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Romanticizing American Indians. The Ecological Indian...... a Romantic Myth.

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Presentation on theme: "Romanticizing American Indians. The Ecological Indian...... a Romantic Myth."— Presentation transcript:

1 Romanticizing American Indians

2 The Ecological Indian...... a Romantic Myth

3 Books by Vine Deloria

4 This is the Sioux (not the Indian) version of U.S. history.

5 The Belief in the Unique Spirituality of American Indians

6 Cashing in on American Indians

7 Indian “Ten Commandments”



10 American Indian vs. Native American You notice that I use the term American Indian or Amerindian rather than Native American when referring to my people. There has been some controversy about such terms.... Primarily it seems that American Indian is being rejected as European in origin--which is true. But all of the above terms are European in origin: the only non- European way is to speak of Lakota--or, more precisely, of Oglala, Brule, etc. … ---Russell Means. "For the World to Live, 'Europe‘ Must Die." Mother Jones (December 1980, p.25 ff).

11 Vine Deloria, an Oglala Sioux, claims that Whites, not Indians, initiated scalping.

12 Evidence for Indian vs. White Origin of Scalping: 1. Early European descriptions of Indian scalping. 2. Early paintings depicting Indians with scalplocks. 3. Number of Indian vs. European words used to describe scalping. 4. No evidence of scalping in Europe. 5. Much Pre-Columbian evidence of scalping in North America.

13 Chief Seattle’s Speech

14 Chief Seattle Quotes... “I have seen a thousand rotting buffaloes on the prairie left by the white man who shot them from a passing train,” “What is there to life if a man cannot hear the lovely cry of a whippoorwill?” “Yonder sky that had wept tears of compassion upon our fathers for centuries untold...” “This we know: the earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. 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.”

15 The United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel The Woman’s Day World of Prayer Passages (Northwest Airline’s in-flight magazine), Environmental Action Greenpeace The Sierra Club Canada’s Green Plan NASA’s Mission to Planet Earth Joseph Campbell in his book, The Power of Myth, with Bill Moyers and in his videoseries, Transformation of Myth through Time. Chief Seattle’s Speech has been quoted by a variety of groups, including:

16 Susan Jeffers chose a Plains Indian people (Lakota) to illustrate her book, Brother Eagle, Sister Sky, which contains the text of a speech attributed to Chief Seattle.

17 The cover of Jeffers’ book portrayed Chief Seattle wearing a Plain’s Indian headdress, even though Chief Seattle was not Lakota but rather a Suguamish Indian from the Northwest Coast.

18 “To all of the Native American people, every creature and part of the earth was sacred; it was their belief that to waste or destroy nature and its wonders is to destroy life itself.” --Susan Jeffers (1991) In her book, Jeffers perpetuates popular notions about Plains Indian ecology:

19 The Myth vs. the Reality

20 It is especially books by and about Plains Indians that sell the most widely and that have captured the imagination of people interested in Native American Life.

21 The “Bible” of the Indians?

22 Black Elk denounced Black Elk Speaks just two years after it was published, but it has sold in the millions and been used in many colleges to represent his philosophy and way of life.

23 "My people, the Blackfeet Indians, have always had a sense of reverence for nature that made them want to move through the world carefully, leaving as little mark behind them as possible." --Jamake Highwater (1983) Many Native Americans have promoted the romantic Indian myth as well:

24 Charlotte Black Elk, granddaughter of Nick Black Elk, is also a strong promoter of the Romantic Indian myth.”

25 "Hunting was not a war upon animals, not a slaughter for food or profit, but a holy occupation.“ --Frank G. Speck (1939) Some Scholars have even romanticized Native American Ecology: "Indians … lived here for twenty, thirty, forty thousand years. Everywhere they went, they learned to live with nature. … And they did this without destroying, without polluting, without using up the living resources of the natural world.” --Donald Hughes (1983)

26 Evidence to the Contrary However, ample evidence exists which demonstrates that American Indians, including the Plains Indians, exploited their environments to suit their needs and at times treated those environments badly.

27 1. Indians used fire to create clearings for their villages and fields. 2. They used fire to drive or enclose game. 3. They used fire to reduce forests in order to expand grazing lands for bison. 4. They set fire to forests in order to improve traveling and visibility, and to destroy unwanted pests. Plains Indian Use of Fire:

28 Principal reasons why Indians set fire to the plains: 1.Improve vegetation 2. Clear an area 3. Facilitate hunting 4. Ceremonial activities 5. Interpersonal relations 6. Interethnic and intra-ethnic relations --60% a. Communication b. Warfare c. Increase exchange rates in fur trade

29 "The prairies burning form some of the most beautiful scenes that are witnessed in this country, and also the most sublime.“ --George Catlin (1830's) Fires are made by war parties, particularly when returning unsuccessful, or after a defeat, to prevent their enemies from tracing their steps.“ --(Bradbury 1809) "Cree set the prairie on fire … to drive Assiniboine from Cree hunting grounds and force them back into their own former territory.“ --Rudolph Kurtz (1851 ) Early Observations of Fire on the Plains:

30 The Buffalo Drive

31 Reports of waste by Indians: "The Osage leave one hundred to one hundred and fifty pounds of excellent meat on every carcass." --Victor Tixier (1839-40) A large band of Sioux killed 1,400 buffalo and traded the tongues for whiskey, leaving the meat and hides to rot. --George Catlin (1832)

32 Reported Buffalo Kills by Indians: 1821:700 Cheyenne lodges were reported to be consuming 100 bison per day or 36,500 per year. 1830:25-30,000 buffalo robes exported per year from the Missouri River region by the American Fur Company 1846: 100,000 buffalo robes traded annually at Bent’s Fort in Colorado. 1847:75,000 buffalo robes sold at Upper Missouri Agency. 1855:3,150 Cheyenne were killing 40,000 bison per year (44 per man) at Bent’s second Arkansas River Fort.

33 Decline in Bison Population Bison YearPopulation 1800 40,000,000 1850 20,000,000 1865 15,000,000 -- ----- 1870 14,000,000 1880 395,000 1889 1,091 Whites did not begin hunting bison in large numbers until 1870.


35 "While the herds were falling in the thousands before White men's guns, it is not surprising that some Indians abandoned older practices of conservation and killed as many buffalo as they wanted, disregarding their elders' pleas and admonitions, since they could see that if they did not do so, the White men would shoot them anyway.“ --Donald Hughes, 1983 ___________________________________ Rationalizations: Does this statement agree with the table on the previous slide?

36 Such Rationalizations: 1.Give different explanations for the same behavior (Occam’s Razor) 2.Treat Native Americans Paternalistically 3.Assign “blame” to adaptive and evolutionary processes 4.Violate the Uniformitarian Principle

37 General George Armstrong Custer The Battle of the Little Big Horn was in Crow Territory. Custer was helping the Crow repel the advancing Sioux from their land. Nearly 30 Crow Indians served with the Seventh Cavalry.

38 Sioux Plains Indian Alliances: Blackfoot Assiniboine- Cree Mandan-Hidatsa Sioux

39 X Native Americans cannot be an exception to the Uniformitarian Principle.

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