Plain Speaking:Native American Articulation on European Encroachment and its Consequences.


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Plain Speaking: Native American Articulation on European Encroachment and Its Consequences.

by Robert A. Geake

oft have I heard these Indians say These English will deliver us Of all that’s ours, our lands and lives In the end, they’ll bereave us.

Roger Williams

Native Americans from the time of Columbus’ errant landing have been recorded as having made their European visitors welcome, treating them with respect as they also expected to be treated, having a long history as a people in their native land. Accounts of early European encounters reflect this respect, as do many narratives, travel journals, and diaries of the pre-colonial period; representing also, the tremendous curiosity that Europeans had for the indigenous tribes of the new world.

This curiosity became more apparent with the publication of treaties with the English colonists. The words of Native American speakers were duly recorded, and while sometimes abbreviated or transmuted in translation, sometimes suspect to having been “improved” upon a printer’s tray; the overall narrative left by those Native Americans is one of concern for the land and for their people.

From the beginnings of European encroachment in North America, native peoples voiced their concern publicly and privately in council with sachems within the over forty tribes that covered the Eastern forests alone. As early as 1642, a Narragansett Sachem, and benefactor of Roger Williams named Miantonomo, told a gathering where a treaty with the Colony of Massachusetts was being debated :

“(O)ur (F)athers had plenty of deer and skins, our plains were full of deer, as also our woods, and of turkies, and our coves full of fish and fowle. But these English have gotten our land, they with scythes cut down the grass, and with axes fell the trees; their cows and horses eat the grass, and their hogs spoil our clam banks, and we shall all be starved.”

Roger Williams may have been thinking of his friend with the words he wrote that prefaced this essay. But Miantonomo was not alone in voicing his fear for the future of his people. What has come to light in researching this essay is not that the Sachem’s words were so prophetic, but that they were repeated again and again through subsequent councils and treaty ceremonies for the next two hundred and fifty years. Perhaps equally prophetic, is the fact that Miantonomo’s words went unheeded, though he’d paddled the treacherous waters of Long Island Sound to give the Montauks his advice. Furthermore, he was betrayed by some of those who’d attended the council.

Upon hearing of his capture during the Narragansett and Mohegan War two years later, the Puritan authorities instructed the Mohegans to rid them of troublesome Sachem. The Massachusetts Bay Colony obtained the treaty they wanted, as well as a sizeable portion of land that further drove natives from their homes. Miantonomo’s tribe, would send an Act of Submission to the English King Charles I, seeking protection from the New Englander’s who coveted their land. Some of his people would join the Wamapanoag grandson of the sachem who first befriended Roger Williams, known as King Philip, who  would  become the image of early Native resistance.

With the early European interest in Native societies, the narratives of these ceremonies, dry as they sometimes could be, became a kind of literature unto itself, chiefly because it gave the reading public in the Colonies and Great Britain, as well as France, Germany, and Spain, a glimpse into the true Native society through the words of Native speakers.

These treaties and narratives were among the most widely read literature of the Colonial period in both Britain and America. This led in effect, to the tragic symmetry of Native Americans losing their populations and their homeland, even as English born men ignorant of their plight fostered a growing admiration for the Indians simplified lifestyle, their civic equality and reverence for ceremony; as well as their boldness of argument, and eloquence of speech.

As Henry De Puy writes in the introduction to his A Bibliography of Native American Treaties with the English Colonies:

“ while some “reporters” were not “consciously intent” upon representing the Indian view, others, buoyed by the enlightenment and the openness these “new” societies offered, found “evidence of language as politically, as philosophically effective as any of those in Europe.”

De Puy’s exhaustive and invaluable bibliography shows the first surviving printed treaty to be from 1677. In a synopsis of each treaty, a growing awareness is reflected from the pages, an imbedding of Native culture into at these “ceremonies” with Europeans in which so much was at stake.

In the synopsis of the first treaty of Albany in 1690. De Puy notes:

“The object of the council seems to have been the offering of condolences for the massacre at Schenectady and to advise what measures might be taken.”

