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The Earth Shall Weep: A History of Native America

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Now available in paperback, The Earth Shall Weep is a groundbreaking, critically acclaimed history of the Native American peoples. Combining traditional historical sources with new insights from ethnography, archaeology, Indian oral tradition, and years of his original research, James Wilson weaves a historical narrative that puts Native Americans at the center of their struggle for survival against the tide of invading European peoples and cultures. The Earth Shall Weep charts the collision course between ...

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Overview

Now available in paperback, The Earth Shall Weep is a groundbreaking, critically acclaimed history of the Native American peoples. Combining traditional historical sources with new insights from ethnography, archaeology, Indian oral tradition, and years of his original research, James Wilson weaves a historical narrative that puts Native Americans at the center of their struggle for survival against the tide of invading European peoples and cultures. The Earth Shall Weep charts the collision course between Euro-Americans and the indigenous people of the continent, from the early interactions at English settlements on the Atlantic coast, through successive centuries of encroachment and outright warfare, to the new political force of the Native American activists of today. It is a clash that would ultimately result in the reduction of the Native American population from an estimated seven to ten million to 250,000 over a span of four hundred years, and change the face of the continent forever. A tour de force of narrative history, The Earth Shall Weep is a powerful, moving telling of the story of Native Americans that has become the new standard for future work in the field.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
The subtitle of this book is "A History of Native America," but perhaps a better one would be "The Destruction of the Native American Peoples." For the story of the American Indians, once they came into contact with Europeans, is one of disease, battle, and loss. Lives and land were lost, but so was dignity, pride, and a thousands of years old way of life.

James Wilson notes that the first contact between Native people and explorers was friendly. In the 16th century, up and down the Eastern seaboard, French, Dutch, English, and Spanish boats landed, and were most often greeted by Natives bearing gifts of welcome. The beaver and fox pelts they offered became popular with the Europeans, and a profitable and congenial trade relationship was established, one that would last for a hundred years.

What was it that turned the relationship sour? Wilson details several factors that influenced Euro-Indian relations. For one thing, the religious fervor and military might that had driven the Crusades was looking for a new outlet. The "savages" of the New World seemed a likely target — like the Muslims of Europe, they had a religion and cultural practices that made them the Other, and the Holy Wars had heightened Christian Europeans' fear of the Other.

There were also the mercenary aims of the explorers and their investors. Not content to simply trade with the peoples of the New World, it became their goal to establish colonies, and thereby ownership of hunks of the land. This was an alien concept to Native Americans, who saw themselves as part of their environment and notasrulers of it. In American Indian culture, there was no drive to subjugate the earth; instead, the earth was treated with respect, cultivated enough to feed the Indians and no more. Explorers saw this as laziness; they couldn't understand why the Indians wouldn't grow as much produce as possible in order to sell it for a profit. But the idea of exploiting the land until it was dried up and barren was not only alien to Native Americans, it would have gone against their religious beliefs.

Wilson details the very different creation myths of the Europeans and the Indians, and why these myths set up a dichotomy between the two groups that could never be resolved. In the Judeo-Christian religion, man is expelled from Eden and condemned to subduing and exploiting the land for his survival. But for the Indians, there was no such expulsion. "In Native American stories, human beings are seen as an integral part of a 'natural' order which embraces the whole of creation.... Their destiny is not to change [the land] or move away from it but to maintain it according to the instructions they received 'long ago' from their creator or culture hero." Furthermore, tribes were used to more or less peacefully coexisting alongside other tribes with creation myths were different from their own. They believed that each tribe had its own unique relation to the land and therefore its own stories. When the Europeans came, the Indians had no problem living beside them in peace, though their beliefs were very different from their own. The Europeans, however, believed in the rightness of their religion, and if they were right, the Indians must be wrong.

Because of these wildly differing cultures, it took the Indians many years to understand why the white men often attacked them without any apparent provocation. During that time, those Natives who were not wiped out by European diseases, particularly smallpox, to which they had no resistance, were attacked, tortured, and killed in the name of the Christian God. The Indians' unfamiliar rites, as well as their unwillingness to farm the land to its greatest capacity, convinced the European invaders that they had a right to take the land and convert the Natives. That the Natives had no interest in being converted or in changing their way of life was of little interest to them.

The persecution of the Indians in New England would set the tone for treatment of Natives across the country. As westward expansion began, Native Americans were pushed further and further west, and their populations dwindled. As with species of birds and animals, the near-extinction of the American Indian brought with it the late lamentations of European-Americans, who then began to mythologize the nearly extinct people. The Native American warrior-hero has of late been replaced in the public imagination by the natural, mystical Native American, but neither stereotype tells us much about what it is like to be a Native American living in America today.

