BAAS Pamphlet No. 8 (First Published 1982)
ISBN: 0 9504601 8 4
- Indians, Real and Imagined
- Outlasting Government Policies
- Urban Indians and Internal Colonialism
- Pan-Indian Movements
- The Cult and Culture of Native Americans
- Epilogue: Tribalism and the Future
- Guide to Further Reading
British Association for American Studies All rights reserved. No part of this pamphlet may he reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review. The publication of a pamphlet by the British Association for American Studies does not necessarily imply the Association’s official approbation of the opinions expressed therein.
1: Indians, Real and Imagined
In the popular imagination, supplied with its images by fiction, film and television, the North American Indian effectively disappears at the end of the nineteenth century, with the end of armed resistance to white encroachments on his land. The massacre at Wounded Knee in 1890 has become for many a symbolic event, signalling the end of the Indians as a proud and independent people. It has become an occasion now for regrets about the ferocity and confusion which accompanied westward expansion and for moralizing about the blinkered and racist attitudes of settlers and government officials alike.
But this elegiac mood, comfortable as it may be, is dangerous if it obscures the fact that the “vanishing American,” as he was known, did not in fact vanish. It is true that many tribes had been wiped out, and the total Indian population in the United States had been drastically reduced from a figure variously estimated at between one and ten million before white contact to 248,253 in 1890. By the 1920s, however, the figure was increasing again, until in 1970 it was 827,108, including the Aleuts and Eskimos of Alaska. The United States Government, through its Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), today recognizes almost five hundred separate tribal entities, over three hundred of which still function as quasi-sovereign nations under treaty status. These range in size from tiny groups of a dozen or two, right up to the Navajo with a population of some 132,000 inhabiting a sixteen-million acre reservation. In addition, modern Indians are among the fastest-growing ethnic or racial groups in the United States, with the Navajo growing fastest of all.
But if they have not yet disappeared, it can still be argued that they have never gained any identity in the public mind to replace the earlier image of the proud but doomed warrior. The result has been a lack of public awareness which has had disastrous cultural, and economic consequences. On every available indicator—poverty, illness, life-expectancy, educational attainment—Indians are the most deprived group in the United States. A modern Indian spokesman has complained that “to be an Indian in modern American society is in a very real sense to be unreal and ahistorical.” This pamphlet is an attempt to make modern Indians real and historical and, since they affect Indians so fundamentally, to trace the changing attitudes and policies of whites towards. them. While some of the analysis applies equally well to Canadian Indians, the differences between Canadian and United States policies have been substantial enough to make it impractical to deal with them together here.
The fixing of Indians in a single historical role, as simple savages overwhelmed by the relentless march of progress, persistently presented not only in the entertainment industry but in standard history text-books, has had the effect of obscuring the great diversity and richness of the original Indian cultures. These included the highly developed agricultural societies of the Pueblos in the Southwest, the fishing communities of the Northwest, and the organized confederacies of the Northeast Woodlands—as well as the nomadic hunters of the Plains, on whom the stereotype of the Indian came to be based. The aristocratic society, based on lineage and the accumulation of wealth, found amongst the Natchez tribe in the Southeast and the fishing tribes of the Northwest, would have been inconceivable to the hunters and gatherers of the Great Basin, who had few personal possessions and little centralized leadership. The torture of enemies practised by the Iroquois would have been even more alien to Pueblo Indians than to Europeans, and the organized and restrained religious ceremonial of the Pueblos was itself very different from the vision-seeking and shamanistic ecstasies found elsewhere.
Similarly diverse were the reactions and adjustments of the various tribes to white contact. The Hopi of New Mexico, shielded by their remoteness from Spanish and then American interference, have maintained their original culture largely intact. Many other Pueblo communities, subject to four centuries of white control, have developed a complex combination of Christian and traditional ceremonial and social life. Similarly, the Five Civilized Tribes of the Southeast adapted promptly to new conditions in the early nineteenth century, becoming efficient farmers, producing their own newspaper-even owning black slaves. The hypocrisy of many white justifications for land-grabbing was revealed when they were compelled to remove to Oklahoma in the 1830s, for instead of just roaming over the land, these Indians ‘used’ it properly for settled agriculture as effectively as their white successors. Once in the West these particular tribes adjusted successfully once more, but other tribes resisted the transition bitterly. The pattern of Indian response to the new situations created by whites has continued to be a complex one, varying between tribes and between individuals within tribes, but this complexity has been obscured by the stereotype of the “vanishing American,” of a people whose demonstrated military weakness supposedly indicated a more general unfitness to survive in the face of progress, a stereotype which has proved one of the most important and insidious legacies of the past.
Contemporaries assumed that once their traditional way of life was destroyed the Indians would either die out altogether from disease, demoralization and alcohol, or become gradually absorbed, if lucky and talented enough, into white society. Reservations and lands set aside for Indians were accordingly seen as temporary arrangements rather than independent and self-sustaining units. An absolute distinction between a doomed but coherent Indian society and a demoralized remnant, vanishing either literally or culturally, persists in the white view of Indians up to the present, with damaging consequences. It ignores the actuality of cultural continuity and of creative adaptation to another culture. As Jeanne Guillemin argues, “when a people survives over generations, the first questions asked should be about continuity, not discontinuity.” At the heart of the contrast between past cultural coherence and present degradation lies the idea of Indianness as essence, with the corollary that if the essence is diluted by acculturation it disappears altogether. This makes an intriguing contrast with the traditional definition of a Negro, where as little as one-sixteenth Negro blood could be decisive and the style of life was totally irrelevant. Race is clearly not the only consideration in the definition of Indianness, as it is for negritude.
Concern with the essential or pure Indian has always been at the heart of much pro-Indian feeling and activity, and it is significant that early anthropologists, in their attempts to collect material from cultures they thought were disappearing, paid little attention to the cultures that were surviving and adapting. Anthropology for a long time was disinclined to examine culture-change, being more concerned with reconstructing the pre-contact ‘ideal’ culture from salvaged material. One result was the use of an “ethnographic present tense”—a way of writing about an abstracted, reconstructed culture as if it was existing in the present. This methodological assumption that one can deal with a culture without regard to history is crucial for much anthropology, in that the opposition between civilized and primitive has largely revolved around it. Consequently, in anthropologists’ eyes, once an Indian society was affected by white contact, once it had entered history, it was contaminated, ceased to be primitive, but also ceased to be anything else. As a result, while the study of blacks in American developed as sociology and the black community produced its own eminent sociologists, the Indian experts were anthropologists, and many Indian intellectuals were closely involved in anthropological work. The effect of this has been to strengthen the polarization of past and present, of pure and adulterated, and to draw attention away from the contemporary actualities of Indian society.
A more important factor in the establishment of this ‘essentialist’ idea in the popular mind, though, was the development of the ‘Western’ as a genre, in fiction and then in film, which effectively ‘froze’ the image of the Indian. Since the Western deals with a fixed period of the past, often taking on the ahistorical qualities and the fixed categories of allegory, Indians have had a clearly defined roleusually savages, but occasionally noble ones. While silent films included some sympathetic portrayals and dealt with a number of different groups of Indians, sound Westerns, whether feature films or the serials which reached their peak in the late 1930s, have been almost exclusively hostile portrayals, relying on the stereotype of Plains Indians—feathers, horses, scalping and all. In this genre Indians operate as an undifferentiated group, almost an element of the landscape, rather than as individuals. Ability to deal with them and understand them is on the same level as ability to cope with natural dangers and is the hallmark of the experienced scout. As mere landscape they do not have an articulate voice—in fact, since most Indians were played by whites or Mexicans, very few film Indians spoke in any actual Indian language. Indeed, one film serial solved the problem by reversing the film, thus transforming the actors’ English into something alien while preserving the synchronization.
All genres operate within conventions, of course, and we need not expect Westerns to operate as realism, or condemn them for using stereotypes rather than historically accurate and differentiated portrayals. In literature or film, the Indian has been seen as a repository of a set of values, both negative and positive, rather than as an individual. Genres like the Western develop and feed upon themselves and their own conventions, exploring issues at an abstract level, using stock characters and types. The trouble is that, while cowboys, sheriffs and gun fighters live only in the mythic past and hardly threaten the identity of modern whites, modern Indians are made invisible by the presence of their mythic predecessors. In this way it has been argued they are different from the inhabitants of other genres, like Transylvanians or vampires, and the use of stereotyped Indians unfortunately has a social and political dimension it does not have in some other cases.
The most recent revisions of the genre have reversed and subverted its conventional values in spoof and anti-heroic Westerns. They have challenged many of its own assumptions, have often changed the role of the Indians by giving them fuller and more sympathetic roles and by presenting them individually as well as in groups. At its worst this approach produces a sentimental portrayal of noble savagery which just reverses the stereotypes rather than abolishes them. At the time of American involvement in Vietnam, the revisionist Western was also used to examine white American policies and attitudes towards Indians as part of a larger attitude towards other races, and to present Indian policy as the first part of a developing imperialism. Indians and others have pointed out the frequent descriptions of the war in Vietnam in terms borrowed from Westerns. It is as part of a re-examination by Americans of their own history that this new type of Western and the huge success of Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (1971) must be seen, rather than as a proper recognition of present-day Indians and their situation. The more relevant contemporary parallel, as far as Indians are concerned, is not between nineteenth-century Indians and the twentieth-century Vietnamese but more importantly, and more complexly, between contemporary Indians and underdeveloped colonial peoples in South America and Africa. In the following chapters which outline white policies since 1887 and Indian responses to them, the key issues are not armed confrontations, genocide or physical suppression, so much as assimilation, paternalism and control of economic resources. The effects may be equally serious, but are harder to evaluate, particularly if we are hampered by images appropriate only to the earlier period of military conflict, expropriation and forcible resettlement.
2. Outlasting Government Policies
i. The Attack on Tribalism, 1887-1934
If the massacre at Wounded Knee in 1890 remains a symbol of the end of Indian armed resistance and, popularly, the end of the ‘real’ Indian, a lesser-known event, the passing of the Dawes Act in 1887, was equally significant, and certainly more important for the new terms of Indian existence. In particular it anticipated what was to become a permanent characteristic in this century—that bewildering mixture of the philanthropic and the predatory whereby all measures, however harmful in effect, are presented as being in the best interests of the Indians.
