A couple of weeks ago, I happened to drop in on a conference marking the 350th anniversary of the founding of the Harvard Indian College.
I came away glad to be reminded of who was here first - of the people who, when the English first arrived, had already occupied for millenniums the land that is now Boston and Cambridge.
I also thought about how North American Indians use the term "nation" to mean a people, rather than necessarily a tract of real estate. There is some glimmer of hope in the possibility of seeing "nations" as not just "countries" or "land," but as "cultural communities in connection with land."
The former view is a kind of hard-edged, zero-sum view of real estate: "If it's mine, it can't be yours, too." The latter view allows for parallel realities, overlapping bits of cultural space, for "both/and" rather than "either/or." It allows for the Wampanoag people of today, for instance, to superimpose their map of the lands of which they claim traditional ownership onto the map of Massachusetts that you'd get from the auto club.
Not to be overly idealistic. There are plenty of pieces of disputed real estate around the world where "both/and" may be too much to hope for, where some sort of shared jurisdiction isn't feasible.
But I suspect the "both/and" view generally provides a fuller, truer picture of whatever place is under discussion. After all, even our "red states" and "blue states" have a great deal of purple in them.
The Canadians have the helpful term "First Nations" to refer to all their indigenous peoples, including the Inuit in the Arctic, and it lets people avoid the ambiguous "Indians."
Quebec's provincial legislature is called the Assemblée Nationale, reflecting the view that the Québécois are a distinct people, "une nation." (Go figure, the Anglos in Ontario grump.)
"World/Nation" is a standard heading in newspapers to distinguish between coverage from a paper's own local news staff and (mostly wire-service) material from the great "out there."
The world today is full of many places whose political "nationhood" is potentially open for renegotiation, where many peoples - think Central Asia, think the Middle East - are wondering what entity they really belong to.
But back in the USA, we often use "nation" in a sort of mock-heroic sense nowadays - an echo of its perhaps more serious political meaning.
Over the winter, much of New England was "Patriot Nation." A huge swath, alas, of the United States is now "SUV Nation," and as gas prices continue to rise, it is a nation under siege.
We might say one kind of "nation" has weather; another kind of "nation" has moods - like the surge of loyalty and unanimity found last week at Boston's Fenway Park, sacred grounds of Red Sox Nation.
The weather was glorious, the continuing (unending) celebration of October's World Series victory over the top, and the 8-1 win against the Yankees richly savored.
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