In his lively and thought-provoking book, James Wilson has compiled a staggering number of stories that make up the history of the Native Americans. Along the way, he has shattered many myths and even questioned the veracity of certain so-called "scientific facts." There is very little evidence, for instance, that the Indians' ancestors came to North America along the Bering Strait land bridge. It would, however, be too disruptive to Eurocentrism for us to believe that humans might have evolved in different places in the world. There is also evidence that there were many more than the conservatively estimated 2 million Natives before Europeans arrived; the smaller the number, however, the more easily assuaged the guilt we share in having wiped them out, and the more easily we can believe the lie that the land was really just ours for the taking.

Gail Jaitin

Richard E. Nicholls
The litany of massacres, epidemics and forced migrations is exhausting but instructive, reminding the reader that the few famous battles that tend to be memorialized were in fact only a small part of a continent-wide effort, lasting for more than three centuries, to displace or eradicate Indian cultures.
The New York Times Book Review
Richard Brookhiser
...[A] useful introduction to a rich subject....The wilyshapeshiftingcontradictoryheroic tricksterwhom many contemporary Indians regard as the key motif of Native American culturewill surprise us again. —National Review
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Employing elegiac prose and steady narrative momentum, Wilson has written a richly informative history that places Native Americans "at the center of the historical stage." Wilson, a writer for British television, interviewed American Indians across the U.S., combining oral tradition with other historical sources, ethnography and archeology. The result is an impressive work of historical synthesis that relies heavily on Native American oral traditions (Wilson makes a strong argument that these traditions are historically accurate). Although he concentrates on the period after Europeans arrived on the continent, Wilson manages to convey the diversity of flourishing Native American nations before the arrival of the English, Spanish and French. And, as he details the long centuries of trade and treaties (frequently broken by the Europeans), and the decimation of Native America by forced migration, small pox and war, Wilson never loses sight of the particularity of specific Indian cultures. One of the many absorbing story lines he follows is how Indians who attempted to assimilate, such as Cherokee slaveholders in the South, were chagrined to find their way blocked on cultural and, later, on pseudo-Darwinian racial grounds. In this account, Indians are neither a subplot in the grand story of American Manifest Destiny nor the poster children for all that is wrong and rapacious about Western Civilization: they are the protagonists of a vital, tumultuous history that continues to unfold today. (Apr.)
KLIATT
Wilson traces the history of Native America, beginning 500 years ago with the onset of European contact. The Native Americans, in this book, get to tell their own stories against traditional stories of settler conquest. At the outset, he recognizes problems with terminology; many tribal groups are seeking to replace the familiar westernized tribal designations with names drawn from older traditions. There is also the fundamental question about the language in which the book is written: "It is often difficult to interpret the surviving oral tradition: the written English version of a story not only translates it into another language but also transposes it from the cultural context in which it was originally told." But it must be told in English if people are to read it. The book's goal: "By weaving together official history and archeology, anthropology, oral tradition and the voices of contemporary Native Americans drawn from published writings and from my own many conversations and interviews with Indians over the years, it aims to illustrate, for a non-Indian audience, a history that [remains] oddly suppressed and hidden." Chapters move in the sequence of white settlement: Northeast, New York and Ohio, Southeast, Southwest, the Far West, and Great Plains. The Indians today form an important minority. "Today, there are 554 legally recognized Indian tribes' with a combined population of nearly two million and—according to one recent estimate—a further twenty-five million or more US citizens who have some known Native American ancestry." Yet, still poorly understood is a historical pattern in which Native Americans have lost not only their historic land base butalso have suffered ". a sustained assault on their social, psychological, and spiritual world and a breathtakingly ambitious experiment in social engineering." Policies have torn them from the physical and cultural settings that defined them. "These experiences, not surprisingly have left Native Americans one of the most troubled minorities in America." Wilson treats creation stories and explores how they differ from those told in the Bible. There are differences in man's relationship to nature; differences in the concept of truth. He shows how these fundamental differences in world view shaped the contact between European and Native cultures. The wars and battles and sometimes genocide and death marches are in this book, as are the boarding schools, the reservations, and, in current times, the casinos. He traces the Indians' growing political awareness, the issues of assimilation, their fight against "termination" (an effort to dissolve the tribes) in the 1970s and trends to lump them with other poverty-stricken