Senator Dawes’ proposals were seen by philanthropists as an attempt to plan a possible future for Indians which would be better than the neglect and demoralization of reservation life. Many tribes had been removed from their original homelands to the alien land of a reservation and once there were expected to become farmers rather than hunters. The combination of inexperience, poor land, inadequate provision of equipment, and a deep antipathy to work considered demeaning for warriors and hunters, ensured the failure of farming and a consequent dependence on the government agent for the distribution of rations. This meant that the agent became the ultimate authority, subverting the role of traditional leaders and regulating behaviour by handouts or punishments. In addition, the Indians’ claim to the land they occupied was still liable to attack by settlers and railroads using legal or illegal means, a state of affairs which had prompted General Sherman to define a reservation as “a tract of land set aside for the exclusive use of Indians, surrounded by thieves.”
Rapid changes in the Indians’ situation, from independence to something between objects of charity and prisoners of war, had left them extremely vulnerable, not least because of the complexity of their legal status. As original sovereign nations, Indian tribes had always dealt with the federal government rather than with state governments or individual citizens. In particular, treaties or agreements over land could be made only by the federal government. Defeated tribes were made subject to federal authority exercised through the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which was part of the War Department until 1849 when it was transferred to its present location in the Department of the Interior. The BIA’s role was, and remains, to administer federal programmes as directed by Congress, and to act as trustee for Indian resources, mainly land. It has always been a position of considerable power, whether used despotically or paternalistically, and since most Indians on reservations in the nineteenth century were neither United States citizens nor members of another independent nation they came increasingly to be seen as wards of the BIA. Chief Justice Marshall’s description in 1830 of Indian tribes as “domestic dependent nations” whose “relation to the United States resembles that of a ward to his guardian” was an early attempt to describe the newly developing status of Indian tribes, and subsequent legal decisions tended to fix upon this idea of dependency and play down the idea of the inextinguishable sovereignty of Indian nations which Marshall developed in the later important case of Worcester v. Georgia in 1832. As a result the Indians had the worst of both worlds. As a recent re-evaluation of Indian legal history points out, Indians were “enough ‘within’ the United States to be as much subject to Congress as citizens, but enough ‘outside’ the United States to lack constitutional protection. A more ideal legal status for tribes could not have been demanded by those bent on forcing them to be white.
The Dawes Act (or, more properly, the General Allotment Act of 1887) proposed to end this situation by the simple but Draconian method of making Indians into American citizens. If Indians in their original form could play no part in an expanding and dominant white civilization, then they must either die out in poverty and demoralization on reservations or join the mainstream of American life, and the ways in which they were to be encouraged to become Americans rather than Indians reflected clearly some of the ideological assumptions which had generated much past conflict between whites and Indians.
Under the Act each head of a household was to be allotted 160 acres of land, with 80 acres being given to single persons over 18 and to orphans. For twenty-five years the land would be held in trust by the Secretary of the Interior and could not be sold. After that time it would become fully the Indian’s property, and he would then be subject to all the normal state and federal laws. This was seen as a way of encouraging Indians to see themselves, and be accountable for themselves, in individual and nuclear family units rather than as a tribal entity holding its land in common—an anathema to traditional American individualism. Theodore Roosevelt, in his 1901 State of the Union message, promised to split up and allot tribal funds as well as tribal lands. He saw the original Act as a “mighty pulverizing engine to break up the tribal mass. It acts directly upon the family and the individual.” It was presented in general as something beneficial to both Indians and whites. “Shall he remain a pauper savage, blocking the pathway of civilization, an increasing burden upon the people?” asked one proponent of the bill, “Or shall he be converted into a civilized taxpayer?”
The Act, it was felt, would at least give the Indians a chance of becoming civilized, guaranteeing them a livelihood, some land, and the rights and protections of full citizenship. What exactly being a civilized American entailed is well revealed in a ritual for admission to citizenship specially designed by whites for Indians. The Indian was forced to give up his name and take a white name. He then shot an arrow, and was told “you have shot your last arrow .. . . Take in your hand this plow [for women it was a work-bag. This act means that you have chosen to live the life of the White man—and the White man lives by work.” He was then given a purse since “the wise man saves his money so that when the sun does not smile and the grass does not grow, he will not starve,” and swore allegiance to the flag. Clearly revealed here are the assumptions about land, work and thrift which the Dawes Act hoped to impose on Indians whose traditional cultures notably lacked them. For Indians land was not a commodity to be owned, divided and exploited so much as a source of spiritual power, held in a kind of trust by the tribe as a whole as an expression of the benevolence of a supernatural power or culture hero. The faith in the interlocking strengths of the tribe, the land and supernatural power must have made the American idea of individual selfsufficiency through thrift appear very alien.
In retrospect, the failure of the Act to create American citizens in one generation was inevitable, but even in practical terms the scheme was misconceived. Most of the reservations were grasslands too dry or infertile for farming, and even though there was provision within the Act to allow for larger, more economically feasible allotments for grazing in these cases, most allotments were still too small to be viable. Many Indian farmers went into debt, mortgaged their land to obtain tools or seed, and when the land was fully theirs were forced to sell or lease it to whites. So the overall effect of the Dawes Act was not to create self-sufficient citizens but to release to whites large areas of land. Furthermore, one of the key provisions of the Act authorized the federal government to buy up the remainder of the land after the allotments had been made and use the money, or keep it in trust, for the benefit of the tribe. By this means and by the sale of individual allotments by Indians, Indian land holdings were reduced by twothirds, from 138 million acres in 1887 to 47 million acres in 1934, when the policy was changed. In addition, the land most in demand by white buyers was of course the most fertile or mineral-rich, with the consequence that by 1934 much of the land remaining in Indian hands was of poor quality. Some warning voices were raised at the time of passage predicting this loss of Indian lands, and it is now hard to distinguish how much of the support for the Act was benevolent optimism and how much hard-headed land-grabbing.
In one area at least, though, reformers and exploiters were united, and that was in the assumption that the tribal Indian must go. In consequence the attack on reservations and common ownership of land was parallelled by a determined attack on Indian values in education. Boarding-schools where Indian children were forbidden to speak their own language or maintain their traditional style of dress and hair-length were seen as means of creating American citizens. Traditional religions—which were not even recognized as such and were dismissed as pagan or heathen superstition—were replaced by Christianity, and the ideal product of a Christian education was an Indian who renounced his own family and background, and succeeded in the white world. Education thus became synonymous with civilization and competence in white society, and it was assumed to be unfair to a group not to equip its members fully in the ways of the dominant society and eradicate their ‘backward’ ways.
This insistence on assimilation at all costs was partly an expression of a missionary impulse to civilize and Christianize the savages, but it was also related to an ideal of America as a melting-pot. Whereas most European immigrants chose to become Americans and had a great deal to gain from citizenship, for Indians the benefits were less obvious. Neither the Dawes Act nor the extension of citizenship to all Indians in 1924 released Indians from economic dependence on the federal government. Nor did they manage to destroy Indian tribes as communities. Perhaps in the end the most significant assimilation to take place in this period was the ‘assimilation’ of a great deal of Indian land into white ownership.
ii. The Coming of a New Deal
The assimilationist assumptions underlying the Dawes Act were increasingly being challenged by the 1920s. Partly in enforced recognition of the fact that the Indians who were supposed to disappear had manifestly failed to do so, the Secretary of the Interior commissioned an independent report, published in 1928 as The Problem of Indian Administration. This large and painstaking study, usually known as the Meriam Report after its chief architect, showed clearly both the failure of government policies, including the General Allotment Act, and the desperate problems facing the Indians in the fields of economics, health and education. Reflecting the changing climate of opinion, the Report envisaged the possibility that Indian culture should continue in its own right, and while it still assumed that the aim of government policy should be to help Indians adjust to white society, it drew attention to the developing tools of social science as instruments to make this possible.
The Meriam Report needs to be seen against a background of increasing activity on the part of reformers and intellectuals in support of Indian claims to retain their own culture and autonomy. From the early years of the century there had been an increasing interest in the possibilities of cultural pluralism, and as a result the values rather than the wretchedness of Indian life began to be emphasized. Seeing American culture as thin and bland, many intellectuals increasingly valued the older ethnic characteristics being brought to America by immigrants, and began to give them primacy. Rather than seeing the ideal society as based on voluntarist individualism, they began to see the values of conservative institutions and heritages as supportive and creative of personality. A society or culture was more than just a collection of economically motivated individuals.
This organicist approach to cultures and societies, with its view of a culture as a self-sustaining whole, had important ramifications in attitudes towards immigrant and urban communities, but it was also developing in anthropological theory, largely through the antievolutionist work of Franz Boas and his many followers. The supportive and integrated nature of traditional cultures was contrasted with the anomie of modern society (though Boas himself avoided such generalizations) and Indians became subject to a different sort of attention. Precisely those characteristics which had previously marked them off as primitive and inferior—their lack of a historical dynamic, their lack of individualism, their intuitive and religious rather than rational mode of thought—became admired. As a result it was natural that the intellectuals would look to the Southwest and to the least assimilated or, to see it in the new way, least disintegrated cultures.
The agricultural cultures of New Mexico and Arizona had managed to escape the effects of allotment, and although affected by successive white cultures they had maintained a traditional culture to a remarkable degree. It was this culture, as well as those of South America, which greatly influenced D.H. Lawrence, through his stay at Mabel Dodge Luhan’s artists’ colony at Taos in New Mexico. His reactions were characteristic of the intellectual climate, both in their idealization of the culture and, equally important, their denigration of Indians who failed to correspond to this idealized picture.
The Indian who sells you blankets on Albuquerque station or who slinks around Taos plaza may be an utter waster . . . . He may have broken with his tribe, or his tribe itself may have collapsed finally from its old religious integrity and ceased, really to exist. Then he is fit for rapid absorption into white civilization, which must make the best of him. But while a tribe retains its religion and keeps up its religious practices, and while any member of the tribe shares in those practices, then there is a tribal integrity, and a living tradition.
Once again, it is all or nothing. Proper, pure Indians are noble. Anything less does not deserve to exist. Eventually many of the Indians subjected to this idealization tired of their role. One publicly offered to exchange his home for Mabel Luhan’s, with its mod. cons., when she tried to block the modernization of the Taos Pueblo by the introduction of sanitation.
Excesses apart, at least this approach encouraged the survival of Indian cultures, and it was turned into concrete practice in the work of another visitor to Taos, John Collier. Having worked at developing and sustaining communities among immigrant groups in New York City, he became increasingly pessimistic about modern white society and found in the Pueblo Indians something of what Lawrence found. In his autobiography Collier describes the impact of their communities:
The discovery that came to me there in that tiny group of a few hundred Indians, was otpersonality-forming institutions, even now unweakened, which had survived repeated and immense historical shocks, and which were going right on in the production of states of mind, attitudes of mind, earth-loyalties and human loyalties, amid a context of beauty which suffused all the life of the group . . . . It might be that only the Indians, among the peoples of this hemisphere at least, were still the possessors and users of the fundamental secret of human life—the secret of building great personality through the instrumentality of social institutions. And it might be, as well, that the Indian life would not survive.
