Monday, December 04, 2006

American Indian History Survey Course Texts: Part I

Well, I don't have a whole lot of time to write, but I've been wanting to comment for a while now on general histories of Native Americans.

When you go to a bookstore next, if it's a bookstore carrying books worth reading in general (hopefully I don't have to explain what "worth reading" means), look for the section on Native Americans, if there is one. Some stores try to sneak them all into the Anthropology section or, worse, break up the whole collection by filing their titles under other categories.

The Native American section should have, more or less, 4 basic sub-sections:

1. General books on Native Americans: historical surveys, coffee table books, picture books, chronologies, sweeping summaries, and the like.

2. Literature: myths, legends, stories, autobiographies, biographies, etc.

3. Academic books: dissertations, studies of particular tribes or customs, tomes on Indian customs and beliefs, and others.

4. Sappy crap. This is the most diverse and, sadly, interesting category. It includes New Age drivel on Native "spirituality" (in these books, it is sometimes indistinguishable from hippie Hindooism). Also, there are the radical university favorites--pathetic white hand-wringing works lamenting the losses of the Vanishing American and angry Indian authors' anti-white, anti-American diatribes.

It's important to note that each category, even no. 4, has its own qualities and uses. They are all important for getting a grip on the last 1,000 years of interraction between Natives and non-Natives around the world. (For purposes of this blog, I'm dealing with Europeans and their descendants. The first interraction between Europeans and Native North Americans took place over 1,000 years ago, when Basque fishermen and Viking settlers and Orthodox missionaries first met indigenous inhabitants of modern Greenland and Northeastern Canada. The Basques were fishing to supplement the Western Orthodox population's Lenten diet and the Vikings, under Leif Erikson, were sent under King St. Olaf of Norway as part of the first Orthodox mission to America. The mission resulted in one martyrdom, that of a priest named Jon.)

I've chosen to highlight two books which serve as, I think, good basic general historical introductions. Each has, of course, its own strengths and weaknesses.

A History of the Indians of the United States, by Angie Debo.

Debo has a Ph.D. in history from the University of Oklahoma. Her book has a good overview of American Indian history. The book only goes to 1980, so it's incomplete. It's also somewhat dated as far as referring to indigenous societies as "primitive." However, Debo is able to look at things more or less objectively. One problem I have with the book is that she doesn't do footnotes. It's a shame. I'd like to know where she gets her horribly inaccurate information about the Russians in Alaska. She makes them into total barbarians, as have other 19th and early 20th century American historians and pseudo-historians. Aside from this, I thought she did a good, if sweeping, overview. I learned a lot more about the Dawes Act and Termination. She also shows some sensitivity to white America's cultural imperialism viz-a-viz Native America.

The Earth Shall Weep: A History of Native America, by James Wilson.

Mr. Wilson, from what I can tell, has no Ph.D. in history. Nor does he do footnotes either. I remeber when I read this book about two years ago, I was so angry. It read like a tale of ceaseless martyrdom. (Debo's book tends to be the same way, although she does write a bit about good things that have happened in Indian Country--in the broader-than-just-Oklahoma-sense.) His account of post-Wounded Knee history was rather confusing. What stands out is his glowing account of Collier's reforms.

Both books, however, claim to give a straight history, citing statistics and facts. This is misleading. "Fools Crow," which I'm reading now, gives a more rounded account. First of all, Fools Crow was more or less an eyewitness and a real American Indian. His thoughts on the Dawes Act are actually more positive than his thoughts on Collier. He also had a lot of nice things to say about generous white settlers living amongst the Sioux. I thought THAT was very intersting. If I were ever to teach a class on Native American history, I would assign the general histories as texts, but also the actual accounts of eye-witnesses. The voice of Native witnesses shouldn't be terminated. In many cases, these folks' accounts give far more accurate information than the accounts of historians, white or Native.

Friday, December 01, 2006


I don't have the privilege, as far as I can tell, to actually be descended from Native Americans, but I have enjoyed learning about them since I was in grade school. We started to learn Native history in some detail in fourth grade when we studied Wisconsin history and Wisconsin natives. I can remember feeling very angry at the injustice of the Black Hawk War and at the suffering of so many Native peoples just so Euro-American settlers could move in.

So, today, part of my research is directed at demythologizing history--trying to uncover Native American history from their point of view, a task which I'm not that qualified for at the moment because all my knowledge comes from books. Some day, God-willing, I will be able to meet and learn from living Native Americans.

