To understand the making of Anglo-America is impossible without close and sustained attention to its indigenous predecessors, allies, and nemeses.
The invaders also anticipated, correctly, that other Europeans would question the morality of their enterprise. They therefore [prepared] .
. . quantities of propaganda to overpower their own countrymen’s scruples. The propaganda gradually took standard form as an ideology with conventional assumptions and semantics. We live with it still.
Memory says, “I did that.” Pride replies, “I could not have done that.” Eventually, memory yields.
There is not one Indian in the whole of this country who does not cringe in anguish and frustration because of these textbooks. There is not one Indian child who has not come home in shame and tears.
Old myths never die—they just become embedded in the textbooks.
ISTORICALLY, AMERICAN INDIANS have been the most lied-about subset of our population. That’s why Michael Dorris said that, in learning about Native Americans, “One does not start from point zero, but from minus ten.”6 High school
students start below zero because of their textbooks, which unapologetically present Native Americans through white eyes. Today’s textbooks should do better, especially since what historians call Indian history (though really it is interracial) has flowered since the l970s, and the information on which new textbooks might be based currently rests on library shelves.
Textbooks’ treatment of Native peoples has improved in recent years. In l96l the bestselling Rise of the American Nation contained ten illustrations featuring Native people, alone or with whites (of 268 illustrations); most of these pictures focused on the themes of primitive life and savage warfare. Twenty-five years later, the retitled Triumph of the American Nation contained fifteen illustrations of American Indians; more important, no longer were Native Americans depicted as one-dimensional primitives. Rather, they were people who participated in struggles to preserve their identities and their land. Included were Metacomet (King Philip), Crispus Attucks (first casualty of the Revolution, who was also part black in ancestry), Sequoyah (who invented the Cherokee alphabet), and Navajo code-talkers in World War II. In 2003, the successor, Holt American Nation, had forty-three illustrations of American Indians. Some other textbooks published after 2000 continue this trend of giving more attention to Native Americans. The Americans stands out for its honest coverage of some of the events this chapter will treat, and American Journey, the middle-school textbook, is close behind.
Nevertheless, the authors of American history textbooks still “need a crash course in cultural relativism and ethnic sensitivity,” as James Axtell put it in l987. Even The Americans, the best of these books, devotes its first
two pages to a reproduction of Benjamin West’s l77l painting, Penn’s Treaty with the Indians. Painted almost a century after the event, West followed the usual convention of depicting fully clothed Europeans—even with hats, scarves, and coats—presenting trade goods to nearly naked Americans. In reality, of course, no two groups of people have ever been dressed so differently at one spot on the earth’s surface on the same day. The artist didn’t really try to portray reality. He meant to show “primitive” (American Indian) and “civilized” (European).
Axtell also criticizes textbooks for still using such terms as half-breed, massacre, and war-whooping.7 Reserving milder terms such as frontier initiative and settlers for whites is equally biased. If we cast off our American-ness and imagine we come from, say, Botswana, this typical sentence (from The American Journey) appears quite jarring: “In l637 war broke out in Connecticut between settlers and the Pequot people.” Surely the Pequots, having lived in villages in Connecticut probably for thousands of years, are “settlers.” The English were newcomers, having been there for at most three years; traders set up camp in Windsor in l634. Replacing settlers by whites makes for a more accurate but “unsettling” sentence. Invaders is more accurate still, and still more unsettling.
A nearly naked American Indian shakes William Penn’s hand, sculpted in sandstone in the United States Capitol. Having been in Philadelphia in August, I can report that if this negotiation occurred then, Penn was near death through heat exhaustion. Having also been in Philadelphia after Thanksgiving, I can report that if this negotiation took place in winter, the Natives were suffering from frostbite.
Even worse are the authors’ overall interpretations, which continue to be shackled by the “conventional assumptions and semantics” that have “explained” Indian-white relations for centuries, according to Axtell. Textbook authors still write history to comfort descendants of the “settlers.” Our journey into a more accurate history of American Indian peoples and their relations with European and African invaders cannot be a happy excursion. Native Americans are not and must not be props in a sort of theme park of the past, where we go to have a good time and see exotic cultures. “What we have done to the peoples who were living in North America” is, according to anthropologist Sol Tax, “our Original Sin.”8 If
we look Indian history squarely in the eye, we are going to get
This is our past, however, and we must acknowledge it. It is time for
textbooks to send white children home, if not with thought-provoking questions.
at least with
Most of today’s textbooks at least try to be accurate about American Indian cultures. Thirteen of the eighteen textbooks I surveyed begin by devoting more than five pages to precontact Native societies.9 From the start, however, American Indian societies pose a problem for textbooks.l0 Their authors are consumers, not practitioners, of archaeology, ethnobotany, linguistics, physical anthropology, folklore studies, cultural anthropology, ethnohistory, and other related disciplines. Scholars in these fields can tell us much, albeit tentatively, about what happened in the Americas before Europeans and Africans arrived. Unfortunately, the authors of history textbooks treat archaeology et al. as dead disciplines to be mined for answers. These fields study dead people, to be sure, but they are alive with controversy. Every year headlines appear about charcoal possibly forty thousand years old found in cooking fires in Brazil, new dates for an archaeological dig in Pennsylvania, or more speculative claims that some new human remain, artifact, or idea hails from China, Europe, or Africa. In 2007 came evidence that a comet may have exploded in the earth’s atmosphere thirteen thousand years ago, setting much of North America on fire. Possibly the resulting firestorm killed off the larger mammals, like horses and mastodons, and decimated the human population.ll
“Possibly,” however, does not fit with textbook style, which is to
present definitive answers. Only The American Adventure admits uncertainty: “This page may be out of date by the time it is read.” Adventure goes on to present competing claims that humans have been in the Americas for twelve thousand, twenty-one thousand, and forty thousand years. As a result, although Adventure is one of the oldest of all the textbooks I surveyed, its pre-Columbian pages have not gone out of date.l2 Most other textbooks retain their usual authoritative tone. Regarding the date of the first human settlement of the Americas, estimates vary from twelve thousand years before the present to more than seventy thousand BP.l3 Some scientists believe that the original settlers came in successive waves over thousands of years; genetic similarities convince others that most Natives descended from a single small band.l4 Most textbook authors
simply choose one date and present it as undisputed fact. Some newer books add “probably,” as in: people “probably followed the animal herds,” from Holt American Nation. But then, like the others, they supply one date for students to memorize.