This ceremony, known as the “consolation of the dead” was considered essential to Native Americans before they would sit in any council. As Pham writes, “For them, it was unthinkable to sit down in council and begin talking while the “bloodstains” still lingered on the clothes of the negotiators.”[1]

This became one solemn ceremony that had its place in all subsequent treaty ceremonies, which later recorded the proceedings that followed “after the usual condolences.” The native practice of relating an oral history of earlier European encounters and agreements became common as well. The Indians were, in one reporter’s notes, “fond of memory”, and so the treaties are a kind of anthology of native voices; replete with an eloquence often voiced in desperation, a boldness of statement at the continuing encroachment upon native land and the bothersome affairs in which Europeans sought to involve the Indians.

The famous Pell Treaty

One of the first publisher’s of Indian treaties in America was Samuel Green of Boston who published the Propositions Made by the Sachems of the three Maquas Castles, to the Mayor, Alderman, and Community of the City of Albany in 1689. The interpreters for Mayor Pieter Schuyler and the “ten more gentlemen” are listed as Arnout and Hille, This edition was sold in the London Coffee House of Benjamin Harris. and within this treaty, we find recorded, one of the first recorded instances of misgivings that Native Americans might have concerning the issue of encroachment between two opposing European empires:

“ We were engaged in a Bloody war with the French, about three years ago, and were encouraged to Proceed, and no sooner were we well Entred, and got several Prisoners, but a Cessation came and Corlaer hindred us to proceed, and Demanded the Prisoners from us; we were Obedient and did deliver them, and laid down the Hatchet, which if we might have gone forward, then the French would not have been in that Capacity to do so much mischief as they do; But now we must dye; Such obstructions will Ruine us ;if we might have had our wills, we would have prevented their Planting, Sowing, and Reaping, and brought them low and mean; Nevertheless let us be steadfast and not take such measures again, let us go on briskly with the war…”[2]

A New York publisher named William Bradford, brought out editions of the subsequent Albany Treaties in 1694, 1696, and with the Propositions Made by the Five Nations of Indians in 1698, records again the voice of dissent to the encroaching European conflicts. The Indians present complained of attacks from the French and their Indian allies even after peace had been declared. The high prices of goods are rendering them poor, and most notably, the representatives took the opportunity to correct the Governor on past treaties and promises left unfulfilled.

A treaty printed the following year by the Greens of Boston gives witness to the contempt some government officials had for this ceremony, with the result being that the “Sachems and chief men of the eastern Indians leaving the conference” in a hasty, abrupt manner without taking leave, and left behind them their English colours.” Subsequent treaties published by Andrew Bradford in Philadelphia in 1721 and 1722, and the publication by Benjamin Eliot of Boston of the Conference with the Eastern Indians held in Falmouth in 1726, along with the later publication by the Greens of the Conference with Eastern Indians…in Casco Bay highlight the disparity between the ways that Colonial governments regarded the Indians, displaying a reverence and respect for the confederacy of the Six Nations, while further demoralizing the Eastern tribes who had long been decimated by disease and poverty. As de Puy writes in his summary of the 1732 conference:

“ One cannot read this treaty and not be struck with the differences between the methods used with Eastern Indians and the method followed by New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia with the Six Nations and kindred tribes. all these latter conferences were marked by great dignity and the following of set forms. No speech ever went unanswered and it was seldom answered the same day but only after taking time for deliberation. At Falmouth, Governor Belcher replied to the Indian speeches at once and pressed the Indians for immediate answers. They told him they did things only after deliberating among themselves, but it made no difference to the Governor, nor did he mark his answers with presents as the Indians did.”[3]

The young Franklin at his press. Courtesy sfi.edu

Benjamin Franklin was rather a latecomer to the printing of treaties, with his press bringing out the “Treaty of Friendship” in 1736, and advertising the publication in the Pennsylvania Gazette. A second treaty published in Pennsylvania by Franklin was later printed in London with an introduction to Indian History by Dr. John Fothergill.

It is Franklin’s treaties that have been quoted from most often by those scholars seeking to address Indian articulation, and with good reason. Franklin’s treaties were authenticated by the Native American speeches  translated by Conrad Weiser, considered the foremost white expert on Indian Languages of his time. He and Franklin often attended the ceremonies and worked together on the presentation of the folio editions that Franklin’s press brought out. Franklin would print out 13 treaties in folio form between 1736 and 1760, These were sold to a high end market of customers through booksellers after editions had been distributed to government officials. Cheaply printed editions sold well in coffee houses and book stalls both in America and Great Britain.