During the 1920s Collier had fought against the federal government in support of Indian groups, and in particular against the Bursum Bill, which attempted to deprive Pueblo Indians of some of their land and water rights. He developed a deep and genuine commitment not only to Indians and their cultures but to a view of human society which was at odds with the atomized and commercial society he saw around him. These views, combined with his experiences in the Southwest, influenced him to place an exaggerated stress on communal as opposed to individual life. To some extent he already knew what he wanted to find among the Indians and was determined to find it. Where earlier observers working from a Social Darwinist perspective had seen Indians as doomed, Collier saw them in the context of his reading of Kropotkin’s Mutual Aid as an example of how to survive by community rather than be destroyed by individualist competition. In 1934 Collier took office as Commissioner of Indian Affairs under Roosevelt, and the same year the idea of culture as an organic whole was given its most influential anthropological rendering in Ruth Benedict’s Patterns of Culture. Here the communal Pueblo culture was treated much more sympathetically than the apparently possessive individualism of the Northwest coast fishing cultures. Benedict’s views have since been challenged, and it is now obvious that her book reflected her own intellectual climate as well as the cultures she described. This sort of idealization of one group had serious consequences, though. It led Collier to generalize about Indians from the single model of the Pueblo Indians, with their tight social structure, highly organized religious hierarchy and freedom from the effects of allotment. He then tried to apply his generalizations to other groups like the Plains Indians whose traditional culture inclined more towards individual action and expression, and who had in many cases made fairly full adjustments to a system of individual land-holdings. In trying to develop policies which would repair the damage done by allotment, in terms both of loss of land and break-up of cultures, he tended to force Indians into his preconceived mould. Nevertheless, his policies were perhaps the first serious and generous attempt to help the Indian which was not also a pretext for taking their land.
iii. The New Deal in Operation
Collier’s sweeping proposals for an Indian New Deal became, in an adapted and curtailed form, the Indian Re-organization (or WheelerHoward) Act of 1934. It applied to all states except Oklahoma, and was eventually accepted by 192 of the 263 tribes who voted on it. It included:
- the end of the policy of individual allotment and of the subsequent alienation of Indian land;
- comprehensive plans for the setting up of tribal governments, thereby developing a degree of Indian self-determination by granting “certain rights of home rule”;
- the establishment of a revolving credit fund, which, together with an increase in the land base, would help to improve the economic life of the reservations.
These were undoubtedly helpful and well-intentioned proposals, which in the end helped to ease the extreme poverty and demoralization of many Indians, preserving their land-holdings and setting in motion the complex process of achieving a degree of selfdetermination. However, the Act also envisaged a more active role for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, placing a greater reliance on the expertise of social scientists and planners. This contradiction generated a great deal of friction and animosity. As one historian remarks, “The reconciliation of local democracy at the tribal level with the bureaucratic expertise needed in Washington, D.C., to run a complex colonial policy was a fundamental challenge that Collier failed to meet.”
The most extreme example was Collier’s insistence on trying to reduce the severe over-grazing of Navajo land by forcing the Navajo to reduce their stock. Even though reduction was technically the best remedy and compensation was offered, the seemingly arbitrary slaughter of sheep, which represented their main security, alienated the Navajo. Their attitude to land and livestock involved considerations other than just the economic, and the apparently wasteful killing of animals, based on cold estimates of cost-effectiveness, underlined the difference in attitudes between the government experts and the people they were helping. Collier’s insistence on imposing his policy pointed up the streak of authoritarianism in his approach. Rather than neglect, the Bureau was now offering advice—but since the experts always knew best, the advice had to be taken—and of course the Commissioner had the last word, tribal self-government or not.
In his determination to develop the economic resources of the tribes, Collier sometimes ran rough-shod over Indian groups suspicious of the big companies who were all too happy to exploit mineral resources on land leased from the Indians—an issue later to become of central importance. Similarly, his prejudice in favour of triballyheld rather than individually-held land meant that he was accused by some Indians of trying to return them “back to the blanket.” In addition he was committed to the double task of introducing the teaching of traditional native values in the schools while dismantling the boarding school system which had been designed to encourage children to take on white values. These policies, some Indians complained, would produce children and adults ill-equipped to deal with life in modern white America.
One further, and important, irony about Collier’s attempts to develop and sustain genuine community deserves attention. The form of tribal self-government which was encouraged was of course that which seemed to whites most representative. However, the more traditional Indians were suspicious, if not downright dismissive, of elections and constitutions, seeing them as relevant to white rather than Indian forms of government. As a result, those Indians who co-operated and achieved power in tribal councils were individuals who already inclined towards white patterns of life, and in many cases had only small amounts of Indian blood. This became an important issue on reservations in the 1960s and ‘70s when objections were raised to the financial and political power of tribal councils dominated by white-oriented Indians. These “progressives,” as they have become known, were felt to be unrepresentative of traditional Indians, whose interests were ignored by them and who were consequently the most deprived groups. Ironically, while the New Deal administration was concerned to support traditional ways, the long-term effect of strengthening the BIA was to improve the political and financial position of “progressives” rather than traditionalists.
Clearly Collier’s programme was not lacking in benevolent intentions, in expertise, or, in its earlier stages, in resources. What it lacked was a real understanding of the paternalistic and colonialist nature of its policies and their direct political implications. Steve Talbot’s verdict is perhaps too sweeping, but it highlights the terms in which the Indian New Deal was to be seen by later generations. “In essence the Act marked a shift from the government’s policy of direct rule of reservations as internal colonies to one of indirect rule, a shift from outright colonialism to a system of neo-colonialism.”
iv. Termination and Its Termination, 1946-1970
As government spending increasingly flowed into the war effort after 1941, Collier’s schemes became starved of funds. In addition, a growing opposition to New Deal policies had developed, and by the end of the Second World War the reaction had fully set in. Pressure began to be exerted not to give financial support to Indians as special communities, but to help them to full and speedy independence as American citizens. The formation and operation of the Indian Claims Commission revealed the changes in government thinking. The Commission was set up in 1946 to hear and decide claims against the federal government for broken treaties or agreements, usually about land, with provision for financial recompense if the claim was justified. Previously Indians needed to obtain a special Act of Congress to pursue a claim, and such an Act could severely limit the terms on which the claim could be made to the Court of Claims. The original intention behind the Commission was, in response to recommendations from both Meriam and Collier, to make it easier for Indians to obtain justice. Once it was set up, though, many whites came to see it as a way of clearing up all claims against the government so that, the slate cleared, federal responsibility for the Indians could be completely ended. This was certainly a move away from the New Deal approach, which, while committed to selfdetermination, also spelled out a long-term role for the BIA. The Claims Commission turned out to be more important and longerlived than had originally been envisaged, and was even extended until 1978, by which time some 484 of the 615 claims had been decided, with awards totalling $669,200,000. Remaining cases were then transferred to the Court of Claims.
Ironically, an agency apparently established to settle injustices has come to be seen as part of a conspiracy against Indian rights. In this way scepticism arises about the rhetoric of benevolence in which all actions concerning the Indians have been presented, nowhere seen to better effect than in the important policy of Termination developed in the early 1950s. In 1953 House Concurrent Resolution 108 aimed to erminate all federal services to the Indians “at the earliest possible time.” One of the architects of termination policy, Senator Watkins of Utah, saw it as a “return to the historic principles of much earlier decades” after the deviation of the New Deal. The long-term movement was towards “full freedom,” and he saw the Claims Commission’s role as “to clear the way toward complete freedom of the Indian by assuring a final settlement of obligations—real or purported—of the federal government to the Indian tribes and other groups.” The emphasis here, for Watkins, was on the word “final” and it reveals the rationale behind termination policy. After years of subjection to bureaucracy and government, went the argument, the Indians were now being given their full rights, and Watkins’ terms were similar to those used earlier in support of the Dawes Act:
Self reliance is basic to the whole Indian-freedom program. Through our national historic development the Indian was forced into a dependent position, with federal government more and more, as America advanced westward, tending to sublimate his natural qualities of self-reliance, courage, discipline, resourcefulness, confidence, and faith in the future. Congress has realised this and has steadily acted more positively to restore to the Indian these qualities.
Translated into practice, this meant that twelve tribes considered to be ready for independence were to have all special federal services discontinued. Indians would be liable for taxation on their land and would lose their specially provided health and education services. In return for being divested of all treaty rights, each Indian would be given a cash settlement, representing a share of the liquidated assets of the tribe—since the tribe as a property-holding entity would cease to exist.
However unsatisfactory the paternalism and bureaucracy of the BIA, it turned out to be preferable to this sudden “freedom.” Most of the tribes were ill-prepared for such a sudden transition. Individuals given large sums of money often used it unwisely. Land and other assets were sold off, often at low prices, and those who did try to hold parts of the original lands together and operate as a business, as in the case of some of the Paiutes of Utah or the Klamath of Oregon, found themselves administered, not always paternalistically, by banks. Welfare provisions which should have been available at a state level once federal services were discontinued were difficult to obtain because in many cases the Indians did not have the relevant documents, like birth certificates.
The well-documented experience of the Menomini Indians of Wisconsin reveals many of these intractable problems. Owed payments of $1,500 apiece by the Treasury for an earlier claim, they were told they would be paid only if they accepted termination. Having accepted, they received only half of this sum, but this was the least of their problems. Occupying a 234,000 acre reservation, the Menomini had for some time been able to finance many of their activities from their substantial tribal assets, but they were unprepared for the enormous expense involved in termination. To preserve themselves as a unit they became a county of Wisconsin, and the business operations became incorporated as Menominee Enterprises, Inc. This, however, made them liable to the same taxes and liabilities as all other counties, and as a very poor county, the Menominee tax-base was totally inadequate for what was required of it. In addition, they lost their previous exemption from hunting and fishing restrictions, an important additional source of food, especially to the poor. The unemployment rate was 50 per cent and badly needed welfare programmes had to be reduced. In this case, as in others, the “freedom” promised amounted to freedom to sell tribal land and assets, resulting in yet another reduction in the economic base.