Authors need to go further. Walking across Beringia (the isthmus across the Bering Strait) is only a hypothesis. They ought to give other theories, including boats, a hearing. They would not have to do all the work themselves, either, but could set students loose on the Web and in the library, arming them and their teachers with ideas about what to look for and how to assess reputed new findings. The school year might then begin with a debate among students who have chosen different dates and routes— each marshaling evidence from glottochronology (dating linguistic changes), genetics, archaeology, and other disciplines to bolster their conclusion. Students would be excited. They would realize, at the start, that history still remains to be done—that it is not just an inert body of facts to be memorized.
We can see the absence of intellectual excitement from the beginning. How did people get here? Every book says something like this, from Boorstin and Kelley:
So much of the earth’s water had frozen into ice that it lowered the level of the sea in the Bering Strait. Then as they tracked wild game they could walk across the 56 miles from Siberia to Alaska. Without knowing it, they had discovered two large continents that were completely empty of people but were full of wild game. In the thousands
of years afterwards many other groups followed. These small bands spread all across North and South America.
Actually, while most scholars still accept a “Beringia” crossing, archaeological evidence is slim, and more and more archaeologists believe boat crossings, accidental or purposeful, may have been the method. After all, people got to Australia at least forty thousand years ago, and no matter how much ice piled up on land during the Ice Age, you could never walk to Australia, across the deep ocean divide known as Wallace’s Line. Of course, archaeologists have unearthed no evidence of boats anywhere in the world dating back more than ten thousand years. But then, no artifacts survive from so long ago other than stone tools, and no humans were ever so
primitive as to fashion stone boats. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.l5
Textbook writers like Beringia, I believe, because it fits their overall story line of unrelenting progress. The people themselves are pictured as primitive savages, vaguely Neanderthalian. This archetype—not very bright, enmeshed in wars with nature and other humans—probably underlies authors’ certainty that they must have walked. Unlike us, the original Americans didn’t have to be intelligent—they just had to walk.l6 And they certainly weren’t bright, for “without knowing it, they had discovered two large continents.” This is a startling assertion. Somehow our authors, writing at least eleven thousand years after the fact, know what these first settlers thought—or, rather, know that they did not think they had reached new continents. John Garraty’s American History makes the same claim: “They did not know that they were exploring a new continent.” Now, continent means “a large land mass, surrounded by water.” How could humans confront the vastness of Canada—itself larger than Australia—and not know they were exploring a large land mass? These first settlers must have been stunningly stupid.l7
The depiction of mental dullness persists as Garraty tells of “the
wanderers” who “moved slowly southward and to the east. Many
thousand years passed before they had spread over all of North and South America.” Actually, many archaeologists believe that people reached most parts of the Americas within a thousand years, far too rapidly to allow easy archaeological determination of the direction and timing of their migration. Archaeological finds do not grow older as we move northwest through the Yukon and across Alaska.l8 Moreover, even if the first Americans did arrive on foot, they were just as surely explorers as Columbus.
Garraty drones on, continuing to imply that the first settlers were rather dim: “None of the groups made much progress in developing simple machines or substituting mechanical or even animal power for their own muscle power.” But this was not the Americans’ “fault.” No “animal power” was available. For that matter, in Europe and Asia before l769, most “simple machines” depended on horses, oxen, water buffalo, mules, or cattle—beasts unknown in the Americas. In Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared
Diamond suggests that the availability of at least some of these animals for domestication was a critical factor in developing not only machines but also the division of labor we call “civilization.”l9
All of the textbooks are locked into the old savage-to-barbaric-to- civilized school of anthropology dating back to L. H. Morgan and Karl Marx around l875. Their authors may well have encountered such thinking in anthropology courses when they were undergraduates; it is no longer taught today, however. Garraty exemplifies the evolutionary stereotype: “Those who planted seeds and cultivated the land instead of merely hunting and gathering food were more secure and comfortable.” Apparently he has not encountered the “affluent primitive” theory, which persuaded anthropologists some forty years ago that gatherer-hunters lived quite comfortably. American History then makes an even sillier mistake: “These agricultural people were mostly peaceful, though they could fight fiercely to protect their fields. The hunters and wanderers, on the other hand, were quite warlike because their need to move about brought them frequently into conflict with other groups.” Here Garraty conflates civil and civilization. Decades ago, most anthropologists challenged this outmoded continuum, determining that hunters and gatherers were relatively peaceful, compared to agriculturalists, and that modern societies were more warlike still. We have only to remember the history of the twentieth century to see at once that violence can increase with civilization.
Most textbooks do confer civilization on some Natives—the Aztecs, Incas, and Mayans—based on the premise, embraced by the Spanish conquistadors themselves, that wealth equals civilization. In the words of The American Adventure: “Unlike the noncivilized peoples of the Caribbean, the Aztec were rich and prosperous.” Boorstin and Kelley cannot easily concede even that much. After devoting a page to the advanced civilizations of the Mayans, Incas, and Aztecs, Boorstin and Kelley proceed to put them down: “Unlike the peoples of Europe, they had not built ships to cross the oceans. They had not reached out to the world. In their isolation they found it hard to learn new ways. When the Spanish came, it seemed that the Incas, the Mayas and the Aztecs had ceased to progress. They were ripe for conquest.”