groups. He notes their involvement with the legal system, and the emergence of "The New Indians." The author sees the Indians and their lives respectfully. In this book, they respond to circumstances and have motivation for their acts. This reviewer was disturbed by the author's unquestioning acceptance of controversial research by New Jersey scholars regarding the Great Plains, an example of how the author's research quality sometimes slips. Rooted as this book is in cultural understandings, it is quite unlike other histories you are likely to pick up. It cannot be billed as a balanced account, but its emphasis on the Native American voice means that it will help to balance a collection. KLIATT Codes: SA—Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 1998, Grove Press, 466p, 23cm, 99-13098, $16.00. Ages 16 to adult. Reviewer: Edna M. Boardman; former Lib. Media Spec., Magic City Campus, Minot, ND, July 2000 (Vol. 34 No. 4)
Library Journal
Wilson has been actively involved with indigenous North Americans for almost 25 years. Here he presents a comprehensive, imaginative overview of Native American history that is exceptional in its concept: Wilson has gathered information not only from historical sources but from ethnographic and archaeological works as well as oral histories. He looks at social issues such as intermarriage and language loss in addition to the political and environmental issues faced by present-day Native American communities. Wilson begins with the first English settlements on the Atlantic coast in the 1500s and moves from century to century, focusing on various geographic areas through the massacre at Wounded Knee in 1890. He then addresses today's social, political, and economic issues while trying to examine the legacy of ignorance and misunderstanding that has reduced the Native American population from 7 to 10 million people to 250,000 in four centuries. Because it encompasses so many facets of the Native American situation, this volume will appeal to a broad spectrum of readers.--Vicki Leslie Toy Smith, Univ. of Nevada, Reno
Richard E. Nicholls
The litany of massacres, epidemics and forced migrations is exhausting but instructive, reminding the reader that the few famous battles that tend to be memorialized were in fact only a small part of a continent-wide effort, lasting for more than three centuries, to displace or eradicate Indian cultures.
The New York Times Book Review
Padgett
Wilson writes authoritatively and with keen insight, combining a broad range of historical, archaeological and anthropological sources with a knowledge of Indian oral traditions, the published views of contemporary Indians and the conclusions of his own interviews...All in all, this is an impressive book that deserves a wide readership.
The Times Literary Supplement
Richard Brookhiser
...[A] useful introduction to a rich subject....The wily, shapeshifting, contradictory, heroic trickster, whom many contemporary Indians regard as the key motif of Native American culture, will surprise us again.
National Review
Kirkus Reviews
A sweeping, well-written, long-view history of American Indian societies. Wilson, a British writer for television and radio documentaries, does a creditable job of interpreting the Native American past and present for his intended European readers, although he misses a few references that are familiar to Americans and has to explain a few others that we take for granted on these shores. But mostly, he gets it right—while also taking up some themes that American scholars have overlooked, especially European Enlightenment views of the "noble savage" and ideas that some unknown historical force propelled the European conquerors of America to "subdue the wilderness and supplant the `Indian"' —who, those views had it, was somehow stuck at a lower stage of cultural development than any enjoyed by the newcomers. Although he relies heavily on the work of revisionist historians, such as the Sioux scholar Vine Deloria, Wilson takes care to examine a wide range of scholarly materials (about which he offers some nicely barbed commentary); based on these sources, he reconsiders such matters as the Indian population of North America at the time of the European arrival, which he believes has been seriously underestimated in number by some millions of inhabitants. Wilson sometimes falls into confusion, as do many of his American counterparts, when dealing with such notoriously complex subjects as the fluid post-WWII status of Indian nations vis-à-vis the federal government; and he misses several important events in recent Indian news, such as the revival of the American Indian Movement in the mid-1990s. But in the main, his is a trustworthy telling of a sad epic of misunderstanding,mayhem, and massacre. .
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802136800
  • Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
  • Publication date: 3/28/2000
  • Edition description: 1 GROVE PR
  • Pages: 496
  • Sales rank: 245,335
  • Product dimensions: 5.69 (w) x 9.35 (h) x 1.25 (d)

Read an Excerpt




Chapter One


1. This is How It Was:
Two Views of History


Long, long ago, when the world was so new that even the stars were dark, it was very, very flat. Chareya, Old Man Above, could not see through the dark to the new, flat earth. Neither could he step down to it because it was so far below him. With a large stone he bored a hole in the sky. Then through the hole he pushed down masses of ice and snow, until a great pyramid rose from the plain. Old Man Above climbed down through the hole he had made in the sky, stepping from cloud to cloud, until he could put his foot on top of the mass of ice and snow. Then with one long step he reached the earth.