Termination policy fell into disfavour even with white politicians by the 1960s, when it was clear that only tribes that were fully ready, and genuinely willing, to terminate their relationship with the federal government should do so. Between 1972 and 1976 Congress passed several acts improving its provision of educational, health and financial assistance, and even returned lands to Indians, including the previously terminated Menominee reservation in Wisconsin. This followed President Nixon’s important statement in 1970 of his policy of “self-determination without termination.” As he pointed out, enforced termination was practically disastrous and, more important, morally indefensible:
Termination implies that the Federal government has taken on a trusteeship responsibility for Indian communities as an act of generosity toward a disadvantaged people, and that it can therefore discontinue this responsibility on a unilateral basis whenever it sees fit. But the unique status of Indian tribes does not rest on any premise such as this. The special relationship between Indians and the Federal government is the result instead of solemn obligations which have been entered into by the U.S. Government . … To terminate this relationship would be no more appropriate than to terminate the citizenship rights of any other Americans.
The effect of termination policy has been long-lasting, and not only on those groups directly involved. Long after it was discontinued a mistrust of federal attempts to encourage independent action on the part of Indians remains. It created a situation where the more successful and independent a tribe became, the more vulnerable it was—or felt it was—to sudden and arbitrary termination. There seemed no way out of the trap of paternalism and dependence as long as the alternative was the threat of the abrupt withdrawal of special status. The task of successive recent administrations has been, as Nixon put it, to “make it clear that Indians can become independent of Federal control without being cut off from Federal concern and Federal support.”
3. Urban Indians and Internal Colonialism
Traditionally we think of Indians as living on reservations, and so far this study has concentrated on these groups, but during the twentieth century the number of urban Indians has been steadily increasing until it now comprises about half of the entire Indian population. Partly through relocation programmes and partly as a result of individual actions, Indian communities have developed in many major cities, with the largest numbers going to Los Angeles (an estimated 50,000, drawn from tribes throughout the United States), San Francisco, Chicago, Dallas, Denver and Minneapolis-St. Paul. While some urban areas, like Minneapolis-St. Paul, have fairly homogeneous Indian populations, most have a mixture of groups, and the development of pan-Indian thinking is one important result of this mingling of tribes.
On moving to the city, Indians find themselves having to survive unaided and resourceless in an unsympathetic white society, and so they fall back on these new communities of similarly uprooted tribesmen for immediate help with work and accommodation. They are frequently invisible in many surveys: they neither make much contact with official bodies, nor do official bodies seem very interested in making much contact with them. Urban Indians in effect experience the abrupt loss of the protection and administration of the Bureau of Indian Affairs with which termination policy threatened reservation communities, since BIA services cover only Indians on or near reservations.
In establishing the pattern of services for Indians in the 1930s, the BIA followed the Meriam Report findings of 1928, which seemed to suggest that Indians moving to cities assimilated rapidly and achieved living standards comparable to whites. Later evidence clearly suggests otherwise, but only relatively recently has the BIA shown much awareness of urban Indians. Thus, in spite of concerted efforts by the government to relocate young Indians in cities, there was a lack of real planning and provision for them. The relocation policy of the 1950s can be seen as complementary to termination. Establish Indians in cities, the argument went, and you have effectively solved the problem. Like all other immigrants, they will find their place. Looked at more generously, it can be seen as a reasonable response to the chronic unemployment problems on reservations caused by lack of industry and investment—itself often the result of the isolation and lack of good communications on many reservations. In addition, an increasing population put additional strain on the often shrinking land base. Unfortunately, since many of those who went to the cities were untrained and unprepared they failed to find work, and the unemployment problem was merely transfered from reservation to city.
Actual living standards of urban Indians are not always easy to compare with Indians on reservations. Certainly their average wage is higher—in 1969 it was almost double the reservation average and was closely comparable with average black income—that is, about 60 per cent of average white income. At this rate, “about 20% of urban Indian families had incomes below the poverty line in 1969: the proportion was more than twice that high among rural Indian families.” By itself, this would suggest that, while Indians as a whole are the poorest group in the country, rural Indians are markedly worse off than their urban counterparts, but set against this is the fact that free medical care is available on reservations, while in many cases Indians are living on their own allotted or tribal land and so have no rent. In addition, prices are often higher in cities. While welfare services are theoretically available in cities to all who need them, Indians are often reluctant to use them, and administrators often feel that they should be dealt with on the reservation anyway. The result is that Indians commonly work in cities until they become ill or unemployed and then return to the reservation, if only temporarily, for medical treatment.
The average school-leaving age of Indian migrants is higher than that of the on-reservation Indians, suggesting that the more able young people leave the reservations. But most of them are unskilled, at least on their arrival in the city, and so tend to operate at the bottom of the labour market, vulnerable to fluctuations in employment levels. This predominance of casual unskilled work combined with the tendency to return periodically to the reservations or to move to another town leads one authority to categorize the majority as “an unstable lower working-class group which is marginal to the economy and social structure of the metropolis.” When one combines this with the high incidence (and especially high visibiliy) of drunkenness, it is perhaps easy to see urban Indians as alienated, marginal individuals cut off from community and Indianness altogether.
Some recent work, however, suggests a more positive way of viewing this latest development of Indian cultures, while not minimizing or condoning the real deprivations involved. In suggesting the idea of a network of relations rather than a fixed community, Jeanne Guillemin in a study of Micmac Indians in Boston argues for a more positive view of mobility and marginality:
The network concept permits a definition of community that can put aside the usual concern with place and property and instead consider enduring patterns of culture spread over time and space. In societies like our own, minorities have been urbanized for generations, yet remain a people apart, without the establishment ofconventional land-based communities . . . . An urban minority community, whether or not the label “tribal” is attached to it is inevitably a network of relationships among the propertyless, among people for whom the city is a back-drop, a setting, and for whom survival often means maintaining a high rate of mobility beyond any initial migration to the city. The urbanization ofminorities has failed to be the transformation ofindividual country bumpkins into alienated cosmopolitans: it has been typified instead by the development of a variety of social networks which have defensive characteristics as well as an internal social organization.
What distinguishes Indians from other minority groups similarly locked into the ‘secondary labour market’ is the relation to the reservation, and Guillemin argues that this network model allows us to see the two environments as an inter-related whole, with the reservations providing “a conglomeration of ‘home bases,’ that is, extended families which will host individual adults and children for longer or shorter periods of time.” One big advantage of this functionalist approach is that it avoids seeing Indians as either rural and ethnically pure or urban and deracinated, and stresses a continuity of culture and community based on kinship and tribal ties. As Guillemin says, “the seemingly random organization ofurban households and social networks reveals itself as an efficient means of maximizing the participation of adults in a cash economy while providing for the care of children.” She compares it to the so-called matrifocal black family which can also be seen as a logical and “efFicient way for a group to divide its cultural labor, given the demands of economic marginality.”
Does this sort of comparison mean that urban Indians and the smaller groups or rural Indians, particularly in the East and Midwest, constitute primarily what has come to be called a “culture of poverty”—which has so much in common with other disadvantaged groups that it ceases to be useful to call it Indian? It could be argued that what are seen as characteristically Indian social traits are products of their status in relation to white society rather than traditional norms or values:
American Indian composite households and family household cycles are not retentions of aboriginal customs, but are products of their meager and unstable incomes, lack of skills, and lack of control over resources . . . . Indian family households change from composite to nuclear to composite as their economic conditions change, making the Indian family similar to other families living in poverty in the Western world.
An alternative way of putting it is to say that traditional Indian culture had usually involved minimal resources, and this state comes to be seen as poverty only in relation to the dominant white society. As Murray L. Wax expresses it, “Hardship becomes expressed as ‘poverty’ only when it is linked in a socio-economic system with those who are better off—the rich—thus establishing an asymmetric relationship.” If it were just a question of different and separate life-styles, freely chosen, it would perhaps not matter that Indians had less formal education, sanitation, etc., but of course it is a fact that the endemic poverty of Indians is closely related to the systematic expropriation of their resources by white society. Crucially, too, this poverty has shown no signs of decreasing, at least in relative terms, in spite of large increases in BIA staffing and funding.
This situation has prompted more far-reaching analyses and hypotheses which examine the situation of the Indians in terms of colonialism. According to this sort of hypothesis, “the conditions of the ‘backward’ modern American Indians are not due to rural isolation nor a tenacious hold on aboriginal ways, but result from the way in which United States’ urban centers of finance, political influence and power have grown at the expense of rural areas.” Joseph Jorgensen elsewhere uses the terms metropolis and satellite in preference to urban and rural to suggest that the centralizing and conglomerating tendencies of modern business and government are not just embodied in the city itself. The problems of the inner cities, where most urban Indians find themselves, are precisely the product of the concentration of power outside the inhabitants of those areas. This model is clearly applicable to the larger areas of colonialism, and its importance is that it attacks at base the assumption that under-development is just a temporary stage on the way towards integration and acculturation. As Jorgensen says, “Indian development is the product of the full integration of U.S. Indians into the United States political economy—albeit as super-exploited victims of that society.”
Just as in the nineteenth century land was taken away under the pressure of agricultural and industrial expansion, so today small farming, under pressure from the growth of “agribusiness,” has become uneconomic. With land often split up into small units because the complexities of the inheritance system cause it to be sub-divided among many descendants, Indians have found it difficult to succeed, but it would be wrong to think that most Indian land is undeveloped. White interests regularly take two-thirds of the total agriculture product of Indian lands, which they rent, while large industrial concerns have arranged very cheap mining leases. So Indian land and mineral resources are being exploited—but not for or by Indians.
The political position of the BIA is crucial here. It is responsible for the Indians, but answerable to the Secretary of the Interior whose brief includes both Indian administration and the development of national resources. The creation of the post of Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs in 1977 was meant to assure the BIA of a strong voice in the Department of the Interior, but pressure from big energy corporations still prevails. Nevertheless with a budget of over one thousand million dollars in 1981, and extensive legal and economic control over the people it administers, the BIA has a great deal of power. From the Indian standpoint this power can seem tyrannical. BIA officials have ultimate control of almost all tribal operations and undertakings, although since the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 there has been an increase in ventures initiated and run by Indians themselves, where the government’s role is limited to financial support. The BIA decides who qualifies as an Indian eligible for services and whether he is responsible or capable enough to control his own assets or dispose of them in his will. The combination of a stifling bureaucratic paternalism and erratic changes in policy has created a situation where, it has been said, Indians are being implicitly taught three lessons: “Selfrealization is frustrated . . . . Dependency is a virtue . . . . Alienation is rewarded.”