Since I am a graduate student, trying to study Native American history, I thought this text was appropriate:

"On June 17, 1744, the commissioners from Maryland and Virginia negotiated a treaty with the Indians of the Six Nations at Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The Indians were invited to send boys to William and Mary College. The next day they declined the offer as follows.

"We know that you highly esteem the kind of learning taught in those Colleges, and that the Maintenance of our young Men, while with you, would be very expensive to you. We are convinced, that you mean to do us Good by your Proposal; and we thank you heartily. But you, who are wise must know that different Nations have different Conceptions of things and you will therefore not take it amiss, if our Ideas of this kind of Education happen not to be the same as yours. We have had some Experience of it. Several of our young People were formerly brought up at the Colleges of the Northern Provinces: they were instructed in all your Sciences; but, when they came back to us, they were bad Runners, ignorant of every means of living in the woods...neither fit for Hunters, Warriors, nor Counsellors, they were totally good for nothing.

"We are, however, not the less oblig'd by your kind Offer, tho' we decline accepting it; and, to show our grateful Sense of it, if the Gentlemen of Virginia will send us a Dozen of their Sons, we will take Care for their Education, instruct them in all we know, and make Men of them."

--from "Touch the Earth: A Self-Portrait of Indian Experience," by T. C. McLuhan

I thought this text was very interesting. It shows how there is more than just one form of education, and that a person needs to have an education that fits his or her environment. Superfluous education doesn't make a functioning member of society.

I thought it was also interesting how the Six Nations reciprocated the offer and used rather cleverly polite language. Also, the Six Nations did not view white education as enough to turn their boys into men (warriors, hunters, counsellors), but, they believed that their Native education was able to make men out of white boys and, presumably, allow them to function as men in white society. The Six Nations saw themselves on equal terms with the whites in reciprocal relations, and perhaps as being superior to whites as far as what they could offer through education.

Living in a tipi and Enlightenment

I wrote the following on my Xanga blog on October 29 of last year. I thought that, since I now have a blog dedicated to Indigenous Nations, it would be a good post.


We have mice in our house. I can hear them chewing on something and it's really annoying me. I thought I saw a mousetrap around somewhere, but when I looked again, it was gone. I think THEY moved it. This house isn't perfect. There's more that needs to be worked on than doesn't. Thus it seems that this meditation on Indian living spaces is worth citing.

Western white man expects to live in a sterile environment with as little interaction with other non-human (or even other humans!) creatures as possible. That's why we have exterminators, fences, hedges, and the like. That's why we get creeped out by bugs and don't have relationships with our neighbors.

If we lived in tipis, our lives would be much different. I daresay tipi living would work to counteract the general malaise that sets in for modern home or apartment dwellers. For one, you're always with your neighbors. Repairs are easy and inexpensive. If critters bother you, you can move away from them, rather than arranging for them to move away from you, which is harder.

"Chief Flying Hawk, a Sioux Indian of the Oglala clan, was a nephew of Sitting Bull; his full brother was Kicking Bear, who had been a leader of the ghost dances. Flying Hawk was born 'about full moon of March 1852,' a few miles south of Rapid City. As a youth he took part in tribal wars with the Crows and the Piegans and at the age of 24 had fought alongside the great Chief Crazy Horse when Custer's command was wiped out on the Little Bighorn in 1876. He bacame a chief at the age of 32. Later Flying Hawk joined Buffalo Bill's Show, Colonel Miller's 101 Ranch Show and the Sells-Floto Circus, and travelled throughout the country with each of them. He died at Pine Ridge, South Dakota, in 1931. In his old age, he said:

"The tipi is much better to live in; always clean, warm in winter, cool in summer; easy to move. The white man builds big house, cost much money, like big cage, shut out sun, can never move; always sick. Indians and animals know better how to live than white man; nobody can be in good health if he does not have all the time fresh air, sunshine and good water. If the Great Spirit wanted men to stay in one place He would make the world stand still; but He make it to always change, so birds and animals can move and always have green grass and ripe berries, sunlight to work and play, and night to sleep; summer for flowers to bloom, and winter for them to sleep; always changing; everything for good; nothing for nothing.

"The white man does not obey the Great Spirit; that is why the Indians never could agree with him."

--from "Touch the Earth: A Self-Portrait of Indian Experience," by T. C. McLuhan


Of course, Chief Flying Hawk speaks of much more than just living arangements. He is challenging the whole worldview of the white man, even the so-called "Christian" white man.