Among other things, that paragraph is simply bad history. In fact, the rate of change was accelerating in the Western Hemisphere before the Spanish came. The Incas had taken less than the previous century to assemble their huge empire. The Aztecs had come to dominate central Mexico by alliance and force still more recently.
To Boorstin and Kelley, the Natives to the north in what is now the United States lagged even further behind the “unprogressive” Aztecs, Mayans, and Incas. Of course, if Boorstin and Kelley had looked around the world in 1392, they would have seen no such decisive differences between American and European cultures. This is a secular form of predestination: historians observe that peoples were conquered and come up with reasons why that was right. In sociology we call this “blaming the victim.” The authors of The American Pageant take the same approach:
Unlike the Europeans, who would soon arrive with the presumption that humans had dominion over the earth and with the technologies to alter the very face of the land, the Native Americans had neither the desire nor the means to manipulate nature aggressively They were so thinly spread across the continent that vast areas were
virtually untouched by a human presence. In the fateful year l492, probably no more than 4 million Native Americans padded through the whispering, primeval forests and paddled across the sparkling virgin waters of North America. They were blissfully unaware that the historic isolation of the Americas was about to end forever.
This passage exemplifies the unfortunate results when publishers try to keep a legacy text in print forever. These clichés about Native Americans were known to be false in l956, when Bailey wrote the first edition of this seemingly ageless text. Chapter 3 shows what is wrong with this wilderness scenario. For one thing, the numbers are all wrong. In the central valley of Mexico alone lived about twenty-five million people. In the rest of North America lived perhaps twenty million more. Furthermore, the image of the moccasined Indian “padding” through the virgin forest won’t do; a majority of Native Americans in what is now the United States farmed. Pageant originated more than half a century ago and is now in its thirteenth printing. In l956, it may have been written by its “author,” Thomas Bailey. Who wrote the current edition is anyone’s guess.
In the late l990s, someone—certainly not Bailey, long deceased, and probably not either of the other two listed authors—realized that the book
needed to mention the Columbian Exchange and the post-l492 epidemics that decimated American Indians. As a result, a later page tells of these staggering population declines, without acknowledging the contradiction between that passage and this one. Thomas Bailey’s own book thus proves him right: “Old myths never die—they just become embedded in the textbooks.” Boorstin and Kelley are even less competent; they still omit the Columbian Exchange entirely.
Even the best textbooks cannot resist contrasting “primitive” Americans with modern Europeans. Part of the problem is that the books are really comparing rural America to urban Europe—Massachusetts to London. Comparing Tenochtitlan (now Mexico City) to rural Scotland might produce a very different impression, for when Cortés arrived, Tenochtitlan was a city of one hundred thousand to three hundred thousand, whose central market was so busy and noisy “that it could be heard more than four miles away,” according to Bernal Díaz, who accompanied Cortés.20 It would be even better if authors could forsake the entire primitive-to- civilized continuum altogether. After all, from the perspective of the average inhabitant, life may have been just as “advanced” and far more pleasant in Massachusetts or Scotland as in Aztec Mexico or London.
For a long time Native Americans have been rebuking textbook authors for reserving the adjective civilized for European cultures. In l927 an organization of Native leaders called the Grand Council Fire of American Indians criticized textbooks as “unjust to the life of our people.” They went on to ask, “What is civilization? Its marks are a noble religion and philosophy, original arts, stirring music, rich story and legend. We had these. Then we were not savages, but a civilized race.”2l
Even an appreciative treatment of Native cultures reinforces ethnocentrism so long as it does not challenge the primitive-to-civilized continuum. This continuum inevitably conflates the meaning of civilized in everyday conversation—“refined or enlightened”—with “having a complex division of labor,” the only definition that anthropologists defend. When we consider the continuum carefully, it immediately becomes problematic. Was the Third Reich civilized, for instance? Most anthropologists would answer yes. In what ways do we prefer the civilized Third Reich to the more primitive Arawak society that Columbus encountered? If we refuse to label
the Third Reich civilized, are we not using the term to mean “polite, refined”? If so, we must consider the Arawaks civilized, and we must also consider Columbus and his Spaniards primitive, if not savage. Ironically, societies characterized by a complex division of labor are often marked by inequality and support large specialized armies. Precisely these “civilized” societies are likely to resort to savage violence in their attempts to conquer “primitive” societies.22
Thoughtless use of the terms civilized and civilization blocks any real inquiry into the worldview or the social structure of the “uncivilized” person or society. In l990 President George H. W. Bush condemned Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait with the words, “The entire civilized world is against Iraq”—an irony, in that Iraq’s Tigris and Euphrates valleys are the earliest known seat of civilization.
The three new “from scratch” textbooks in my sample of new histories do a somewhat better job than the legacy texts. They recognize diversity
among They tell about the League of Five Nations among
the Iroquois in the Northeast, potlatches among the Northwestern coastal Indians, cliff dwellings in the Southwest, and caste divisions among the Natchez in the Southeast. In the process of presenting ten or twenty different cultures in six or eight pages, however, textbooks can hardly reach a high level of sophistication. So they seize upon the unusual. No matter that the Choctaws were more numerous and played a much larger role in American history than the Natchez—they were also more ordinary. Students will not find among the Native Americans portrayed in their history textbooks many “regular folks” with whom they might identify.