If this were the whole picture, if, since little is to be hoped for from the very organizations set up to help Indians, no real improvement is possible, it would be a gloomy outlook. But what this ignores, in its emphasis on white actions and views, are the changes constantly taking place within the Indian communities themselves, and in particular the growing awareness of the situation in political terms on the part of at least some young Indians. For Indians themselves are now increasingly taking a hand in determining their future, in defiance of big business and government alike.
4. Pan-Indian Movements
Implicit in the idea of self-determination is the recognition of what Indians have known and accepted all along—that there are many ways of being Indian. The older broad distinction between “traditional” and “progressive” which correlated roughly with degrees of Indian blood has become less useful as relations between different groups have become more complex. In addition tribal identity, which has always been paramount for traditionalists, has been supplemented by a broader conception of Indian unity. The newer generation of Indians, and particularly urban Indians, has had to develop new ways of being Indian, and if a ‘new Indian’ seems a contradiction in terms it is useful to consider why.
Attempts early in the century to develop Indian organizations tended to be dominated either by white philanthropists or by Indians who had become to a large degree ‘civilized.’ As a result these Indians were in the position of having no-one really to represent but themselves. What they had in common was their loss of tribal identity and their achievement of a questionable role and status. This is not to say that Pan-Indian developments were not taking place in other spheres. In earlier times Indians made political alliances, some of them large-scale and enduring like the great Iroquois confederacy of the Northeast or the Creek confederacy of the Southeast, without surrendering their tribal or cultural identities. There were also religious movements which spread through wide areas, such as that stemming from the nameless Delaware prophet in the eighteenth century, which was partly responsible for the uprisings under Pontiac, or the Handsome Lake religion still practised among the Iroquois today. The nineteenth century saw the development of a generalized Plains culture, initially because of the increased use of the horse by the many tribes attracted on to the Plains by the relative affluence offered, later because of the need to combine to fight white encroachment. It was really not until Indians were confined to reservations, though, that the new conditions forced upon them produced common responses, both religious and political.
i. Religious Movements
The earliest of these was the Ghost Dance, a millennialist religious movement that spread quickly through Western tribes at the end of the nineteenth century. The main element was the belief that “the time will come when the whole Indian race, living and dead, will be reunited upon a regenerated earth to live a life of aboriginal happiness, forever free from death, disease and misery.” By taking part in the dance one could hasten this state—from which, of course, whites would be excluded. Scholars have debated how far the movement was a novel and direct response to deprivation, and how far it was a continuation of an older religion which was now adapted to nativistic and revivalistic ends as conditions under acculturation became intolerable. At the time white authorities saw it as potentially dangerous, and, interpreting it as a threatened insurrection, the Seventh Cavalry over-reacted in the infamous exercise of force which led to the massacre at Wounded Knee in 1890. Later commentators have agreed that many manifestations of the movement offered less threat to the whites than was feared. The Ghost Dance religion offered a substitute for the ritual and spiritual structures that were breaking down under the new conditions and, more importantly, it gave a key role to the power of visions. Traditionally Plains tribes placed great weight on the significance of individual visions, sought or induced by physical privation. Though their, importance was mainly to the individual, their truth was accepted by the society as a whole.
The Ghost Dance did involve a specific nationalist element, which was what led the authorities to suppress it. What succeeded it was a movement equally adapted to fill the gaps left by cultural breakdowns, but representing a withdrawal from the actual political world rather than a messianic confrontation with it. The Peyote Cult, later the Native American Church, managed to incorporate both the traditional individual search for a vision and the recognized need for community and solidarity among Indians—a sharing of spiritual power. The solidarity, though, was spiritual only—an end in itself “Dreaming both symbolized withdrawal from the world of white men, and was its realization. Peyote was the agency through which such introversion could be manifested.” Again, there are disputes as to the provenance of the different elements, but it seems accepted that it was from the Kiowa, Comanche and Wichita reservations that the Peyote Cult spread, until it became, as it remains, a major element in many Indian cultures and one of the most important non-tribal ways of being Indian.
The worshippers meet at night, around a crescent-shaped mound of earth, eat four or more peyote buttons, and then, while singing, pass around a special drum, carved staff and rattle. The peyote buttons are the tops of a cactus, Lophophora Williamsii, which grows mainly in northern Mexico and southern Texas. The complex and often unpredictable effects of peyote, ranging from intense exhilaration and visions to nausea, as well as the fact that the meetings were held at night, led to suspicion from whites and other Indians. Early in this century there were strenuous attempts to ban the use of the drug and the ceremony itself, and partly as a defence against these efforts, practitioners of the religion formed themselves into the Native American Church in 1918. Centred in Oklahoma, it gradually developed its intertribal nature. In defending itself as a respectable Church, it described the use of peyote as a sacrament, and certainly the Christian element was not just propaganda aimed at securing public acceptance. The belief in a ‘Heavenly Father’ could be accommodated with the Plains belief in a generalized Supreme Being, but peyotists also believed that peyote contained part of the Holy Spirit, and its use was granted to Indians as the equivalent of the white ‘use’ of Jesus Christ. The ingestion of the peyote button is, like the taking of the consecrated bread and wine of Christianity, a way of acquiring the Holy Spirit within oneself. As one of the developers of the Christian element explained, “The Peyote is a part of God’s body, and God’s Holy Ghost is enveloped in it.” This was not enough to appease the Christians of the BIA, though, who charged the cult with orgies and condemned peyote as narcotic, though it is not in fact habit-forming. Eminent anthropologists weighed in for the Indians (probably the first time anthropologists were used as expert witnesses in support of Indians), but it was not until the 1930s and the advent of a sympathetic Commissioner of Indian Affairs in Collier that the Church was protected from persecution, leading to yet another of those anomalies which surround Indians—that peyote is prohibited as a dangerous drug except to adherents of the Native American Church.
While the forms it takes and the reasons for its emergence differ from area to area, peyotism clearly offers a communal experience which is easier to sustain in changing conditions than the elaborate traditional structures. With its basic ingredients of a ban on alcohol, an emphasis on moral and peaceful behaviour and on Indianness, it is seen as more relevant to Indians whose earlier sense of community has been threatened. For instance David Aberle, who studied Navaho peyotism, saw a direct link between the rise of peyotism and the seemingly arbitrary policy of slaughtering their sheep to conserve grazing forced on the tribe by the federal government in the 1930s. He describes peyotism as “a mode of expressing rejection of the traditional system and of the American system, a mode of coping with feelings of helplessness, and a way of engendering a total reorientation which assists in adjusting to wage-work and cash-cropping.” This move away from the tribal past is by no means an abandonment of all Indian community, but it does represent a retreat from any engagement with white society.
ii. Political Movements
It was only after the New Deal policies, and perhaps as a product of the same sort of thinking that produced them, that the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI)—an organization which is at the same time national, political, and yet strongly tribal—came into being. Many of those who founded it in 1944 were important tribal leaders, and the Congress has remained, certainly until the 1960s, the most powerful and representative national body. Many factors, of course, were influencing Indians’ sense of their identity. The 25,000 Indian servicemen involved in World War II returned with a new sense of the world outside the reservation, and while for many it was a negative and bewildering experience, they at least were made aware of their situation. The shock of the threat posed by termination policies also forced a more urgent approach and led in 1961 to a “Declaration of Indian Purpose” aimed at achieving a national consensus on priorities and goals that could be worked for politically. The actual Declaration asked for self-determination (“the inherent right of self-government and sovereignty”), the protection of existing lands (“each remaining acre is a promise that we will still be here tomorrow”), and continued federal aid. Behind the agreement reached over this statement, though, were substantial disagreements over tactics, reflected in the founding, in the same year, of the National Indian Youth Council (NIYC) by radical college-educated young Indians. Like an increasing number of native American college students, unwilling to let white education “de-Indianize” them, they were dissatisfied with what they saw as the unrepresentative and ‘establishment’ nature of the NCAI, since it rejected activism of the sort being developed by civil rights workers, and concentrated on acting as a Washington pressure group. Many of the NCAI’s major figures were wealthy and successful “progressive” tribal leaders, often very sympathetic towards white business and government procedures and therefore, in the eyes of the young radicals, unrepresentative of the majority of Indians.
What was produced through NIYC, and later through the more controversial American Indian Movement (AIM) formed in 1968, was a concept of tribal nationalism which had a national network of co-operation and information, giving rise to a new situation, where “radical” and “traditional” Indians found more in common with each other than with the “progressives” of the NCAI. Differences arose partly over ultimate goals and partly over methods of exerting political pressure. Building on the model of black civil rights, but often exhibiting a flair and wit less evident in black demonstrations, Indian radicals have used tactics of non-violent confrontation and passive resistance with an eye to the symbolic and public nature of their actions, both to raise Indian awareness of what could be done and to publicize their case to a white public.
The original occupation of Alcatraz exemplifies these tactics. In 1969 a small group of Indians occupied the former prison site and claimed “ownership by right of discovery.” Continuing the parody of white colonialism, they offered to buy it from the government for $24, to be paid in glass beads, and promised to “give to the inhabitants of this island a portion of that land for their own, to be held in trust by the American Indian government—for as long as the sun shall rise and the rivers go down to the sea—to be administered by the Bureau of Caucasian Affairs.” With more contemporary relevance they explained their action by pointing out that Alcatraz already had “all the necessary features of a reservation: dangerously uninhabitable buildings; no fresh water; inadequate sanitation; and the certainty of total unemployment.” The tone of the whole action was in keeping with Vine Deloria’s witty and scathing attack on white attitudes and action in his Custer Died for Your Sins, published in the same year.
The “Trail of Broken Treaties” organized by the American Indian Movement in 1972 was an angrier and more explosive event, though originally planned as a peaceful protest march involving groups from all over the country which would converge on Washington just before the presidential elections. Angered at inadequate accommodation and arrangements, the protesters occupied the BIA headquarters. Amid threats of forced eviction, protracted negotiations produced an undertaking from the authorities to consider at least parts of the twenty-point proposal drawn up by AIM. The proposal included demands for the restoration to Indian tribes of the status of sovereign nations, which would mean that their relation with the federal government would be by mutually agreed treaty. Following from this came proposals for the abolition of the BIA, the restoration of a substantial land base and the repeal of laws maintaining state or federal jurisdiction over Indians. Partly to secure the building against the police, partly out of frustration and anger, the occupiers caused considerable damage to the building and its fittings by the time they left, but in spite of considerable press coverage of the violent aspects of the event, and condemnation from some other Indian groups, the occupation and its leaders found a considerable degree of support. Some of the AIM leaders like Dennis Banks, Russell Means, and Clyde and Vernon Bellecourt were becoming well-known figures—and attracting the attention of law-enforcement agencies in the process.