One of the big problems I have with referring to Christian mission work as "enlightenment" is that real mission work should be a two-way street. Missionary work is not teaching, but mutual edification. And if the missionary receives more than the "heathen," there's no problem. Every pre-Christian culture has knowledge of God. Some know quite a lot and have preserved this knowledge well. In our post-Christian era, however, we've already forgotten what we've learned from the Gospel. The message many so-called "Christians" proclaim is warped and poisoned by false doctrines and human passions and sins. This is one reason, I think, that many modern people have found the truths of pre-Christian spirituality appealing.

Now our task is to put together these "Old Testament" revelations of God together with the New, so that people can have the whole message of revealed truth. This is a very difficult task, it seems. Anyone have any ideas?

The Cornerstone of Character

Dr. Charles Eastman, Ohiyesa

"Ohiyesa, the celebrated writer, looks back over the past.

As a child I understood how to give; I have forgotten this grace since I became civilized. I lived the natural life, whereas I now live the artificial. Any pretty pebble was valuable to me then; every growing tree an object of reverence. Now I worship with the white man before a painted landscape whose value is estimated in dollars! Thus the Indian is reconstructed, as the natural rocks are ground to powder and made into artificial blocks which may be built into the walls of modern society.

The first American mingled with his pride a singular humility. Spiritual arrogance was foreign to his nature and teaching. He never claimed that the power of articulate speech was proof of superiority over the dumb creation; on the other hand, it is to him a perilous gift. He believes profoundly in silence–the sign of a perfect equilibrium. Silence is the absolute poise or balance of body, mind and spirit. The man who preserves his selfhood is ever calm and unshaken by the storms of existence–not a leaf, as it were, astir on the tree; not a ripple upon the surface of the shining pool–his, in the mind of the unlettered sage, is the ideal attitude and conduct of life.

If you ask him: ‘What is silence?’ he will answer: ‘It is the Great Mystery!’ ‘The holy silence is His voice!’ If you ask: ‘What are the fruits of silence?’ he will say: ‘They are self-control, true courage or endurance, patience, dignity, and reverence. Silence is the cornerstone of character.’"

--from "Touch the Earth: A Self-Portrait of Indian Experience," by T. C. McLuhan

"Silence is the language of the future age." -- St. Isaac the Syrian (+7th century)

On Instructing the Youth

"The elders used to counsel those who were behaving negatively. They would confront the person and bluntly tell him of his shortcomings.

"Nowadays if you talk to a young person that way, his self-esteem will plunge down. Back then the elders didn't expect young folks to pity themselves when they reproached them. They spoke to them openly about their faults. They'd say, 'You pitiful one. How sorrowful it is to see you behave in such a way. You have brought this condition on yourself by not adhering to your elder's teachings, and you will remain in this pathetic state in your brief existence on earth.'

"After several attempts to instruct the young one the elder might say, 'Keggutma tang akuliitgun anqatalriaten [You are about to slip out between my teeth].' The young one remained inside the elder's mouth as long as he continued to receive the instruction offered to him. Since he considered the young one to be inside his mouth, he'd say that he was about to slip out through his teeth if he ignored the instructions..."

"We should not leave leave these young people alone. They will think behaving that way is normal. They are living their lives today with no one to guide and admonish them. Some improve their behavior when we give them advice. That development will be a big help to the villages, not to take them away to Kass'aq [White man] jails where they will not instruct them. They will only be changed here through constant encouragement. It is as if these people are going hungry because they do not have anyone to discipline and instruct them. They are not aware of this sort of disciplinary method."

--Words of two Yup'ik Elders, quoted from "Wise Words of the Yup'ik People," by Ann Fienup-Riordan

Welcome to "Real People"

Welcome to my new blog, dedicated to Indigenous Nations and Christian missionaries, not necessarily always put together--I mean, there will be posts on Indigenous Nations (Native Americans, Native Siberians, Africans, etc.) and posts on missionaries (Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglican and others), as well as some posts on Native and Euro-American missionaries working amongst indigenous populations. I'll be covering history, current events, and thoughts about the future of Indigenous Nations, missionaries, and missions to indigenous peoples.

"Real People" is what the Yupiit (singular is Yup'ik) Eskimos of Alaska call themselves. While other Native American and Native Alaskan nations often refer to themselves as "the people," when the name is translated into English, the Yupiit Eskimos wanted to distinguish themselves from all the others and thus called themselves the "real" people.

