to learn the truth about America’s history.