However useful this sort of national event and its publicity was, it was a long way from the specific and local concerns of most Indians, as the young activists were well aware. Since 1964 at least they had been developing tactics in concrete confrontations over local issues. In 1964 in the state of Washington the first substantial expression of civil disobedience occurred. It was significant because, although it related specifically to the fishing rights of small local tribes, the operation was aided and given national publicity by activists from outside. A series of illegal “fish-ins” was held to protest against the removal of fishing rights from the Nisqually, Puyallup, Quinault and other tribes. These rights had been originally gained in exchange for land ceded in 1854, but the state Supreme Court, in denying these rights, argued that modern methods of fishing had not then been envisaged and that the survival of the fish supply was at stake. The irony of the white authorities preaching ecology to Indians was further compounded by the fact that fish were being caught at other points on the river by much larger commercial concerns. Here as elsewhere, Indians had long struggled to preserve their own subsistence fishing against the interests of commercial fisheries and of sports fishermen supported by state officials.
A pattern developed of highly publicized and occasionally violent confrontations—whether over fishing, or over selling or exploitation of land without local consent—which led to protracted court battles. In the past, Indian groups, often without adequate counsel, had fared badly in this situation, but a series of decisions have more recently been going their way, even if very slowly. In 1975 the fishing rights of the Washington tribes were finally upheld, for instance, and a number of tribes have either had land returned or gained substantial compensation. In 1970 the Taos Pueblo regained Blue Lake with its surroundings, and in 1975 the Havasupai secured 185,000 acres from the Grand Canyon National Park. Other cases have ended favourably for the Indians, like the Passamaquoddy claims in Maine. The Sioux claims to ancestral land in the Black Hills of Dakota have produced offers of financial compensation, but many Sioux insist on the religious and cultural significance of the land, which cannot be replaced by money. Even when state or federal authorities have eventually yielded to demands, local hostility to Indian actions has often been intense, and the reaction of the authorities have sometimes escalated the difficulties. The most protracted and violent event, and the one with greatest symbolic overtones, was the occupation for seventy-one days in 1973 of the village of Wounded Knee on Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota.
Pine Ridge, one of the biggest and poorest reservations, home of the Oglala Sioux, was an ideal place to highlight many of the most persistent problems. In spite of owning much of the land of South Dakota the Indians in that state had a per capita income of less than half that of the whites. Half the total Indian population was in fact below the official poverty line, and figures for health and education were comparably bad. Added to this was a political situation which Robert Thomas, in his 1964 anthropological study of Pine Ridge, described as “powerless politics.” He noted that cultural continuity on the reservation was maintained in the traditional religious groups which had, against all the odds, survived. These groups, though, were not represented in the tribal government, since it had been set up in a ‘democratic’ and white-oriented pattern by Collier and was not therefore acceptable to traditionalists. At Pine Ridge in particular the conflict between the tribal council under the leadership of Richard Wilson and the militants (comprising both traditionalists and young activists) had led to considerable violence. Wilson was accused of using the tribal police force to suppress and intimidate opposition to the nepotism and corruption involved in the distribution of BIA funds, tribal assets, and jobs. As one inhabitant remarked, “Jobs are so scarce that a janitorial job becomes a political appointment.” Certainly the large amounts being spent by the government did not seem to be improving the lot of the most deprived. According to Edgar Cahn, “At the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, the second largest in the nation, $8,040 a year is spent per family to help the Oglala Sioux Indians out of poverty. Yet median income among these Indians is $1,910 per family.” In addition, the one resource the Indians did have, the land, was often leased to white farmers or business interests at low rates, meaning that any profits to be made rarely accrued to the Indians.
This unhappy and long-persisting situation came to a head when floods brought more extreme hardship and tribal authorities overreacted to militants who tried to highlight the problems on the reservation. The occupation was accompanied by demands for investigation of the BIA and its support for Wilson, and for more direct recognition of the traditional Oglala Sioux, who constituted most of the population of Wounded Knee and who as traditionalists wished to see a suspension of the tribal constitution so that they could govern themselves. AIM’s willingness to risk violence was partly a reaction to the constantly high level of violence on Pine Ridge, and partly a consistent development of AIM’s tactics. About 300 Indians were eventually involved in the armed occupation. Two were killed, and two others were wounded, as was one federal marshal. In the end thirty Indians were charged with serious offences. The event left its marks on the reservation in terms of unresolved enmities, adding to an already embittered atmosphere, and it also helped to define for the more revolutionary elements in AIM the terms of its rhetoric. Figures like Dennis Banks and Russell Means gained a great deal of publicity through their trials and their charges of police misconduct, but the almost constant charges and trials have tied up the energies of many leading members of AIM.
Clearly the activities of AIM have much in common with the pattern of black activism—even including the movement from peaceful protest, aimed at the conscience of liberals and appealing to the principles of justice, to armed confrontation to demonstrate and challenge the repressiveness of the white establishment. In 1974 Akwesasne Notes, the most important Indian newspaper to support AIM, published an article by Stokely Carmichael setting both Indian and black movements in a context of liberation struggles in the third world. Throughout the seventies this sort of comparison reappeared, with extensive features in the same newspaper on the destruction of native peoples and cultures in South America, Australia, and even an article in support of Iran’s revolution against American imperialism. In addition, Indian groups conscious of their energy resources, and the political power that may involve, have approached OPEC for help and advice, an act denounced as unpatriotic by some white politicians.
It would be wrong, though, to interpret these actions as representing any growth of solidarity with other minority groups amongst Indians in general. Indians continue to stress their uniqueness, and mistrust analyses which stress the economic similarities of groups rather than traditional cultural differences. Identification with other groups is most likely to occur in future among urban Indians, who are not benefitting from special status. The cuts in urban and other special aid programmes by the Reagan administration will hit urban Indians and groups like the Chicanos (i.e., Mexican Americans) equally, and it is perhaps here that common ground will be found in future.
5. The Cult and Culture of Native Americans
White response to the growth of Indian political activism has often been curiously sympathetic in recent years. While whites directly involved in land or fishing disputes, or living in towns near reservations, are often hostile, the general public takes a different view. Even the Pine Ridge occupation in 1973 did not produce the public hostility which might have been expected—and would certainly have followed similar action by black militants. According to the New York Times, “51 % of those questioned supported the Independent Oglala Nation at Wounded Knee.” The breakdown of this figure is revealing. “Most sympathetic to the cause are persons in the East, those who live in the suburbs, young people under thirty, the college-educated, blacks, people with incomes of over $15,000, union members, independent voters, and Catholics.” The overall pattern whereby sympathy increases in proportion to distance from the actual Indians has been well-established since the nineteenth century, but the sympathy of young people in the poll reveals a new element, namely the taking up of the Indian by what came to be called the counterculture. In part this was the radical chic which espoused and lumped together all anti-establishment activities as liberatory, but in addition it represented the use of the Indian as a model of the primitive—again!
This particular version of the noble savage had all the basic ingredients—simple but profound religious sentiments, a life-style uncluttered by modern technology, and a corresponding closeness to nature. The idea of ecology enabled white society to see that the interrelatedness of all aspects of existence found in traditional Indian thought had direct political and economic implications which modern society, with its piecemeal exploitation of natural resources, had ignored at its peril. In its concern for spiritual rather than material values and its apparently different approach to what constituted objective reality, Indian traditional society seemed to offer a critique of modern America which was taken up with enthusiasm by individuals and movements concerned to expand their consciousness outside the limits imposed by Western rationalism. The idea of the tribe involves that of consensus and community sustained and held together by ritual and oral performance rather than by the printed word, and Marshal McLuhan’s view of the electronics revolution “re-tribalizing” society was seen as forecasting the return of the integrated and total vision that had been lost under rationalist and print-oriented Western society.
The attention paid to visions, dreams and other ‘irrational’ states of consciousness in Indian religions was attractive for the same reason. Carlos Castaneda’s best-selling accounts of his encounters with a Yacqui Indian sorcerer, beginning with The Teachings of Don Juan published in 1968 and continued in five subsequent volumes, present a highly intellectualized American graduate anthropologist, anxious for the sort of knowledge that can be recorded, verified and assessed, being confronted by experiences of knowledge and power outside the terms he has at his disposal. By a combination of mental disciplines and skills taught him by Don Juan and the controlled use of psychotropic plants, he is able to experience a “separate reality” where physical laws seem to be inoperative, where a coyote talks and men fly. The books record Castaneda’s attempts to find a way of making room for both realms of experience. In their concern to give full weight to the validity of the primitive view and in Castaneda’s own full participation in the experiences themselves, the books are a departure from the detached, even condescending tone of earlier anthropology. In the development of the characters of Don Juan and Castaneda, and the structuring of the cycle of books, Castaneda draws on techniques of fiction more than anthropology. This, together with some internal inconsistencies, has raised serious doubts about the veracity of the whole story, and these doubts have been increased by the evasiveness of Castaneda himself. True or not, he clearly said what a generation of students wanted to hear—that answers and alternatives to the impasse of logic and rationality reached in their own repressively rational society could be found within primitive cultures which had been previously despised.
At one level this general concern led to a commercial exploitation ranging from ‘Indian’ styles of dress to the publication and republication of a wide variety of materials by and about Indians. While some of this was spurious or grossly sentimental, some was important ethnography at last given a wide audience. Whether as initiators or followers of this trend, many modern American writers, and particularly poets, were certainly profoundly influenced by American Indian material. The use of Indian material was, of course, not new. Earlier in the century Hart Crane had used Pocahontas as a way of repossessing the Indian origins of America, and twentieth-century novelists such as Hemingway, John Barth, Thomas Bergen William Eastlake and Ken Kesey have used the Indian to represent values, both positive and negative. The recent poets are distinctive, though, in the degree to which they are influenced by Indian ideas and materials rather than just using them within a system of stereotypes. Perhaps the foremost example is Gary Snyder who, after writing a master’s thesis on Indian myths, has taken into his poetry both specific myths and a more general sense of ecological responsibility from Indian materials. Using Asian material too, he forecasts, and attempts to embody in his writing, the breaking up of industrial society and re-institution of values associated with primitive or archaic cultures. Ed Dorn has also incorporated Indian materials into his work, and perhaps with less sentimentality, ranging from an early account of his encounter with modern Indian life in The Shoshoneans to the terse poems of Recollections of La Gran Apacheria.