    The sun shone through the hole in the sky and began to melt the ice and snow. It made holes in the ice and snow. When it was soft, Chareya bored with his finger into the earth, here and there, and planted the first trees. Streams from the melting snow watered the new trees and made them grow. Then he gathered the leaves which fell from the trees and blew upon them. They became birds. He took a stick and broke it into pieces. Out of the small end he made fishes and placed them in the mountain streams. Of the middle of the stick, he made all the animals except the grizzly bear. From the big end of the stick came the grizzly bear, who was made master of all. Grizzly was large and strong and cunning. When the earth was new he walked upon two feet and carried a large club. So strong was Grizzly that Old Man Above feared the creature he had made. Therefore, so that he might be safe, Chareya hollowed out the pyramidof ice and snow as a tepee. There he lived for thousands of snows. The people knew he lived there because they could see the smoke curling from the smoke-hole of his tepee. When the white man came, Old Man Above went away. There is no longer any smoke from the smoke-hole. White men call the tepee Mount Shasta.


Shastika, California


Within most Native American cultures there is no clear distinction between `story' and `history'. Both are part of the oral tradition, the rich profusion of anecdotes and legends by which each tribe and nation explains the creation of the world and its own origins and experience. As a result, from the perspective of most Western scholars, they are simply `myths', which — with few exceptions — can tell us almost nothing worthwhile about `what really happened.'

    But a `myth' — despite the widespread use of the word to mean `falsehood' — is not simply a `lie' or a childish fantasy. As the writer Ronald Wright puts it:


Myth is an arrangement of the past, whether real or imagined, in patterns that resonate with a culture's deepest values and aspirations. Myths create and reinforce archetypes so taken for granted, so seemingly axiomatic, that they go unchallenged. Myths are so fraught with meaning that we live and die by them. They are the maps by which cultures navigate through time.


And the myths of Western culture, even if we have consciously rejected them, continue to shape and pervade our contemporary view of the world — including our view of history. Many of the West's most fundamental assumptions about the universe — the assumptions that separate us most profoundly from other cultures — are deeply rooted in our own origin legend. The Book of Genesis is a story of sin, banishment and loss: it tells us that we are the Lords of Creation, made for a life of ease and harmony in the Garden of Eden, but that we forfeited Paradise through our own wickedness. Finding that Eve has taken the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, God first curses the serpent who `beguiled' her, and then:


    To the woman he said,

`I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children,
yet your desire shall be for your husband,
and he shall rule over you.'

    And to Adam he said,

`Because you have listened to the voice of your wife,
and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you,
"You shall not eat of it,"
cursed is the ground because of you;
in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread
till you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.'


Then, `lest [man] put forth his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever ... the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.'

    This primal catastrophe has left us profoundly dislocated: we are exiles in an alien wilderness which we must struggle to subdue. With every generation we move further and further from the gates of Eden, sustained only by dreams of somehow regaining our lost innocence or of creating a new heaven on earth.

    Rather than returning us to our original state of grace, the incarnation only deepens our separation from it by enshrining the concept of linear time: by intervening in our destiny at a specific, defined moment, God gives us a fixed point from which our history unravels away from Eden like a ball of string. As the philosopher Alan Watts puts it: `... according to St. Augustine of Hippo, the universe is going along in a straight line ... If time is cyclic, Jesus Christ would have to be crucified again and again. There would not be, therefore, that one perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world. Time had to be a straight line from the creation to the consummation to the last judgement.' This concept is one of the fundamental organizing principles by which we try to make sense of reality, underpinning not only the Enlightenment idea of Progress and the theory of Evolution but also our very notion of history itself.

    In most Native American cultures, by contrast, there is no fall from grace to begin with. Some traditions have stories about a Creator God or Spirit, but his relationship with his creation is very different from Jehovah's. According to the Lakota, for instance, Inyan (who existed `at the time of first motion ... before anything had meaning') `desired that another exist.'


But there was only Inyan, so no other could be
unless Inyan created the other from himself,
as a part of himself, to remain, forever,
attached to him ...
He would also have to give
this creation some of his power
and a portion of his spirit.
So, Inyan took of himself and shaped a disc,
this he wrapped over and around himself.
He named this new being, `Maka'.
He desired that Maka be great,
so he opened his veins and
allowed his blood to run freely.
At that point, Maka became the earth
and the liquid of his blood became the water, Mini,
circling the earth,
the blue of his blood surrounded Maka
to become the sky — Marpiya To.
So the other would be, Inyan took of himself, completely,
now his spirit, power and meaning were reduced,
He now became inyan — the stone — brittle and hard,
first of all things, existing from the beginning of motion.