After contact with Europeans and Africans, American Indian societies changed rapidly. Native Americans took into their cultures not only guns, blankets, and kettles, but also new foods, ways of building houses, and ideas from Christianity. Most American history textbooks emphasize the changes in only one group, the Plains Indians. The rapid efflorescence of this colorful culture after the Spaniards introduced the horse to the American West supplies an exhilarating example of syncretism—blending elements of two different cultures to create something new.23 The transformation in the Plains cultures, however, was only the tip of the cultural-change iceberg. An even more profound metamorphosis occurred
as Europeans linked Native peoples to the developing world economy. This process continues to affect formerly independent cultures to this day. In the early l970s, for example, Saamis (formerly called Lapps) in Norway replaced their sled dogs with snowmobiles, only to find themselves vulnerable to Arab oil embargoes.24 In the l990s many Native American groups gained not only wealth but also new respect from their non-Native neighbors when their new casinos and hotels connected them to the world economy. This connecting seems inevitable, hence perhaps is neither to be praised nor decried—but it should not be ignored, because it is crucial to understanding how Europeans took over America.
In Atlantic North America, members of Indian nations possessed a
variety of sophisticated skills, from the ability to weave watertight baskets to an understanding of how certain plants can be used to reduce pain. At first, Native Americans traded corn, beaver, fish, sassafras, and other goods with the French, Dutch, and English, in return for axes, blankets, cloth, beads, and kettles. Soon, however, Europeans persuaded Natives to specialize in the fur and slave trades. Native Americans were better hunters and trappers than Europeans, and with the guns the Europeans sold them, they became better still. Other Native skills began to atrophy. Why spend hours making a watertight basket when in one-tenth the time you could trap enough beavers to trade for a kettle? Even agriculture, which the Native Americans had shown to the Europeans, declined, because it became easier to trade for food than to grow it. Everyone acted in rational self-interest in joining such a system—that is, Native Americans were not mere victims— because everyone’s standard of living improved, at least in theory.
Some of the rapid changes in eastern Indian societies exemplify syncretism. When the Iroquois combined European guns and Native American tactics to smash the Hurons, they controlled their own culture and chose which elements of European culture to incorporate, which to modify, which to ignore. Native Americans learned how to repair guns, cast bullets, build stronger forts, and fight to annihilate.25 Native Americans also became well known as linguists, often speaking two European languages (French, English, Dutch, Russian, or Spanish) and at least two American Indian languages. English colonists sometimes used Natives as interpreters
when dealing with the Spanish or French, not just with other Native American nations.
These developments were not all matters of happy economics and voluntary syncretic cultural transformation, however. Natives were operating under a military and cultural threat, and they knew it. They quickly deduced that European guns were more efficient than their bows and arrows. Europeans soon realized that trade goods could be used to win and maintain political alliances with American Indian nations. To deal with the new threat and because whites “demanded institutions reflective of their own with which to relate,” many Native groups strengthened their tribal governments.26 Chiefs acquired power they had never had before. These governments often ruled unprecedentedly broad areas, because the heightened warfare and the plagues had wiped out smaller tribes or caused them to merge with larger ones for protection. Large nations became ethnic melting pots, taking in whites and blacks as well as other Indians. New confederations and nations developed, such as the Creeks, Seminoles, and Lumbees.27 The tribes also became more male-dominated, in imitation of Europeans or because of the expanded importance of war skills in their cultures.28
Tribes that were closest to the Europeans got guns first, guns that could
be trained on interior peoples who had not yet acquired any. Suddenly some nations had a great military advantage over others. The result was an escalation of Indian warfare. Native nations had engaged in conflict before Europeans came, of course. Tribes rarely fought to the finish, however. Some tribes did not want to take over the lands belonging to other nations, partly because each had its own sacred sites. For a nation to exterminate its neighbors was difficult anyway, since all enjoyed roughly the same level of military technology. Now all this changed. European powers deliberately increased the level of warfare by playing one Native nation off another. The Spanish, for example, used a divide-and-conquer strategy to defeat the Aztecs in Mexico. In Scotland and Ireland, the English had played tribes against one another to extend British rule. Now they did the same in North America.29
Like African slaves, Indian slaves escaped when they could. This notice comes from the Boston Weekly News-Letter for October 4, l739.
For many tribes the motive for the increased combat was the enslavement of other Natives to sell to the Europeans for more guns and kettles. As northern tribes specialized in fur, certain southern tribes specialized in people. Some Native Americans had enslaved each other long before Europeans arrived. Now Europeans vastly expanded Indian slavery.30 I had expected to find in our textbooks the cliché that Native Americans did not make good slaves, but only two books, Triumph of the American Nation and The American Tradition, say even that. American History buries a sentence, “A few Indians were enslaved,” in its discussion of the African slave trade. Otherwise, the textbooks are silent on the subject of the Native American slave trade in what is now the United States— except for one surprising standout. The American Pageant contains a paragraph that tells how the Carolina colonists enlisted the coastal Savannah Indians to bring them slaves from the interior, making “manacled Indians . . . among the young colony’s major exports.” Pageant goes on to tell how Indian captives wound up enslaved in the West Indies and New England.3l
Europeans’ enslavement of Native Americans has a long history. Ponce de Leon went to Florida not really to seek the mythical fountain of youth; his main business was to seek gold and capture slaves for Hispaniola.32 In
New England, Indian slavery led directly to African slavery: the first blacks imported there, in l638, were brought from the West Indies in exchange for Native Americans from Connecticut.33 On the eve of the New York City slave rebellion of l7l2, in which Native and African slaves united, about one resident in four was enslaved and one slave in four was American Indian. A l730 census of South Kingston, Rhode Island, showed 935 whites, 333 African slaves, and 223 Native American slaves.34