It is not, though, just a matter of using Indian subject-matter, translated into English and into pre-existent poetic forms. One of the most interesting and controversial developments has been the work done on ethnopoetics, where anthropology and poetry meet in the problematic area of translation. In trying to find appropriate forms to convey the full meaning of Indian materials, poets like Jerome Rothenberg and Dennis Tedlock have had to stretch our expectations of what poetry can be. In particular, in stressing the oral and performative aspects of Indian songs, chants and ceremonies, they have contributed to, and perhaps been aided by, a growing interest in performance in American poetry. What they have produced may sometimes run the risk of being artificial, abstracted and unacceptable to both cultures, but at its best it could perhaps reforge the links between ourselves and earlier, more varied forms of poetry. The concern to make ethnographical material relevant and accessible by ‘total translation’ is not just a taste for the exotic or antiquarian. In many cases it differs from earlier ‘salvage’ anthropology in being linked directly with a concern for the living traditions of Indian groups. The aim is to make available to Indians themselves, who may have lost the continuity of an oral tradition, the written records of that tradition. If there is an irony about re-constituting an oral tradition from written texts, it is only one of many in which modern Indians live, and these ironies are equally evident in the state, even the definition, of Indian arts.
For the traditional arts and crafts of Indians, there is a steady and well-defined commercial market. Navajo blankets and silver and turquoise jewellery, Pueblo pottery, and wood-carving from the Northwest, are recognized and accepted as authentic Indian work. This authenticity seems to be crucial. In some sense, one is buying, it seems, some authentic Indian ‘essence.’ But what about Indian artists and craftsmen working in different styles? What room is there for innovation outside the range of choices available within the traditional forms? The question is a complex one since it relates once again to the question of how much change can occur before a culture ceases to have recognizable continuity. It is made more difficult in many cases by the fact that ‘Indianness’ as recognized by whites is forced upon the Indians, since whites are the main buyers. This operates particularly at the lower end of the market. Whereas some Indian artists have achieved recognition by distinctive and individual adaptations of Indian themes and styles, at the mass-market level only the cliches of Indianness are required or produced. Through the important and developing area of tourism this can have serious repercussions on Indian communities. For some, tourism offers a substantial part of their income through the manufacture of souvenirs or the performance of dances, and the effect can be to offer a stereotyped and ultimately degrading image of themselves. They have been put in the position of having to act out an ahistorical role as reassurance that nothing has changed. In the words of an earlier Indian intellectual, Arthur C. Parker, who himself had to act out this role, they “have to play Indian to be Indian.” As a source of income it is a paradigm of the worst sort of Indian-white relationship. Indians receive money as long as they conform to reassuring white stereotypes of the primitive.
There must be room for both traditional forms and innovation in Indian societies and in their art, and Indian writers present a good example of the possibilities of innovation. Since most Indian languages are not regularly written down, and accurate and accessible conventions for doing so have not been developed, Indian writing is mostly in English, which in itself raises the question of whether fiction written by Indians has more in common with white traditions than with Indian. Clearly, in using the novel form, writers like N. Scott Momaday, James Welch and Darcy McNickle have taken over assumptions about character and plot together with the form, but in varying ways Indian writers have increasingly tried to find forms to express their particular vision. Leslie Silko, for instance, has tried to blend ritual and fiction, not only in the subject-matter but in the form of her book. In Ceremony the sickness and despair of the hero can finally be overcome only by ritual, but a ritual which has changed in response to the times, and the novel itself attempts to create this new form by using elements of traditional ritual interspersed with the modern narrative. Momaday’s House Made of Dawn is an ambitious attempt to set the cultural and psychological displacement of a young Indian in some historical and social context, and Momaday uses dislocations of narrative and time-sequence in an attempt to express the complex set of ‘times’ in which modern Indians live. James Welch’s accounts of young Indians’ lives are sharply observed, and he avoids falling into the Lawrentian rhetoric to which Momaday is prone when trying to represent a world-view different from the normal white one.
This is partly a stylistic problem inherited from a white tradition of fiction, where the attempts to represent a simple but noble and timeless world-view have been bedevilled by the use of a selfconsciously simple and noble style. This has been refuelled recently by the renewed popularity of the set-piece speeches of Indians of the past, which in most cases are not so much translations as versions written by whites in the style of eloquent simplicity they felt appropriate to noble savages. Vine Deloria has complained about the spate of books concentrating on the glories of the past and the appearance of a flood of anthologies with oratory such as ChiefJoseph’s surrender speech, and to judge from books and films, when the silent Redskin does speak, whites have insisted that he speak in ways they have predetermined. The stereotype of the silent Indian was cleverly exploited in Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and now, with literature and polemic being produced in English by Indians and with an increase in collaborative translations, perhaps the supposedly silent and stoic Indian can be heard in his own voice.
That voice may not have the ‘Indianness’ considered requisite by whites, but it does offer to Indians the possibilities of self-determination in its fullest sense: Indians in future may define themselves to themselves rather than be defined culturally by stereotypes, and economically and politically by paternalistic administrations. Whereas whites have tended to define Indians by specific attributes and behaviour, research into groups of Indians at apparently very different degrees of acculturation has shown that the sense of being Indian, and of identifying with a continuous culture, can be just as strong amongst those with fewer of the traits that whites identify as Indian. Identity and group-identity may thus be formed from within rather than identified from outside. The various ways of being Indian should not have to include living up—or down—to white stereotypes, and must rest on their ability to maintain or develop independently their economic, social and cultural resources.
6. Epilogue: Tribalism and the Future
Indians are unique in being the only group specifically identified in the Constitution, and this has meant that they have been regarded not as a racial or ethnic group like others, but as a distinct political entity or series of entities. Each tribe has historically a specific relationship to the federal government, and all efforts to obliterate that relationship have been resisted. Now that unilateral termination seems to have been discontinued as a possible course of action, the most urgent task is to define how Indian communities, whether on or off reservations, can best overcome the effects of years of maladministration from outside. “The contemporary problem,” says Deloria, “is one of defining the meaning of tribe. Is it a traditionally-organized band of Indians following customs with medicine-men and chiefs dominating the policies of the tribe, or is it a modern corporate structure attempting to compromise at least in part with modern white culture?” The definition of tribe has also been a relevant issue in recent legal disputes. The argument in the case of the Mashpee Wampanoag Indians’ claim for land on Cape Cod in 1977-78 revolved around whether they were a tribe at key points in their history. They were required to produce a chief and medicine man, as well as expert witnesses about their past. Clearly some fuller definition than this must be found, especially for smaller or less traditional groups, a definition which offers the possibility of a new relationship with white society and government.
Underlying most of the arguments about tribal identity is the fundamental claim to sovereignty, and it is the continued sovereignty of Indian tribes which has become linked with the honouring of the particular terms of treaties made in the past. In their important analysis of the status of Indian tribes Barsh and Henderson point to the dangers implicit in a 1978 Supreme Court opinion that “Indian tribes still possess those aspects of sovereignty not withdrawn by treaty or statute, or by implication as a necessary result of their dependent status.” The last phrase could justify almost anything. In particular it could be construed as making the right to independence consequent upon the present possession of it, thus justifying the withholding of sovereignty from those who have been made dependent by whatever means. Dependence, too, is now often seen in terms of incompetence. Writing in 1980 in the preface to a glossy and uncritical BIA publication outlining its activities, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs stressed self-determination but insisted that “the harsh reality is that you can only be self-determining if you have the abilities necessary to manage your resources.” Meanwhile, it is implied, the BIA must manage them on the Indians’ behalf. Perhaps the best answer to this was given by one of the most eminent jurists to be associated with Indian law, Felix Cohen. Talking specifically about the development of Indian self-determination, he said, “By self-government I mean that form of government in which decisions are made not by people who are wisest, or ablest, or closest to some throne in Washington or in Heaven, but rather by the people who are most directly affected by the decisions.”
Indians are beginning to play a greater role in initiating and administering schemes in which the role of the government is limited to funding rather than total administration. This change has been described as a move from the “administered community” to the “sustained enclave.” In the first system, since “the source of decision—making lies outside the community for whom the decisions are made . . . destructive stress is built into the system.” Under the second system communities would still be economically sustained, since most reservations are not economically self-supporting, but would be allowed to control for themselves the running of their community. Under present schemes this is happening to a limited extent. Increasingly, community schools incorporate traditional skills and languages into the normal American curriculum, hospitals utilize Indian medicine-men as well as white ones, and factories are run by the local community. The more complex and technical the undertaking, of course, the less easy it is for a community without expertise to retain real control, and this has led to some re-examination of the sort of technological development really required. An article in Akwesasne Notes in 1978 headed “Regaining Control Of Our Lives” argued that “Appropriate technology is ‘appropriate’ to Native people only if it returns to them control over their lives. What Native people need to develop are technologies appropriate to the exercise of sovereignty.“ Recent refusals to allow mineral resources on Indian land to be exploited, in spite of the promise of financial advantages, reflect this thinking.
The prevailing hostility to public spending on welfare—a hostility reaching a new pitch under President Reagan—has already put Indian communities in cities and on reservations on the defensive. While recent BIA statements have explicitly excluded the possibility of a new policy of termination, the federal government’s sights remain firmly fixed on the objective of ending the Indians’ economic dependency on the public purse. In addition, there are pressures at the state level to deprive Indians of traditional rights. Perhaps the strongest defence Indians can make is that the issues their status raises are not particular to them. After all, “the ideals of local self-government and political diversity” cherished by the Indians are of the utmost importance in all modern societies where local power and individual competence are increasingly being undermined by bureaucratic paternalism and centralized powers.
7. Guide to Further Reading
An important work of general reference is Francis Paul Prucha’s A Bibliographical Guide to the History of Indian-White Relations in the United States (Chicago and London: Chicago UP, 1977), though it is not, of course, confined to the twentieth century. On the ethnographic side a basic guide to materials is George P. Murdock and Timothy J. O’Leary, Ethnographic Bibliography of North America (New Haven, Conn.: Human Relations Area Files Press, 1975), although here again much of the material relates to Indian cultures of the past. Russell Thornton and Mary K. Grafmick, Sociology of American Indians: A Critical Bibliography (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1981) provides an up-to-date listing of the sociological material.
There are surprisingly few full-length general studies of modern Indians. Perhaps the most useful place to start is Murray L. Wax’s Indian Americans: Unity and Diversity (1977),33* which includes statistical appendices. John A. Price, Native Studies: American and Canadian Indians (1978),5* is curiously organized but full of useful information, an attempt to gather together the materials for Native Studies as opposed to Indian-White relations as part of American history. William A. Brophy and S.D. Aberle, The Indian: America’s Unfinished Business (Norman: Oklahoma UP, 1972), was a provocative report of the Commission on the Rights, Liberties and Responsibilities of the American Indian, reassessing the government’s role.