    In other words, Inyan is not removed from what he has made, or any part of it: his spirit inhabits the totality, making everything — rocks, water, earth, plants, animals and people — sacred. Again and again, in Native American stories, human beings are seen as an integral part of a `natural' order which embraces the whole of creation.

    Similarly, although there are numerous myths about wrongdoing and its consequences, there is almost no Native American equivalent to the Judaeo-Christian idea of a kind of communal sin, an inherited curse which isolates us and opposes us to a hostile material world. The created landscape, however forbidding it may seem to an outsider, is as it should be, and `the people' — like the pre-lapsarian Adam and Eve — are an essential part of it. It is their relationship with the land and its other inhabitants which identifies them as who they are. Their destiny is not to change it or move away from it but to maintain it according to the instructions they received `long ago' from their Creator or culture hero.

    This idea is woven into the life of almost every Native American culture. Small hunting groups express it in rituals like the Shaking Tent, which directly reconnect `the people' with the sacred powers that created them. Many larger societies have elaborate annual ceremonies -- the Plains Indian Sun Dance, the Cherokee Green Corn Dance, the Summer and Winter celebrations of the Pueblos — which renew their relationship with the eternal and allow them to relive the drama of their own origins. The sacred realm and sacred time run parallel to ours, and, through ritual, human beings still have access to them. Historic time is therefore less a straight line than a repeating cycle: instead of taking you a step further from your beginning, each year in some sense brings you back to it.

    It is, of course, dangerous to generalize: the precise understanding of Time, and the significance attached to it, varied widely from culture to culture. Among some tribes, it was a comparatively hazy notion: when the Kiowa writer and artist Scott Momaday was asked about it, for instance, he replied: `[It] is an interesting concept ... I don't know that anyone can really explain it ... I think instead of being something that passes by, it is static, and people walk through time as they might walk through a canyon, and one can pause and stand in time ... It isn't something that necessarily rushes by, one can take hold of it.' In other groups, it was a central preoccupation: the great agricultural societies of Central America, for example, had sophisticated calendars, which (in the case of the Maya) allowed them to measure time over millions of years with greater accuracy than their European contemporaries. Yet even here it was Time in its cyclical, seasonal aspect that was considered important: the Aztecs, for instance, believed that each cycle lasted fifty-two years and ended with a period of immense uncertainty and danger -- an idea which was to have cataclysmic results when the Spanish reached Mexico on the cusp between two cycles.

    Inevitably, this concept of Time creates a notion of history very different from the European view. For Native American cultures, an experience gains its significance not from when it happens but from what it means. If Time is essentially cyclical, there is no simple, straightforward chain of cause and effect: events have to be seen not in chronological relation to each other but in terms of a complex, coherent understanding of the world, rooted in the origin story, in which time, space, spiritual entities and living beings all interact. The function of history is to provide not a linear record, but a blueprint for living, specific to a particular people in a particular place.

    Origin accounts vary enormously, consequently, from one culture and region to another. The agricultural societies of the Southwest and the Southeast, for instance, have complex, intricate descriptions of how their ancestors emerged from underground and migrated to their present homes, whereas the Iroquois peoples of the Northeast talk of the first woman falling through a hole in the sky. Many tribes have cycles of stories about a time `long ago' when animals and humans were essentially the same and could communicate with each other, and there are numerous traditions about how this old order was swept away and the `first people' were transformed into the creatures we know today by a `trickster' hero or by a cataclysmic flood or fire.

    Yet, for all their range and variety, these stories often have a similar feel to them. When you set them alongside the biblical Genesis, the common features suddenly appear in sharp relief: they seem to glow with the newness and immediacy of creation, offering vivid explanations for the behaviour of an animal, the shape of a rock or a mountain, which you can still encounter in the here and now. Many tribes and nations call themselves, in their own languages, `the first people', `the original people' or `the real people', and their stories locate them firmly in a place of special power and significance. A Tohono O'odham in Arizona can see, through the heat-shimmer of the desert, the sacred peak of Baboquivari which stands at the centre of the universe; traditional Pikuni (Blackfeet) still make pilgrimages to Badger-Two Medicine in Montana, part of the `Backbone of the World'. Far from telling them that they are locked out of Eden, the Indians' myths confirm that (unless they have been displaced by European contact and settlement) they still live in the place for which they were made: either the site of their own emergence or creation, or a `Promised Land' which they have attained after a long migration.