Franklin’s publication of the Albany Treaty in 1746 was translated into German by Christopher Saur, and by 1755, Gentleman’s Magazine had published Indian speeches from the Conference in Albany for it’s readers, the editor stating that

“ not only the sense of the Indians…but some strains of native eloquence, which might have done honor to Tully and Demosthenes.”

In his noteworthy introduction The Indian Treaties Published by Benjamin Franklin, reprinted by the Pennsylvania Historic society in 1938,

Charles Van Doren pointedly states that the treaties were printed to be as Government documents, but that dismisses Franklin’s shrewd assessment of an interest in the Native population of America, and his own growing awareness of the value of learning from native communities.

Franklin’s treaties made a celebrity of sorts of the sachem Canassatego. During a treaty ceremony held in 1742, he was a sent as the representative of the Six Nations, and while acknowledging the “league of friendship” which brought them together, this did not prevent him from speaking plainly before the white commissioners:

Representation of the meeting with Six Nations at the Ceremonial fire.

“We know our lands are now become more valuable; the white people think we do not know their value, but we are sensible that the land is everlasting, and the few goods we receive for it are soon worn out and gone….besides, we are not well used with respect to the Lands still unsold by us. Your people daily settle on these lands, and spoil our Hunting. We must insist on your removing them.”

In the Lancaster Treaty of 1744, Canassatego was again in the forefront of the Native speakers, reminding them of their place in these ceremonies:

Artist John Kahionhes Fadden’s interpretation of the Iriquois Chief addressing the Colonial leaders in Lancaster, PA.

“…we must tell you that long before One Hundred Years our ancestors came out of this very Ground, and their Children have remained here ever since. You came out of the Ground in a country that lies beyond the Seas, there you may have a just claim, but here you must allow us to be your elder Brethren and the Lands to belong to us long before you knew any thing of them.”


He extolled the whites to form a coalition much like the Five Nations had done:

“Our wise Forefathers established Unity and Amiy between the Five Nations; this has made us formidable; this has given us great Weight and Authority with our neighboring Nations.

We are a powerful Confederacy; and, by your observing the same methods our wise Forefathers have taken, you will acquire fresh Strength and Power; therefore, whatever befalls you, never fall out with one another.”

Despite the Pennsylvania Governor’s short sighted, but polite dismissal of the speech, Canassatego’s words reverberated with readers throughout the colonies and presaged our own bonding before the Revolution.

For the remainder of the eighteenth century, Canassatego was perhaps the most publicized Native American, with numerous descriptions and even a fictional account of his travels and accomplishments printed some years after his death in 1750. As Bruce E. Johansen notes in his essay on the sachem’s popular speech in Lancaster: “Carried by Benjamin Franklin’s fecund pen, Canassatego’s admonition of colonial union echoed throughout the colonies for most of the eighteenth century. Commissioners of the rebelling colonies cited Canassatego’s advice regarding colonial union from Franklin’s treaty account more than thirty years later as they sought alliance with the Iriquois against the English on the eve of the Revolutionary war.”[4]

Overshadowed by this legendary sachem’s words however, were the words of lesser voices who echoed the earlier misgivings and warnings from sachems like Miantonomo.

In response to the Governor of Virginia’s scurrilous claim of land promised in earlier correspondence, the sachem Tachanoontia replied tersely

“we have the right of Conquest, a Right too dearly purchased, and which cost us too much Blood, to give up without any Reason at all, as you say we have done at Albany…”

the sachem challenged the Governor

“ if you would let us see the Letter, and inform us who was the Interpreter, and whose names are put to that Letter…” and urges that

“ this Matter can easily be cleared up, we are anxious it should be done; for we are positive no such thing was ever mentioned to us at Onadage, nor any where else.”

Tachanootia was obliged to bring up another longstanding dispute, explaining to the Governor that affairs had become so urgent that

we cannot avoid complaining” , though he was hopeful that matters would be settled and justice prevail in the future. This dispute was one of boundaries, and again a continued encroachment upon Native land. The sachem explained:

“ After we left Albany, we brought our Road a great deal more to the west , that we might comply with your proposal; but, tho it was of your own making, your People never observed it, but came and lived on our side of the hill, which we don’t blame you, as you live at a great Distance, near the Seas, and cannot be thought to know what your People do in the Back-parts.”