As Pageant (alone) implies, the center of Native American slavery, like African American slavery, was South Carolina. Its population in l708 included 3,960 free whites, 4,l00 African slaves, l,400 Indian slaves, and l20 indentured servants, presumably white. These numbers do not reflect the magnitude of Native slavery, however, because they omit the export trade. From Carolina, as from New England, colonists sent enslaved American Indians (who might escape) to the West Indies (where they could never escape), in exchange for enslaved Africans. Charleston shipped more than ten thousand Natives in chains to the West Indies in one year.35 Farther west, so many Pawnee Indians were sold to whites that Pawnee became the name applied in the plains to all slaves, whether they were of Indian or African origin.36 On the West Coast, Pierson Reading, a manager of John Sutter’s huge grant of Indian land in central California, extolled the easy life he led in l844: “The Indians of California make as obedient and humble slaves as the Negro in the south.” In the Southwest, whites enslaved Navajos and Apaches right up to the middle of the Civil War.37
Intensified warfare and the slave trade rendered stable settlements no
longer safe, helping to de-agriculturize Native Americans. To avoid being targets for capture, American Indians abandoned their cornfields and their villages and began to live in smaller settlements from which they could more easily escape to the woods. Ultimately, they had to trade with Europeans even for food.38 As Europeans learned from Natives what to grow and how to grow it, they became less dependent upon Indians and Indian technology, while American Indians became more dependent upon Europeans and European technology.39 Thus, what worked for the Native Americans in the short run worked against them in the long. In the long run,
it was Indians who were enslaved, Indians who died, Indian technology that was lost, Indian cultures that fell apart. By the time the pitiful remnant of the Massachuset tribe converted to Christianity and joined the Puritans’ “praying Indian towns,” they did so in response to an invading culture that told them their religion was wrong and Christianity was right. This process exemplifies what anthropologists call cultural imperialism. Even the proud Plains Indians, whose syncretic culture combined horses and guns from the Spanish with Native art, religion, and hunting styles, showed the effects of cultural imperialism: the Sioux word for white man, wasichu, means “one who has everything good.”40
The textbook Life and Liberty is distinguished by its graphic presentation of change in
It confronts students with this provocative pair of illustrations and asks, “Which shows Indian life before Europeans arrived and which shows Indian life after? What evidence tells you the date?” Thus Life and Liberty helps students understand that Europeans did not “civilize” or “settle” “roaming” Indians, but had the opposite impact.
To be anthropologically literate about culture contact, students should be familiar with the terms syncretism and cultural imperialism, or at least the concepts they denote. None of the textbooks I studied mentions either term, and most of them tell little about the process of cultural change, again except for the Plains Indian horse culture, which, as a consequence, comes across as unique. Even the best of the new textbooks are short on analysis. They don’t treat the crucial importance of incorporation into the global economy, which helps to explain why sometimes Europeans traded and coexisted with Natives and other times merely attacked them. Nor do they tell how contact worked to de-skill Native Americans.
Just as American societies changed when they encountered whites, so European societies changed when they encountered Natives. Textbooks completely miss this side of the mutual accommodation and acculturation process.4l Instead, their view of white-Indian relations is dominated by the archetype of the frontier line. Textbooks present the process as a moving line of white (and black) settlement—American Indians on one side, whites (and blacks) on the other. Pocahontas and Squanto aside, the Natives and Europeans don’t meet much in textbook history, except as whites remove Indians farther west. In reality, whites and Native Americans in what is now the United States worked together, sometimes lived together, and quarreled with each other for 325 years, from the first permanent Spanish settlement in l565 to the end of Sioux and Apache autonomy around l890.
The term frontier hardly does justice to this process, for it implies a line or boundary. Contact, not separation, was the rule. Frontier also locates the observer somewhere in the urban East, from which the frontier is “out there.” Textbook authors seem not to have encountered the trick question, “Which came first, civilization or the wilderness?” The answer is civilization, for only the “civilized” mind could define the world of Native farmers, fishers, and gatherers and hunters, coexisting with forests, crops, and animals, as a “wilderness.” Calling the area beyond secure European control frontier or wilderness makes it subtly alien. Such a viewpoint is intrinsically Eurocentric and marginalizes the actions of nonurban people, both Native and non-Native.42
The band of interaction was amazingly multicultural. In l635 “sixteen
different languages could be heard among the settlers in New Amsterdam,” languages from North America, Africa, and Europe.43 In l794, when the zone of contact had reached the eastern Midwest, a single northern Ohio town, “the Glaize,” was made up of hundreds of Shawnee, Miami, and Delaware Indians; British and French traders and artisans; several Nanticokes, Cherokees, and Iroquois; a few African American and white American captives; and whites who had married into or been adopted by Indian families. The Glaize was truly multicultural in its holidays, observing Mardi Gras, St. Patrick’s Day, the birthday of the British queen, and American Indian celebrations.44 In l835, when the contact area was
near the West Coast, John Sutter, with permission of the Mexican authorities, recruited Native Americans to raise his wheat crop; operate a distillery, a hat factory, and a blanket company; and build a fort (now Sacramento). Procuring uniforms from Russian traders and officers from Europe, Sutter organized a two-hundred-man Indian army, clothed in tsarist uniforms and commanded in German!45
Our history textbooks still obliterate the interracial, multicultural nature of frontier life. Boorstin and Kelley tell us, “A focus of community life was the fort built by John Sutter,” but they never mention that the “community” was largely American Indians. American History devotes almost a page to Sutter’s Fort without ever hinting that Native Americans were anything other than enemies: “Gradually he built a fortified town, which he called Sutter’s Fort. The entire place was surrounded by a thick wall l8 feet high (about 6 meters) topped with cannon for protection against unfriendly Indians.” No reader would infer from that account that friendly Indians built the fort.