    Native Americans were unconcerned if their neighbours' myths differed from their own: their neighbours, after all, were created to be part of a different landscape, and would naturally understand their origins through stories that made sense of their own unique experience. As the modern Sioux writer Vine Deloria Jr. explains:


People believed that each tribe had its own special relationship to the superior spiritual forces which governed the universe and that the job of each set of tribal beliefs was to fulfil its own tasks without worrying about what others were doing. Tribal knowledge was therefore not fragmented and was valid within the historical and geographical scope of the people's experience. Black Elk [a prominent Lakota spiritual leader], talking to John Neihardt, explained the methodology well: `This they tell, and whether it happened so or not, I do not know; but if you think about it, you can see that it is true.'


    But this approach has always jarred with the Western, Judaeo-Christian tradition. Exiles from Eden are not part of a particular place, with a unique connection to particular rocks and mountains, rivers and trees: they are separate from the inanimate `natural' world to which they have been banished and can manipulate and exploit it at will. They see this material universe as the work of a conscious, rational and all-powerful Creator which must, therefore, be governed by rational, discoverable rules that operate consistently at all times and in all places for all beings. And they believe that they have received, through God's Word, a unique revelation of His true nature which gives them a global, literal account of reality and allows them to dismiss other people's beliefs as factually wrong.

    Almost since the time of Columbus, the Native American ability to syncretize two realities — to accept that different people have different truths or to believe that two apparently contradictory statements can be true in different' ways — has baffled and frustrated Europeans brought up with the idea of a single, monolithic truth. The accounts of missionaries, from the seventeenth-century Jesuit Relations on, bubble with impotent rage at the Indians' refusal to accept that because European beliefs are right their own beliefs must be wrong. Father Paul Le Jeune, a French missionary who spent the winter of 1634 with three Innu (Montagnais) families on the shore of the St. Lawrence, reported, for instance, that:


The Savages do not throw to the dogs the bones of female Beavers and Porcupines, — at least, certain specified bones; in short, they are very careful that the dogs do not eat any bones of birds and of other animals which are taken in the net, otherwise they will take no more except with incomparable difficulties ... It is remarkable how they gather and collect these bones, and preserve them with so much care, that you would say their game would be lost if they violated their superstitions. As I was laughing at them, and telling them that Beavers do not know what is done with their bones, they answered me, `Thou dost not know how to take Beavers, and thou wishest to talk about it.' ... I told them that the Hiroquois ... threw the bones of the Beaver to the dogs, and yet they took them very often: and that our Frenchmen captured more game than they did (without comparison), and yet our dogs ate these bones. `Thou hast no sense,' they replied, `dost thou not see that you and the Hiroquois cultivate the soil and gather its fruits, and not we, and that therefore it is not the same thing?' I began to laugh when I heard this irrelevant answer. The trouble is, I only stutter, I take one word for another, I pronounce badly; and so everything usually passes off in laughter.


    Unsurprisingly, the modern scientific tradition still shares many assumptions with the missionary culture from which, in part, it developed. In language much like Father Le Jeune's, twentieth-century scholars have confidently dismissed Native American beliefs about their history as `superstition' and then gone on to provide their own version, based on empirical evidence and `common sense', of `what really happened.' The hundreds of Indian origin myths, for example, are uniformly rejected — except insofar as they may contain a few nuggets of `fact' about a migration or a natural event — in favour of the `proven' scientific account. A highly regarded textbook, Carl Waldman's Atlas of the North American Indian, gives the generally accepted view:


After decades of guesswork and unfounded theories of lost European tribes and lost continents, it is now held as conclusive that mankind first arrived in North America from Asia during the Pleistocene age via the Bering Strait land bridge, also known as Beringia. There were four glaciations in the million-year Pleistocene, with ice caps spreading down from the north; these were separated by interglacial periods. The Wisconsin glaciation (corresponding to the Wurm glaciation in Europe) lasted from about 90,000 or 75,000 to 8,000 BC. It is theorized that at various times during the Wisconsin, enough of the planet's water was locked up in ice to significantly lower the oceans and expose now-submerged land. Where there is now 56 miles of water 180 feet deep in the Bering Strait, there would have been a stretch of tundra possibly as much as 1,000 miles wide, bridging the two continents. The islands of today would have been towering mountains. The big game of the Ice Age could have migrated across the land bridge. And the foremost predator among them — spear-wielding man — could have followed them. These Paleo-Siberians were the first Indians, the real discoverers of the New World.


