Manifesto of the 1491 Movement

Steven Welzer
3 min readJun 4, 2021


“ . . . when White persons of either sex have been taken prisoners young by the Indians, and lived awhile among them, tho’ later ransomed by their friends and then treated with all imaginable tenderness to prevail with them to stay among the English, yet within a short time they become disgusted with our manner of life, and the care and pains that are necessary to support it; and they take the first good opportunity of escaping back into the woods [to live again with the Indians] — from whence there is no reclaiming them.”

— Benjamin Franklin, 1753

* * * * * *

Prior to 1492 the vast majority of the indigenous communities of “the Americas” were doing just fine. Across the two continents the various tribes exhibited lifeways that were diverse, but in general they were thriving. In regard to quality of life, what if we conjecture that theirs was, on average, no worse than our own? Perhaps it was actually better than our own, as the Benjamin Franklin quote suggests, but that’s not possible to determine in any objective way.

The point is: What if the Europeans of the 18th century — and us moderns of the 21st century — were/are no happier? Then: If our touted “progress and development” has engendered ecological imbalances and we’ve gained little or nothing in the way of a better quality of life . . .

What have we accomplished?

Or: What have we wrought?

* * * *

The production, consumption, and technology of the native peoples was much lower. But it was adequate for them to have full cultural enrichment. They had been living for millennia in a generally stable and sustainable way.

The European invasion which began in 1492 was an enormous historical tragedy. Over the course of just a few centuries the natives were subjected to the biological pathogens bred within the afflicted context of European civilization and the exterminist assault of conquistadores driven by need and greed. Overpopulated, discontented, repressive Europe craved acquisition and expansion. The flora, fauna, and tribes of Turtle Island suffered terribly as a result.

* * * * * *

The 1491 Movement wants to un-do the damage to this land and deconstruct the Leviathan that has been built up since the Columbian climacteric. Comparing the lifeways of the European invaders and the native inhabitants, we conclude that life is better when it is lived:
- more outside than inside;
- more in the body than in the head;
- more in the moment than in the future;
- more in immediate reality than in abstractions;
- closer to nature;
- in stable, local community;
- in responsible relation to a particular place-on-earth;
- with a high degree of autonomy (communitarian self-reliance);
- cultivating a basic, direct, natural health and vigor.

We want to regain a sense of perspective regarding what’s important for living a satisfying life. We assert that what existed here — in this place but another time, some 500+ years ago — was sane and healthy. How the people lived and what the landscape looked like in 1491 indicates the path we should take for our own liberation from the modern industrial-capitalist-statist aberration.



Steven Welzer

The editor of Green Horizon Magazine, Steve has been a movement activist for many years (he was an original co-editor of DSA’s “Ecosocialist Review”).