Historian Gary Nash tells us that interculturation took place from the start in Virginia, “facilitated by the fact that some Indians lived among the English as day laborers, while a number of settlers fled to Indian villages rather than endure the rigors of life among the autocratic English.”46 Indeed, many white and black newcomers chose to live an American Indian lifestyle. In his Letters from an American Farmer, Michel Guillaume Jean de Crevecoeur wrote, “There must be in the Indians’ social bond something singularly captivating, and far superior to be boasted of among us; for thousands of Europeans are Indians, and we have no examples of even one of those Aborigines having from choice become Europeans.”47 Crevecoeur overstated his case: as we know from Squanto’s example, some Natives chose to live among whites from the beginning. The migration was mostly the other way, however. As Benjamin Franklin put it, “No European who has tasted Savage Life can afterwards bear to live in our societies.”48
Europeans were always trying to stop the outflow. Hernando de Soto had to post guards to keep his men and women from defecting to
The Pilgrims so feared Indianization that they made it a crime for men to wear long hair. “People who did run away to the Indians might
expect very extreme punishments, even up to the death penalty,” Karen Kupperman tells us, if caught by whites.49 Nonetheless, right up to the end of independent Native nationhood in l890, whites continued to defect, and whites who lived an Indian lifestyle, such as Daniel Boone, became cultural heroes in white society.
Communist Eastern Europe erected an Iron Curtain to stop its outflow but could never explain why, if communist societies were the most progressive on earth, they had to prevent people from defecting. American colonial embarrassment similarly went straight to the heart of their ideology, also an ideology of progress. Textbooks in Eastern Europe and the United States have handled the problem in the same way: by omitting the facts. Not one American history textbook mentions the attraction of
to European Americans and African Americans.
African Americans frequently fled to American Indian societies to escape bondage. What did whites find so alluring? According to Benjamin Franklin, “All their government is by Counsel of the Sages. There is no Force; there are no Prisons, no officers to compel Obedience, or inflict Punishment.” Probably foremost, the lack of hierarchy in the
in the eastern United States attracted the admiration of European observers.50 Frontiersmen were taken with the extent to which Native Americans enjoyed freedom as individuals. Women were also accorded
more status and power in most the time, which white women
than in white societies of noted with envy in captivity narratives.
Although leadership was substantially hereditary in some nations, most American Indian societies north of Mexico were much more democratic than Spain, France, or even England in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. “There is not a Man in the Ministry of the Five Nations, who has gain’d his Office, otherwise than by Merit,” waxed Lt. Gov. Cadwallader Colden of New York in l727. “Their Authority is only the Esteem of the People, and ceases the Moment that Esteem is lost.” Colden applied to the Iroquois terms redolent of “the natural rights of mankind”: “Here we see the natural Origin of all Power and Authority among a free People.”5l
Indeed, Native American ideas are partly responsible for our democratic
institutions. We have seen how Native ideas of liberty, fraternity, and equality found their way to Europe to influence social philosophers such as
Thomas More, Locke, Montaigne, Montesquieu, and Rousseau. These European thinkers then influenced Americans such as Franklin, Jefferson, and Madison.52 In recent years historians have debated whether American Indian ideas may also have influenced our democracy more directly. Through l50 years of colonial contact, the Iroquois League stood before the colonies as an object lesson in how to govern a large domain democratically. The terms used by Lt. Gov. Colden find an echo in our Declaration of Independence fifty years later.
After Col. Henry Bouquet defeated the Ohio Indians at Bushy Run in l763, he demanded the release of all white captives. Most of them, especially the children, had to be “bound hand and foot” and forcibly returned to white society. Meanwhile, the Native prisoners “went back to their defeated relations with great signs of joy,” in the words of the anthropologist Frederick Turner (in Beyond Geography, 245). Turner rightly calls these scenes “infamous and embarrassing.”
In the l740s the Iroquois wearied of dealing with several often bickering English colonies and suggested that the colonies form a union similar to the league. In l754 Benjamin Franklin, who had spent much time among the Iroquois observing their deliberations, pleaded with colonial
leaders to consider his Albany Plan of Union: “It would be a strange thing if six nations of ignorant savages should be capable of forming a scheme for such a union and be able to execute it in such a manner as that it has subsisted ages and appears insoluble; and yet that a like union should be impracticable for ten or a dozen English colonies.”53
The colonies rejected the plan. But it was a forerunner of the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution. Both the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention referred openly to Iroquois ideas and imagery. In l775 Congress formulated a speech to the Iroquois, signed by John Hancock, that quoted Iroquois advice from l744. “The Six Nations are a wise people,” Congress wrote, “let us harken to their council and teach our children to follow it.”54
As a symbol of the new United States, Americans chose the eagle clutching a bundle of arrows. They knew that both the eagle and the arrows were symbols of the Iroquois League. Although one arrow is easily broken, no one can break six (or thirteen) at once.
John Mohawk has argued that American Indians are directly or indirectly responsible for the public-meeting tradition, free speech, democracy, and “all those things which got attached to the Bill of Rights.” Without the Native example, “do you really believe that all those ideas would have found birth among a people who had spent a millennium butchering other people because of intolerance of questions of religion?”55 Mohawk may have overstated the case for Native democracy, since heredity
played a major role in officeholding in many American Indian societies. His case is strengthened, however, by the fact that wherever Europeans went in the Americas, they projected monarchs (“King Philip”) or other
undemocratic leaders onto
was done out of European self-interest,
To some degree, this projecting so they could claim to have
purchased tribal land as a result of dealing with one person or faction. The practice also betrayed habitual European thought: Europeans could not believe that nations did not have such rulers, since that was the only form of government they knew.
For a hundred years after our Revolution, Americans credited Native Americans as a source of their democratic institutions. Revolutionary-era cartoonists used images of American Indians to represent the colonies against Britain. Virginia’s patriot rifle companies wore Indian clothes and moccasins as they fought the redcoats. When colonists took action to oppose unjust authority, as in the Boston Tea Party or the antirent protests against Dutch plantations in the Hudson River valley during the l840s, they chose to dress as American Indians, not to blame Indians for the demonstrations but to appropriate a symbol identified with liberty.56
Of course, Dutch traditions influenced Plymouth as well as New York.