    In fact, as the Sioux writer Vine Deloria Jr. shows, in his recent book Red Earth, White Lies, the evidence for the land bridge theory is very far from `conclusive'. Even within its own scientific terms, it is riddled with gaps and ambiguities: some apparently human artefacts and remains in Mexico, for example, have been dated to more than 200,000 years old, an age which would challenge not only the contention that the first people arrived in America via the Bering strait but also current ideas about human evolution. Nonetheless, it is, in many ways, an awe-inspiring achievement: using only a few fragments of data, scholars have managed to create a compelling narrative which has been almost universally accepted as fact. It is a tribute both to the vigour of Western science and to the enormous confidence that we place in it.

    But whereas archaeologists see their account replacing origin legends as a description of American prehistory, some Native Americans — accustomed to co-existing with other peoples whose stories differ from their own — seem able to accommodate it without abandoning their own beliefs. Alfonso Ortiz, who grew up in a Tewa village and then went to an American university to train as a social scientist, strikingly exemplifies the capacity for this kind of double vision:


My world is the Tewa world. It is different from your world ... Archaeologists will tell you that we came at least 12,000 years ago from Asia, crossing the Bering land bridge, then spreading over the two American continents. These archaeologists have dug countless holes in the earth looking for spearpoints, bones, traces of fires; they have subjected these objects to sophisticated dating analysis — seeking to prove or disprove a hypothesis or date. I know of their work. I too have been to Soviet Asia and seen cave art and an old ceremonial costume remarkably similar to some found in America. But a Tewa is not so interested in the work of archaeologists.
A Tewa is interested in our own story of our origins, for it holds all that we need to know about our people, and how one should live as a human. The story defines our society. It tells me who I am, where I came from, the boundaries of my world, what kind of order exists within it; how suffering, evil and death came into this world; and what is likely to happen to me when I die ...
Our ancestors came from the north. Theirs was not a journey to be measured in centuries, for it was as much a journey of the spirit as it was a migration of a people. The Tewa know not when the journey southward began or when it ended, but we do know where it begins, how it proceeded, and where it ended. We are unconcerned about time in its historical dimensions, but we will recall in endless detail the features of the 12 places our ancestors stopped.
We point to these places to show that the journey did indeed take place. This is the only proof a Tewa requires. And each time a Tewa recalls a place where they paused, for whatever length of time, every feature of the earth and sky comes vividly to life, and the journey itself lives again.


    But increasingly, in a kind of mirror image of our own intolerance, Native Americans are rejecting the scientific account altogether and insisting — like some Christian fundamentalists — that their own explanation of their origins is literally and exclusively true. In some communities, the issue has become emotive and contentious, turning acceptance of the origin legend into a talisman of cultural pride and identity. To understand this, you have to see it in the context of the Indians' recent historical experience: generations in which native beliefs, languages and practices have been ridiculed and often brutally suppressed.

    But the debate also has an important legal and political dimension. If, as archaeology suggests, Native Americans arrived in America at a specific date and then moved around more or less incessantly, nudging and modifying and displacing each other as they went, then their claim to an absolute relationship with a particular landscape is undermined. They are reduced, more or less, to the same immigrant status as other North Americans: the European invasion which dispossessed them was just the most recent of the series of migrations that brought them to America in the first place. As well as seeming to weaken the overall legitimacy of Indian land claims, archaeology and ethnography has been used against tribes in specific cases: opponents of the Sioux' campaign to regain the Black Hills, for instance, produced evidence which, they said, demonstrated that the Sioux had only moved into the area within the last three centuries and that other tribes had lived there before them.

    But the implications of the controversy over origins go even deeper. The scientific view is deeply rooted in our culture and our understanding of the world. It has clear parallels with the Genesis story, telling us that Native Americans, like all of us, are wanderers on the face of the earth, exiles from the African Eden where human beings first lived. (When scientists first suggested that we are all descended from a single female ancestor, they dubbed her `Eve'.) Like the biblical account, it describes an epic trek through a hostile wilderness with immense imaginative power, conjuring images of a few heroic fur-clad figures battling through a blizzard to conquer a new continent and then, over generations, evolving into the myriad societies of aboriginal America. And, like all good myths, it reinforces our basic perception of reality. It confirms that history is a linear process whose meaning comes from change: as we move further and further from our own beginnings we also move upwards, progressively conquering both an alien world and our own ignorance and irrationality. In the process, we leave behind other, less `developed' peoples: `barbarous tribes' — in the words of the English historian Hugh Trevor-Roper — 'whose chief function in history ... is to show the present an image of the past from which, by history, it has escaped.'