The sachem acknowledged that this encroachment had caused some natives to harm the settler’s cattle, and that after a complaint was issued to the Governor,

“we, at his Request, altered the Road again, and brought it to the Foot of the Great Mountain, where it now is; and it is impossible for us to remove it any further to the West, those parts of the country being absolutely impassable by either Man or Beast. We had not been long in Use of this new Road before your People came, like Flocks of Birds, and sat down on both sides of it…”[5]

Another attendee of that summers conference was more blunt in telling the Governor that the Atlantic Ocean was God’s proof that the English belonged on the other side:

“The World at the first was made on the other Side of the Great Water different from what it is on this Side, as may be known by the different Colours of our Skin, and of our Flesh, and that which you call Justice may not be so amongst us….”

He also questioned the integrity of the English who sought yet another treaty:

“You know very well when the white people first came here they were poor, but now they have got our Lands, and are by them become rich and we are now poor; what little we have had for the land goes soon away, but the Land lasts forever.”[6]

By the time of the Seven Years War, tribes were often divided from each other and also from within, as the testimony of the “principle warrior” speaking at a hastily called meeting, hints at the growing generational divide within the Six Nations:

“When the Indians received the first message from the English, they thought the English and the French would fight with one another at Sea, and not suffer war to be made upon the Land.”

When the British told Nations that the French were attacking neighboring Indian Colonies and urged them to “ take up the hatchet” against the invaders, the speaker reminds those assembled that not everyone took the bait.

“The Old Men at Onondago…refused to do this, and would ahere to the Neutrality; and on declaring this, the English sent other Messengers again and again… at last, the young Indians, the Warriors, and Captains, consulted together, and resolved to take up the English hatchet against the will of their Old People, and to lay their Old People aside, as of no use but in time of peace.”

Resigned to this, the “Warrior” had called the meeting to ask that the Indians “be furnished with better weapons, such as will knock the French down”.[7]

In October of 1753, Franklin began his distinguished career as a diplomat by attending a treaty council at Carlisle, Pennsylvania. At this treaty with the Iroquois and Ohio Indians (the Twigtees, Delawares, Shawnees, and Wyandots), Franklin absorbed the rich imagery and ideas of the Six Nations at close range[8]

No doubt as Franklin listened, he would recognize a familiar litany from the galleys he’d read through the years. This time however, he would hear the words in person.

Your people not only trade with us in our towns, but disperse themselves over a large and wide extended country, in which reside many nations…

The Governor of Virginia desires leave to build a strong house in Ohio, which came to the Ears of the Governor of Canada; and we suppose this caused him to invade our Country. We do not know his intent, because he speaks with two tongues…We desire that Pennsylvania and Virginia would at present forbear settling on our Lands, over the Allegheny Hills. we advise you rather to call your people back, on this side of the hills, lest damage should be done, and you think ill of us.”[9]

Franklin also heard of the toll that was being taken on the longstanding native economy.

“You have more traders than are necessary, and they spread themselves over our wide country…”

and that

“The English goods are sold at too dear a rate for us…” as well as one of the earliest articulations about the growing problem of alcoholism:

“Your traders now bring scarce any thing but rum and flour. The Rum ruins us…We never understood the trade was to be for whiskey and flour. We desire that it be forbidden, and none sold in Indian Country.”

that the traveling salesmen brought to the tribes:

“These wicked whiskey sellers, when they have once got the Indians in Liquor, make them sell their very clothes from their backs-in short, if this practice is continued, we must be inevitably ruined”

It was interesting to note in researching this essay, that within the preface to his important book Alcohol and Native Americans, Peter Mancall states that

the Indian population probably did not absorb enough alcohol to develop the

illnesses associated with alcoholism. Yet fifty years after Scarrooyady’s complaint, we find the words of the resistance leader Little Turtle, a sachem of the Miami tribe who for a time had led a formidable alliance which led to a costly battle for union troops.

