"Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself" (attributed to Chief Seattle). A related theme is the Lakota principle: "All things are sacred"; "All things are alive." This Native American approach helps to unify the disparate voices, to help students find the harmony and polyphonic patterns in the myriad voices studied.
The text The American Indian and the Problem of History presents a broad overview of the changing images of Native Americans in American culture and consciousness. The analysis includes the dialogue over Civilization vs. Barbarism begun by Bartolome de las Casas in the 16th century.
Las Casas debated against Juan Gines de Sepulveda, who used Aristotle's doctrine of natural slavery to justify the conquistadors' treatment of the Indians. According to Aristotle, some people are naturally inferior and can therefore be properly enslaved by others. Las Casas pointed to the remarkable achievements of the Indians and their aptitude for the Christian faith. The debate on Civilization vs. Barbarism continued for centuries (Pearce).
A related theme is the historical overview of the changing images of "Indians," all of them stereotypes:
In American Indian Holocaust and Survival: A Population History Since 1492 Professor Russell Thornton (Cherokee) emphasizes historiography, contrasting the authentic voice with detached analysis. His discussion centers on statistical analysis and demography: the ways in which population history affected the native peoples. Themes include depopulation, repopulation and revitalization. As a member of the Smithsonian Institution's Repatriation Committee he has first-hand knowledge of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act and the cultural revitalization that has resulted from it.
Through discussion of Richard Drinnon's text, Facing West: The Metaphysics of Indian-Hating and Empire-Building we can analyze the white American's need to compare himself with Indians. A major western European intellectual and imaginative tradition was that of primitivism: the belief that other, simpler societies were somehow happier than one's own. Believing thus, one would be concerned to search for and find such a society and the men who lived in it; that is to say, one would be concerned to find noble savages. The debate between Civilization and Barbarism thus continues throughout the seminar's historiographical readings.
Discussion of William Cronon's text, Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England, provides material for analysis of Native American attitudes toward the land. Often mythologized as the "first environmentalists," indigenous peoples have a complex view of the environment.
The Indian voices of the past are not all lost. "A few authentic accounts of American western history were recorded by Indians either in pictographs or in translated English, and some managed to get published in obscure journals, pamphlets, or books of small circulation. In the late 19th century, when the white man's curiosity about Indian survivors of the wars reached a high point, enterprising newspaper reports frequently interviewed warriors and chiefs and gave them an opportunity to express their opinions on what was happening in the West. The quality of these interviews varied greatly, depending upon the abilities of the interpreters or upon the inclination of the Indians to speak freely. Some feared reprisals for telling the truth, while others delighted in hoaxing reporters with tall tales and shaggy dog stories. Contemporary newspaper statements by Indians must therefore be read with skepticism, although some are masterpieces of irony, and others burn with outbursts of poetic fury.
Among the richest sources of first-person statements by Indians are the records of treaty councils and other formal meetings with civilian and military representatives of the United States government. Interpreters quite often were half-bloods who knew spoken languages but seldom could read or write. Like most oral peoples they and the Indians depended upon imagery to express their thoughts, so that the English translations were filled with graphic similes and metaphors of the natural world. Although the Indians who lived through this doom period of their civilization have vanished from the earth, millions of their words are preserved in official records." (Brown xvi-xvii)
|Voices and Dreams Home Page||Saddleback College Home Page|