    This idea gives us a sort of ruler by which we can measure the relative level of `advancement' of other societies. Our culture — the culture of scientific enlightenment, rooted in Christian civilization — stands at the top of the ladder, the undisputed summit (so far) of evolution: beneath us stretch the inferior levels through which our ancestors passed in their relentless struggle to improve. These stages are objectively definable — hunter-gatherer, farmer, band, tribe, chiefdom, state — and all human populations belong to them at some moment in their history. As `the founder of modern anthropology,' Edward Tylor, put it in 1871:


[My] standard of reckoning progress and decline is not that of ideal good and evil, but of movement along a measured line from grade to grade of actual savagery, barbarism, and civilization. The thesis which I venture to sustain, within limits, is simply this, that the savage state in some measure represents an early condition of mankind, out of which the higher culture has gradually been developed or evolved, by processes still in regular operation as of old, the result showing that, on the whole, progress has far prevailed over relapse.


    This intellectual framework, in one form or another, still informs most scholarly writing about American Indians. In some books, like Peter Farb's Man's Rise to Civilization, it provides an explicit structure for analysing and comparing different cultures. In others, it simply underlies the entire argument in an unconsidered, perhaps unconscious way, so that Harold Driver, for instance, in his standard textbook Indians of North America, can write: `A comparison of rates of cultural evolution in the New World with those in the Old World shows that American Indian cultures developed faster from their first appearance until about 7000 BC ... By the time the Indians began to farm ... they were only about two thousand years behind the earliest farming in the Old World ... From this time on, however, the Indians fell behind ...'

    If you accept this idea of a kind of pre-ordained pattern of development measured by an evolutionary clock, then peoples like the American Indians are, in a sense, living in our past. Our response to them is profoundly ambivalent: we pity (and perhaps despise) them for their backwardness, while at the same time seeing them wistfully, even longingly, as vestiges of our own lost innocence. We study them for clues to our own history; we debate whether their primitiveness is the result of circumstances or innate inferiority; we try to help them fulfil their destiny by making them more like us; we pilfer their cultures for fragments of the ancestral wisdom that we feel we forfeited through Original Sin or the rise of capitalism or the development of Patriarchy. What we cannot do is accept that they live with us in a contemporary reality.

    It would be quite wrong to hold modern science solely responsible for this view: the belief that Europeans and Native Americans are at different stages of development has underpinned European attitudes since the time of Columbus. Through the centuries, it has validated the certainty that some force greater than ourselves (God, History, Evolution) destines Europeans and Euro-Americans — for better or worse — to subdue the wilderness and supplant the `Indian'. And of course it validates our conviction that our view of the world, our perception of time, history and the origins of people, is destined to supplant theirs. From our Olympian perspective at the pinnacle of creation, there can be no permanent co-existence, no equality, between the `objective' reality we see and the legends of more `primitive' people.

    If we are to begin to understand the experience of Native Americans, we have to challenge the tyranny which this view has established in our minds.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgements
A Note About Terminology
Prologue
I Origins
1 This is How It Was: Two Views of History 3
2 Contact: In the Balance 16
II Invasion
3 Northeast: One: 'You will have the worst by our absence' 43
4 Northeast: Two: 'A new found Golgotha' 72
5 New York and the 'Ohio Country': 'We shall not be like father and son, but like brothers' 98
6 Southeast: 'Get a little further: you are too near me' 132
7 Southwest: Return of the white brother 173
8 The Far West: The burning world 214
9 The Great Plains: The heart of everything that is 247
III Internal Frontiers
10 Kill the Indian to Save the Man: Assimilation 289
11 New Deal and Termination: 'Let none but the Indian answer' 330
12 The New Indians 370
Epilogue 409
Sources and Further Reading 429
Permissions Acknowledgements 450
Index 452
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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 12, 2006

    Exceptional journey!!

    Powerful...intense historical and emotional insight into the struggle of Native Americans. Highly recommend.

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 25, 2006

    ****

    What can I say about this book? It leaves me speechless in horror and sadness.

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 9, 2008

    Fascinating

    The most comprehensive and readable overview of Native American history I've read. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 26, 2014

    Best Book out there on The History of Indians in this Country,

    Best Book out there on The History of Indians in this Country,

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