In 1804 he had left the battles behind, and had seen his native lands ceded by the defeated remnants of his coalition. He addressed the problem of alcoholism before legislators in Ohio and Kentucky, urging them to pass laws restricting the trade of whiskey that had become so prevalent in Indian lands. He told the legislators that the whiskey traders had

“stripped the poor Indian of skins, guns, blankets, everything-while his squaw and the children dependent on him lay starving and shivering in the wigwam.”

According to Bruce E. Johansen, the states did nothing to stop the flow of whiskey into Indian territory, and that often, the liquor was “adulterated with other substances from chili powder to arsenic.”[10]

It may have been that Franklin, while working on his efforts of colonization and the framing of the Albany Plan, had felt that the legacy of principles and self-government might be all the Indians might leave for future generations. Like many idealistic founders, Franklin and others viewed the Native problem with more affection than their neighbors, who viewed the “Savages” as a remnant of a people left behind the march of progress into modern times.

To admire, and to a point romanticize the idealized lifestyle that the Native American once lived as did Franklin, Jefferson, and other founders, was also to soften the death knell for tribes that continued to suffer under government policies that bent toward favor of those expansionist interests.

When those speculators sought more land, they would often find “treaty Indians” to parley with, Native Americans who impoverished, or induced by alcohol, freely “sold” their lands without the consent of tribal leaders or their neighboring Indians.

As these interests effectively “boxed” in the Native Americans or pushed along their removal, voices of dissent grew shriller, and at times led to violence within the disputed territories.

In the Summer of 1756, during a gathering in Easton, Connecticut, it is Scarrooyady who addresses this growing concern:

Harken to what I am going to say: I desire, in the most solemn manner, that what I now relate is the truth. Abundance of Confusion, Ddisorder, and Distraction has arisen among the Indians, from people taking upon them to be Kings and Persons of Authority. In every tribe of Indians, there have been such pretenders, who have held treaties, sometimes publick, and sometimes in the bushes; sometimes what these people did came to be known, but frequently it remained in darkness…this bred, among the Indians great heart-burnings and quarrels, and I can asure you, that the present clouds do, in a great measure, owe their rise to this wild and irregular way of doing business.”

In a conference again in Easton, in November of that year, the speaker representing the Six Nations is Teedyuscung of the Delawares, who endeavored to” tell the Truth from the Bottom of my Heart”, and reminds Pennsylvania’s Lieutenant Governor William Denny, that “ The times are not now as they were in the Days of our Grandfathers; then it was Peace, but now War and Distress… The King of England, and of France , have settled, or wrought this Land, so as to coop us up, as if in a Pen. Our foolish and ignorant young Men, when they saw the Proceeding of this Enemy, and the Things that were told them, believed them, and were persuaded by this false- hearted King, to strike our Brethren the English…but this is not the principal Cause; some Things that have passed in former Times, both in this and other Governments, were not well pleasing to the Indians; indeed they thought them wrong…”

When asked by the Governor to be more specific and to “speak his Mind freely and without any reserve”, the King can barely restrain his annoyance.

“ Brother, you have not so much Knowledge of Things, done in this Country, as others who have lived longer in it, being, but lately, come among us-I have not far to go for an Instance: This very Ground, that is under me (striking it with his Foot) was my Land and Inheritance, and is taken from me, by Fraud;….When I have sold Lands fairly, I look upon them to be really sold- a Bargain is a Bargain—Though I have sometimes had nothing for the Lands I have sold, but broken Pipes, or such Trifles…Yet, I think, I should not be ill used on this Account, by those very People, who have had such an advantage in their Purchases, nor be called a Fool for it. Indians are not such fools, as to bear this in their Minds…Now, although you have purchased our Lands from our forefathers on so reasonable Terms, yet, now at length, you will not allow us to cut a little Wood to make a fire, nay, hinder us from Hunting, the only Means left us of getting our Livelihood”

Unswayed by this argument, the Governor asks Teedyuscung what he meant by “Fraud”, and the Delaware replied:

“ When one Man had, formerly, Liberty to purchase Lands, and he took the deed from the Indians for it, and then dies; after his Death, the Children forge a Seed, like the true One, with the same Indian Names to it, and thereby, take Lands from the Indians, which they never sold-this is Fraud.”

The Sachem also referred to Lands sold fraudulently by Europeans to other Europeans in the territories, a further cause of strife outside the Native communities.