This site is dedicated to indigenous peoples, who have faced manifold sorrows for centuries with tenacity and fortitude, and to Christian missionaries who have carried the Gospel to the ends of the earth with equal virtue and love. Of course, these are just people. The real people are the ones of remarkable life--the Natives whose lives are exemplary for all human beings and the missionaries who gave of themselves for their flocks, not seeking power or glory for themselves, but desiring only the good of their neighbors and the glory of God.

This site is also dedicated to exposing evils perpetrated against Indigenous Nations, both by missionaries and Europeans, Canadians, Americans, and others. It should be noted, however, that there is no hard and fast line between innocent and guilty amongst those non-Natives who have had dealings with Natives. History is an open book, constantly being edited and re-edited. Therefore, even though some individuals might make it into a "Hall of Shame" for their misdeeds, such classifications are not necessarily absolute judgements, although some crimes like murder and theft are always evil. (Laws and policies, on the other hand, together with public opinion, have much more nebulous moral classifications.) The opinion of indigenous peoples themselves toward individuals or groups is also not necessarily unanimous.

While many stories of the history of Native and non-Native interractions are often depressing and anger-inducing, it would be neither fair nor profitable to launch invective against historical or contemporary figures. Given historical hindsight, however, one may be totally justified in outright condemning or praising a particular policy, program, method, etc., but this justification has a weakness due to the fact that the historical record has many missing and hidden parts. A policy which destroyed one Indigenous Nation may have saved another.

In the Native world, it seems as if everything is in a state of flux. What seems good today could be bad tomorrow. Also, it is important to note that, since indigenous peoples are small and underrepresented minorities in the Western world at least, laws and policies of governments and organizations often unintentionally affect them negatively.

This is true in large part due to the fact that, historically, governmental and organizational Native policy has been arbitrary. Natives themselves have only recently been allowed to take part in making the policies which affect them.

Even though indigenous peoples have not been allowed to make policy decisions by the dominant culture for many centuries, this prohibition has not kept them from acting independently and defending themselves from cultural annihilation and state-sanctioned genocide. Through passive and active resistance, Native peoples have been able to survive being swallowed up into a society which has not acknowledged their rights to property, to political and economic independence, to cultural expression, and even to existence.

Christian missionaries, of both European (American, Canadian, Australian, etc.) and Native extraction, have played significant roles in the drama of cultural contact and coexistence. Many, it is true, did more harm than good to Natives. Others were martyred by Natives. Still others defended Natives from abuse and even helped the Natives develop their own culture and polity, aiding their self-realization and working towards greater independence from the dominant culture.

So, since this site is dedicated to Indigenous Nations and missionaries, it has a Patron Saint who is both a Native Alaskan (Creole) and an Orthodox Christian missionary. Ask a blessing from...

St. Iakov (James, Jacob) Netsvetov of Alaska

This site is under the patronage of St. Jacob Nestvetov, first Native Alaskan Orthodox priest to serve in Alaska. (The very first Native Alaskan Orthodox priest actually served in Siberia, about 50 years before St. Jacob's time.) St. Jacob was the son of a Russian father and Aleut mother. He grew up on the Western Aleutian Island of Atka and became that island's first priest. Later in life, instead of going into retirement, St. Jacob was sent as the first Christian missionary to the Yupiit Eskimos on the Yukon River delta. There, he learned a new language and served liturgies in outdoor tents in the dead of winter because there were no permanent churches in the area at that time. Once, the wine in the chalice even froze! Though he was many times so ill that he could not get out of bed, St. Jacob continued to preach the word of God to the people, even as he himself carried out the necessary subsistence activites vital for survival. He spent hours hearing confessions, preaching sermons, and traveling many miles through wilderness expanses. He shared his spiritual and material substance with all those in need, delivering a woman from demonic delusion and sharing his food with those who had none. He reposed peacefully at Stika in 1865, after enduring many sorrows in his last years. For his holy life and missionary zeal, St. Jacob was glorified as a saint by the Orthodox Church. His main feast is celebrated on July 26, while his glorification is commemorated on October 16.

I hope that everyone who visits this blog will find its offerings edifying. If you have something edifying to share--a comment, a correction, a suggestion, anything good, don't hesitate to post a comment. And thank you, in advance.

St. Jacob of Alaska, pray for us sinners!