So did English common law and the Magna Carta.
seems to be another example of syncretism, combining ideas from Europe and Native America. The degree of Native influence is hard to specify, since that influence came through several sources. Textbooks might present it as a soft hypothesis rather than hard fact. But they should not leave it out. In all the textbooks I surveyed, discussion of any intellectual influence of Native Americans on European Americans was limited to a single caption in one book, Discovering American History, beneath a wampum belt paired with Benjamin Franklin’s famous cartoon of a divided, hence dying snake. “Franklin’s Albany Plan might have been inspired by the Iroquois League” is the caption. “The wampum belt expresses the unity of tribes achieved through the League. Compare it with Franklin’s cartoon.” The other books are silent.
But, then, textbooks leave out most contributions of Native Americans to American culture. Our regional cuisines—the dishes that make American food distinctive—often combine Indian with European and African
elements. Examples range from New England pork and beans to New Orleans gumbo to Texas chili.57 Mutual acculturation between Native and African Americans—owed to shared experience in slavery as well as escapes by blacks to Native communities—accounts for soul food being part Indian, from corn bread and grits to greens and hush puppies.58 Native place names dot our landscape, from Okefenokee to Alaska. Native farming methods were not “primitive.” Farmers in some tribes drew two or three times as much nourishment from the soil as we do.59 Place names, too, show intellectual interchange. Whites had to be asking Indians, “Where am I?” “What is this place called?” “What is that animal?” “What is the name of that mountain?”
Although textbooks “appreciate” Native cultures, the possibility of real interculturation, especially in matters of the intellect, is foreign to them. This is a shame, for authors thereby ignore much of what has made America distinctive from Europe. In a travel narrative, Peter Kalm wrote in l750, “The French, English, Germans, Dutch, and other Europeans, who have lived for several years in distant provinces, near and among the Indians, grow so like them in their behavior and thought that they can only be distinguished by the difference of their color.”60 In the famous essay, “The Frontier in American History,” Frederick Jackson Turner told how the frontier masters the European, “strips off the garments of civilization,” and requires him to be an Indian in thought as well as dress. “Before long he has gone to planting Indian corn and plowing with a sharp stick.” Gradually he builds something new, “but the outcome is not the old Europe.” It is syncretic; it is American.6l
Acknowledging how aboriginal we are culturally—how the United
States and Europe, too, have been influenced by Native American as well as European ideas—would require significant textbook rewriting. If we recognized American Indians as important intellectual antecedents of our political structure, we would have to acknowledge that acculturation has been a two-way street, and we might have to reassess the assumption of primitive Indian culture that legitimizes the entire conquest.62 In l970 the Indian Historian Press produced a critique of our histories, Textbooks and the American Indian. One of the press’s yardsticks for evaluating books was
the question, “Does the textbook describe the religions, philosophies, and contributions to thought of the American Indian?”63 Unfortunately, the answer must still be no.
In the nineteenth century, Americans knew of Native American contributions to medicine. Sixty percent of all medicines patented in the century were distributed bearing Indian images, including Kickapoo Indian Cough Cure, Kickapoo Indian Sagwa, and Kickapoo Indian Oil. In this century, America has repressed the image of Indian as healer.
Consider how textbooks treat Native religions as a unitary whole. The American Way describes Native American religion in these words: “These Native Americans [in the Southeast] believed that nature was filled with spirits. Each form of life, such as plants and animals, had a spirit. Earth and air held spirits too. People were never alone. They shared their lives with the spirits of nature.” Way is trying to show respect for Native American
religion, but it doesn’t work. Stated flatly like this, the beliefs seem like make-believe, not the sophisticated theology of a higher civilization. Let us try a similarly succinct summary of the beliefs of many Christians today: “These Americans believed that one great male god ruled the world. Sometimes they divided him into three parts, which they called father, son, and holy ghost. They ate crackers and wine or grape juice, believing that they were eating the son’s body and drinking his blood. If they believed strongly enough, they would live on forever after they died.” Textbooks never describe Christianity this way. It’s offensive. Believers would immediately argue that such a depiction fails to convey the symbolic meaning or the spiritual satisfaction of communion.
Textbooks could present American Indian religions from a perspective that takes them seriously as attractive and persuasive belief systems.64 The anthropologist Frederick Turner has pointed out that when whites remark upon the fact that Indians perceive a spirit in every animal or rock, they are simultaneously admitting their own loss of a deep spiritual relationship with the earth. Native Americans are “part of the total living universe,” wrote Turner; “spiritual health is to be had only by accepting this condition and by attempting to live in accordance with it.” Turner contends that this life view is healthier than European alternatives: “Ours is a shockingly dead view of creation. We ourselves are the only things in the universe to which we grant an authentic vitality, and because of this we are not fully alive.”65 Thus, Turner shows that taking Native American religions seriously might require reexamination of the Judeo-Christian tradition. No textbook would suggest such a controversial idea.
Similarly, textbooks give readers no clue as to what the zone of contact
was like from the Native side. They emphasize Native Americans such as Squanto and Pocahontas, who sided with the invaders. And they invert the terms, picturing white aggressors as “settlers” and often showing Native settlers as aggressors. “The United States Department of Interior had tried to give each tribe both land and money,” says The American Way, describing the U.S. policy of forcing tribes to cede most of their land and retreat to reservations. Whites were baffled by Native ingratitude at being “offered” this land, Way claims: “White Americans could not understand the Indians. To them, owning land was a dream come true.” In reality,
whites of the time were hardly baffled. Even Gen. Philip Sheridan—who is notorious for having said, “The only good Indian is a dead Indian”— understood. “We took away their country and their means of support, and it was for this and against this they made war,” he wrote. “Could anyone expect less?”66 The textbooks have turned history upside down.