There are a number of good collections of essays. Howard M. Bahr, ed., Native Americans Today (1971),6* and Stuart Levine and Nancy O. Lurie, eds., The American Indian Today (Baltimore: Penguin, 1972), between them cover many diverse aspects of modern Indian life, and in 1957 the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences (Philadelphia, 1957), vol. 311, devoted a special issue to “American Indians and American Life,” edited by George E. Simpson and J. Milton Yinger. When it appears, Volume 2 of the Handbook of North American Indians (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, forthcoming) will be devoted to contemporary Indians and is bound to be an indispensable volume.
Most general studies of Indians have a—sometimes rather perfunctory—final section on modern Indians, for instance, Alvin M. Josephy, The Indian Heritage of America (New York: Knopf, 1971); Angie Debo, A History of the Indians of the United States (Norman: Oklahoma UP, 1971); Edward H. Spicer, A Short History of the Indians of the United States (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1969), which also includes a good collection of documents, some relating to the modern period. Roger L. Nichols and George R. Adams have edited a good collection of essays on The American Indian: Past and Present (Lexington, Mass.: Xerox College Publishing, 1971). Darcy McNickle’s rather misleadingly titled Native American Tribalism: Indian Survivals and Renewals (New York: Oxford UP, 1973) combines a brief history of the Indians with some excellent discussion of modern Indians.
Treatments of specific aspects of modern Indians and their relation to white society are proliferating. The role of the Bureau of Indian Affairs is dealt with critically in Sar A. Levitan and B. Hetrick, Big Brother’s Indian Programs With Reservations (New York: McGraw Hill, 1971), journalistically in Edgar S. Cahn, ed., Our Brother’s Keeper (1979),37* and with full statistical detail in Alan L. Sorkin’s Indians and Federal Aid (1971).26 The important, sometimes iniquitous, role of education and its relation to government policies is dealt with in Margaret Szasz, Education and the American Indian: The Road to Selfdetermination, 1928-1973 (Albuquerque: New Mexico UP, 1974), and the major issue of Indian land is covered in Wilcomb E. Washburn’s Red Man’s Land, White Man’s Law: A Study of the Past and Present Status of the American Indian (New York: Scribner, 1971), and more polemically in Kirke Kickingbird and Karen Ducheneaux, 100 Million Acres (New York: Macmillan, 1973). Russet L. Barsh and James Y. Henderson’s The Road: Indian Tribes and Political Liberty (1980) “ traces expertly the legal changes in Indian status and presents an important new conceptualization of the relation between tribes and the federal government.
Urban Indians, having been long neglected, are now getting academic, if not official, attention. Alan L. Sorkin, The Urban American Indian (1978)9 is ponderous but detailed. Jack O. Waddell and O.M. Watson, eds., The American Indian in Urban Society (Boston: Little, Brown, 1971), is a useful collection of lively essays. One of the most interesting accounts of urban Indians is Jeanne Guillemin’s Urban Renegades: The Cultural Strategy of American Indians (1975).a She deals with the experience of the small group of Micmac Indians in Boston, but her argument and analysis have a more general reference. This is true of some other fine studies of individual tribes or groups. Examples from a rich and varied field are James F. Downs, The Navajo (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1972); Ethel Nurge, ed., The Modern Sioux: Social Systems and Reservation Culture (Lincoln: Nebraska UP, 1970); Malcolm McFee, Modern Blackfeet: Montanans on a Reservation (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1972); Edmund Wilson, Apologies to the Iroquois (London: W.H. Allen, 1960); Karen I. Blu, The Lumbee Problem: The Making of an American Indian People (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1980); and Elizabeth S. Grobsmith, Lakota of the Rosebud: A Contemporary Ethnography (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1981).
Accounts of more recent political developments tend to be impressionistic and partisan, like Stan Steiner, The New Indians (New York: Harper & Row, 1968); Bruce Johansen and Roberto Maestas, Wasi’chu: The Continuing Indian Wars (New York and London: Monthly Review Press, 1979); William Meyer’s brief Native Americans: The New Indian Resistance (1971),11* and Robert Burnette and John Koster, The Road to Wounded Knee (1974).14* Vine Deloria’s Ouster Died For Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto (1970)4* and Behind the Trail of Broken Treaties: An Indian Declaration of Independence (1974)45* are hard-hitting, polemical accounts of a radical Indian’s position. The best place to trace Indian reactions to current events is through Indian newspapers. Akwesasne Notes includes material from many different tribes, often reprinting articles from smaller newspapers, and is a lively forum, largely for the more radical Indian groups. Some of the other important publications, like Navajo Times, are discussed in Price’s Native ,Studies (1978).5*
Indians’ own views, not just political, are further expressed in Shirley M. Witt and Stan Steiner, eds., The Way (New York: Knopf, 1972); Diane Niatum, ed., Carriers of the Dream Wheel: Contemporary Native American Poetry (New York: Harper & Row, 1975); Robert K. Dodge and Joseph B. McCullough, Voices From Wah-Kon-tah: Contemporary Poetry of Natiae Americans (New York: International Publishers, 1974); and John A. Milton, ed., The American Indian Speaks (Vermillion: South Dakota UP, 1969). Some important and imaginative explorations of what it is to be a modern Indian come in the form of fiction by Indians, for instance, N. Scott Momaday, House Made of Dawn (New York: Harper & Row, 1968); James Welch, Winter In the Blood (New York: Harper & Row, 1974); Leslie Silko, Ceremony (New York: New American Library, 1978); and Darcy McNickle, Wind From An Enemy Sky (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1978).
(*see Note for full reference)
- See, for instance Dee Brown’s best-selling Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971), which ends its passionate indictment of white treatment of Indians in the 1890s, with the Indians demoralized and apparently about to die out ignominiously after Wounded Knee. I have chosen here to retain the term ‘Indian’ rather than ‘Native American,’ which is sometimes preferred now. ‘Indian’ is a misnomer, but it is more widely understood and less clumsy than ‘Native American’—which is itself misleading, since it more usually refers to anyone born in America.
- See Henry F. Dobyns, “Estimating Aboriginal American Population: An Appraisal of Techniques with a New Hemispheric Estimate,” Current Anthropology, 7 (1966), 395-416; and Francis Jennings, The Invasion of America: Indians, Colonialism and the Cant of Conquest (Chapel Hill: North Carolina UP, 1975), pp. 15-31, for discussion of the political implications of earlier low estimates.
- Population figures are complicated by the problem of defining an Indian. Prior to 1960 figures were based on identification by census enumerators, on the evidence, sometimes, of mere appearance, but since then they have been based on self-identification, which has led to an increase in the numbers—itself interestingly reflecting perhaps a growing awareness and pride in being Indian. Even so, there is evidence to suggest that the figures may still be a substantial undercount: see U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, To Know or Not to Know: Collection and Use of Racial and Ethnic Data in Federal Assistance Programs (1973), p.31. To qualify for federal services designed for Indians, the terms ofdefinition are stricter, involving evidence of membership of a tribe or proof ofa substantial degree of Indian blood.
- The basic differences are that Canadian Indians were originally less violently deprived of their land, they maintained better trade relationships with whites for longer, and they now make up a much larger percentage of the population than their U.S. counterparts. Legally, though, their status has been potentially weaker than U.S. Indians’, since they have had fewer guaranteed rights, not being granted citizenship until 1960. Fuller comparisons are made in John A. Price, Native Studies: American and Canadian Indians (New York and Toronto: MeGrawHill Ryerson, 1978).
- Cf. Lee H. Bowker, “Red and Black in Contemporary American History Texts: A Content Analysis,” reprinted in Howard M. Bahr, et al., eds., Native Americans Today: Sociological Perspectives (New York: Harper Row, 171), and Virgil Vogel, “The Indian in American History Text-books,” Integrated Educuation, 6 (1968), 16-32.
- Joseph G. Jorgensen, “Indians and the Metropolis,” in The American Indian in Urban Society, ed. Jack O. Waddell and O. Michael Watson (Boston: Little, Brown, 1971), p. 79. For a more general assessment of the idea of the “culture of poverty,” see Charles A. Valentine, Culture and Poverty (Chicago UP, 1968) and Daniel P. Moynihan, ed., On Understanding Poaerty (New York: Basic Books, 1968).
- See Dennis Tedlock, ed., Teachings From the American Earth: Indian Religion and Philosophy (New York: Liveright, 1979); Ake Hultkranz, The Religions of the American Indians (Berkeley: California UP, 1979); and Ruth F. Benedict, The Concept of the Guardian Spirit in North America (repr. ed., New York: Kraus, 1974), originally published in Memoirs of the American Anthropological Association, 29 (1923 ).
- Bryan Wilson, Magic and the Millenium: A Sociological Study of Religious Movements of Protest Among Tribal and Third-World Peoples (London: Heinemann, 1973), p. 417. Peyote was not the only means of adjustment to modern conditions. Amongst the Ute and Shoshone, for instance, a form of the Sun Dance replaced the Ghost Dance, and still retains more adherents than the Peyote religion. Joseph G. Jorgensen’s The Sun Dance Religion: Power For the Powerless (Chicago UP, 1972) demonstrates impressively the relation of such redemptive religions to the deprivation and neo-colonial status of modern Indians.
- The proposal, with the government response, is reprinted in full in Trail of Broken Treaties: BIA, I’m Not Your Indian Any More (New York: Akwesasne Notes, 1974). Vine Deloria’s Behind the Trail of Broken Treaties: An Indian Declaration oflndefiendence (New York: Delacorte, 1974) gives the background, while Burnette and Koster’s The Road to Wounded Knee includes a first-hand account of events.
- There seems to be something of a tradition of fake Indians, from Grey Owl, who created a sensation in England in the 1930s on inspirational speaking tours but turned out to be from a middle-class family in Hastings, to Chief Red Fox’s spurious memoirs and the show-biz “Indian princess” sent by Marlon Brando to receive his Oscar.
- Keith Basso’s Portraits of “The Whiteman” (Cambridge UP, 1979) is an interesting example, since it gives the view from the other side of the anthropological encounter. Long overdue attention is given to the anthropologists’ Indian informants, many of whom were important cultural and political figures within their own tribes, in Margot Liberty, ed., American Indian Intellectuals (St. Paul: West Publishing, 1978).