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By Michele Dutcher
Prime Directive: “As the right of each sentient species to live in accordance with its normal cultural evolution is considered sacred, no Star Fleet personnel may interfere with the healthy development of alien life and culture.” In the universe of Star Trek, the Prime Directive, Starfleet’s General Order number 1, is the most prominent guiding principle of the United Federation of Planets. The Prime Directive dictates that there can be no interference with the internal development of alien civilizations. Obviously this was a basic difference in the approach of the Klingons and the Federation.
Allow me to paraphrase even further: Just because a culture has superior technology, this doesn’t make their culture superior; it doesn’t give them the right to take whatever they want. Each culture has its own intrinsic value. If a culture lives in harmony with their environment, that doesn’t make them weak – it might even make them wise.
On a Sunday morning in late February of this year I stood at the top of a steep land bridge, some 60 feet above the cavern floor below. I was leading a park ranger to what I hoped would become one of the few sites in Indiana where a petrogylph – an aboriginal example of rock art – could be viewed. I had to make the choice of either descending the dangerous slope or going back to the car and taking an entirely different route. I watched the ranger run down the steep slope grabbing small trees to slow his descent somewhat. As a fifty-year-old woman, I took a less aggressive stance, sliding down the five-story-high cliff on the seat of my blue jeans.
My daughter would eventually lead the archeologist to the site, later that same day, and he would stay at the site for the afternoon, happily taking photographs of what has indeed been authenticated as a historic era Native American petroglyph site. The petroglyphs found so far were made using a metal tool as a chisel, which would have been traded on the coastline by Europeans, probably before the inland Native Americans had even seen a European. The petroglyphs therefore represent use of a superior technology brought to them by a culture outside their own during that sliver of time when those cultures were testing each other.
The largest petroglyph turned out to be a carving of two figures, equal in size, side by side: brothers. I can see the artist in my mind, proud of his work, holding the new metal tool in his hands, carving the sign saying that he had been there, on this day, with his brother. I can see him watching the hawks play in the wind currents of the caverns – the same as I have often done – and being inspired to remember the day by carving the sign of the bird, because that is carved there in the stone as well.
How was he to know that the culture who gave him the metal tool would be the same people to drive him from this land he and his tribe had lived on for so many centuries? There was no Prime Directive to save him from the greed of the multitudes that were coming – multitudes like the stars in the skies. There was no starship to protect him from those who could have treated him like a brother instead of an enemy. How could he have known that his grandchildren would spend their lives in reservations, pieces of land that were left over, the land no one else wanted?
Brothers. Sometimes the very stones talk to us about brothers we have left behind in the past.
Besides the metal chisel-tool, another thing the Europeans gave the Native Americans was disease.
“Because of the four vulnerabilities listed above, the European diseases spread plague after deadly plague across the land. In a period of 130 years, (up to) 95 percent of all Native Americans died of disease. That number is far greater than experts (until recently) had ever suspected.
“The Native Americans who survived the plagues were, of course, completely demoralized and depressed by this tremendous loss of their loved ones, of their lifestyle, and of their ancient culture. And for most of these people, all of this happened before a European ever encountered them.
“So even first-hand accounts of "first contact" with inland Native Americans were not with the impressive cultures that recently ruled the land, not with the splendor and wonder of intelligent cultures in full bloom, but with the last remnants of a disaster on a scale we can hardly imagine.” 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, by Charles Mann.
H.G. Wells gives a nod to this disease phenomenon in his short stories: First Men in the Moon (where the moon people are killed off by a cold) and The War of the Worlds (where the bad aliens are destroyed by disease – btw, spoiler alert).
Sometimes our brothers shout to us from the past, and sometimes they whisper to us from the future, describing what is out there, just beyond tomorrow. Science fiction writers attempt to hear their echoes and tell us what they’ve heard, to work as a link between the mistakes we made yesterday and opportunities we have coming our way. As readers, as writers, as thinkers we must therefore endeavor to shape the future instead of being merely shoved into it, for our brothers are there waiting for us, as surely as these brothers had once stood on this hilltop. We are the physical bridge between our ancestors and our descendants.
The past is unchangeable – at least according to current scientific thought – which is why we should be grateful that the future is still fluid and not carved in stone.
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