Several days later, after conferring with the lawyers in his company, Denny returned to the council with his answer, acknowledging Teedyuscungs words that

“ I have come lately among you;” but continuing: the Grievances you mention are of old Date. If former Indian Kings have, as you say, sometimes sold more Land, than they had a right to sell, in so doing they injured us, and we, as well as you, have Cause to complain of them- but sometimes, though they sold no more that their own, they sold it fairly, and it was honestly paid for, by the English; yet when the Indian Children grow up, they may forget that their Fathers sold the Lands, and divided the Goods; and some evil Spirit, or bad Man, that loves to make Mischief, may tell them,

the Land is still yours; your Fathers never sold it; the Writings are false. Moreover, many people, both English and Indians, concerned in the former Purchase of Lands, are now dead; and as you do not understand Writings and Records, it may be hard for me to satisfy you, of the Truth…”

Such a condescending response was not tempered by the Lieutenant Governor declaring that “you shall have immediate Satisfaction, whether it be justly due to you or not”, that “satisfaction” being more in the way of “trifles”, which in this case consisted of pieces of cloth, ribbon, fish hooks, kettles, shirts, hats, and a handful of coats as well as 100 pounds of gunpowder and 200 pounds of lead shot.

As events drew the Europeans into their respective Revolutions, native resistance grew as well. Some tribes chose sides while others remained neutral and were further ostracized by speculators still greedy for Land, displaced by the war, or voluntarily abandoned the lands of their ancestors and merged with friendly tribes living within the fringe of those territories.

Native resistance drew forth some strong leaders who left a further legacy in later narratives within treaties or eyewitness accounts. These included Sagoyewatha, or Red Jacket as he came to be known for the British redcoat he was prone to wear on ceremonial occasions.

His oratory was known for its bluntness and sharpness of tongue. At a meeting arranged by the victorious Americans at Fort Niagara after the war, when presented an American flag by Captain James Bruff, the Seneca chief responded in their meeting two days later:

Brother, you have presented us a flag of your nation and hope that the American stars may enlighten the 6 Nations and their western brethren. We accept the flag but must remark that our chiefs have never been much enlightened by them, except when you have burnt our towns where they have been flying….”

It is also within this speech that Sagoyewatha uttered his famous assessment of these new Americans:

“You are a cunning people without sincerity  and not to be trusted…”

The Shawnee Native Tecumsah was another resistance leader who sought to ally the Indians against the continued encroachment that surged with the burgeoning of the new nation’s economy and growth at the beginning of the nineteenth century.

In a rallying cry to an assembled gathering of Shawnees, Delawares, Ottawas, Ojibwas, Kickapoos, and Wyandots in 1805, Tecumsah asks

the gathering:

“ Where today are the Pequots? where are the Narragansett, the Mohican, the Pocanet, and other powerful tribes of our people? They have vanished before the avarice and oppression of the white man, as snow before the summer sun…”[11]

October-November 2009

Bibliography:

Calloway, Colin G.: The World Turned Upside Down Bedford Books 1994

Du Puy, Henry: A Bibliography of Native American Treaties with the English Colonies New York Historical Society 1922

Franklin, Benjamin: Indian Treaties printed by Ben Franklin Pennsylvania Historic soc. 1938 Intro. by Carl Van Doren

Johansen, Bruce E.: The Native Peoples of North America

Mann, Barbara Alice: Native American Speakers of the Eastern Woodlands Greenwood Press 2001


[1] Pham “English Colonial Treaties With American Indians”

[2] Propositions Made by The Sachems…pp 3-4

[3] De Puy p14

[4] Johansen, Bruce E. “By Your Observing the Methods Our Wise Forefathers Have Taken” from Native American Speakers of the Eastern Woodlands edited by Barbara Alice Mann.

[5] Franklin, Treaties…pp 56-57

[6] Ibid pp 63-64

[7] Treaties…pp108

[8] Johansen, Bruce E. “By your Observing…” p 94

[9] Franklin’s “Treaties With The Indians” pp 101

[10] Johansen, Bruce E. “The Native Peoples of North America”

[11] Johansen, Bruce E. “The Native Peoples of North America”

About rag57

Local historian writing about Native American and Colonial history in Rhode Island and New England
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One Response to Plain Speaking:Native American Articulation on European Encroachment and its Consequences.

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