Let us try a right-side-up view. “After King Philip’s War, there was continuous conflict at the edge of New England. In Vermont the settlers worried about savages scalping them.” This description is accurate, provided the reader understands that the settlers were Native American, the scalpers white. Even the best of our American history books fail to show the climate of white actions within which Native Americans on the border of white control had to live. It was so bad, and Natives had so little recourse, that the Catawbas in North Carolina “fled in every direction” in l786 when a solitary white man rode into their village unannounced. And the Catawbas were a friendly tribe!67
From the opposite coast, here is a story that might help make such
dispersal understandable: “An old white settler told his son who was writing about life on the Oregon frontier about an incident he recalled from the cowboys and Indians days. Some cowboys came upon Indian families without their men present. The cowboys gave pursuit, planning to rape the squaws, as was the custom. One woman, however, pushed sand into her vagina to thwart her pursuers.”68 The act of resistance is what made the incident memorable. Otherwise, it was entirely ordinary. Such ordinariness is what our textbooks leave out. They do not challenge our archetypal Laura Ingalls Wilder picture of peaceful white settlers suffering occasional attacks by brutal Indians. If they did, the fact that so many tribes resorted to war, even after l8l5 when resistance was clearly doomed, would become understandable.
Indian Massacre at Wilkes-Barre shows a motif common in nineteenth-century lithographs: Indians invading the sanctity of the white settlers’ homes. Actually, whites were invading Indian lands and often Indian homes, but pictures such as this, not the reality, remain the archetype.
Our history is full of wars with Native American nations. “For almost two hundred years,” notes David Horowitz, “almost continuous warfare raged on the American continent, its conflict more threatening than any the nation was to face again.” American Indian warfare absorbed 80 percent of the entire federal budget during George Washington’s administration and dogged his successors for a century as a major issue and expense. Yet most of my original twelve textbooks barely mentioned the topic. The American Pageant still offers a table of “Total Costs and Number of Battle Deaths of Major U.S. Wars” that completely omits Indian wars. Pageant includes the Spanish-American War, according it a toll of 385 battle deaths, but leaves out the Ohio War of l790-95, which cost 630 dead and missing U.S. troops in a single battle, the Battle of Wabash River.69
At least today’s textbooks no longer blame the Natives for all the violence, as did most textbooks written before the civil rights movement. Historians used to say, “Civilized war is the kind we fight against them, whereas savage war is the atrocious kind that they fight against us.”70 Not one of the eighteen history books I examined portrays Natives as savages. The authors of the newer books are careful to admit brutality on both sides.
Some mention the massacres of defenseless Native Americans at Sand Creek and Wounded Knee. Like much of our “knowledge” about Native Americans, the “savage” stereotype derived not only from old textbooks but also from our popular culture—particularly from Western movies and novels, such as the popular “Wagons West” series by Dana Fuller Ross. These paperbacks, which have sold hundreds of thousands of copies, claim boldly, “The general outlines of history have been faithfully followed.” Titled with state names, the novels’ covers warn that “marauding Indian bands are spreading murder and mayhem among terror-stricken settlers.”7l In the Hollywood West, wagon trains were invariably encircled by savage Indian hordes. Native Americans rode round and round the “settlers,” while John Wayne picked them off from behind wagon wheels and boxes. Hollywood borrowed the haplessly circling Indians from Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show, where they had to ride in a circle, presenting a broadside target, because they were in a circus tent!
In the real West, among 250,000 whites and blacks who journeyed across the Plains between l840 and l860, only 362 pioneers (and 426 Native Americans) died in all the recorded battles between the two groups. Much more common, American Indians gave the new settlers directions, showed them water holes, sold them food and horses, bought cloth and guns, and served as guides and interpreters.72 These activities are rarely depicted in movies, novels, or our textbooks. Inhaling the misinformation of the popular culture, students have no idea that Natives considered European warfare far more savage than their own.
Most new textbooks do tell about New England’s first Indian war, the
Pequot War of l636-37, which provides a case study of the intensified warfare Europeans brought to America. Allied with the Narragansetts, traditional enemies of the Pequots, the colonists attacked at dawn. Surrounding the Pequot village, whose inhabitants were mostly women, children, and old men, the English set it on fire and shot those who tried to escape the flames. William Bradford described the scene: “It was a fearful sight to see them thus frying in the fire and the streams of blood quenching the same, and horrible was the stink and scent thereof; but the victory seemed a sweet sacrifice, and they gave praise thereof to God, who had wrought so wonderfully for them.”73 The slaughter shocked the
Narragansetts, who had wanted merely to subjugate the Pequots, not exterminate them. The Narragansetts reproached the English for their style of warfare, crying, “It is naught, it is naught, because it is too furious, and slays too many men.” In turn, Capt. John Underhill scoffed, saying that the Narragansett style of fighting was “more for pastime, than to conquer and subdue enemies.” Underhill’s analysis of the role of warfare in Narragansett society was correct, and might accurately be applied to other tribes as well. Through the centuries, whites frequently accused their Native allies of not fighting hard enough. The Puritans tried to erase the Pequots even from memory, passing a law making it a crime to say the word Pequot. Bradford concluded proudly, “The rest are scattered, and the Indians in all quarters are so terrified that they are afraid to give them sanctuary.”74 None of these quotations entered our older textbooks, which devoted just one and a quarter sentences to this war on average. While no new book quotes Bradford—they don’t often quote anyone!—they do tell how the English colonists destroyed the Pequots. Perhaps as a result, future college students, unlike mine, will no longer come up with savage when asked for five adjectives that apply to Indians.
Today’s textbooks also give considerable attention to perhaps the most violent Indian war of all, King Philip’s War. This war began in l675, when white New Englanders executed three Wampanoag Indians and the Wampanoags attacked. One reason for the end of peace was that the fur trade, which had linked Natives and Europeans economically, was winding down in Massachusetts.75 Pathways to the Present presents students with the Native side of this conflict by quoting a Native leader, Miantonomo: “Our fathers had plenty of deer and skins, our plains were full of deer, as also our woods, and of turkeys, and our coves full of fish and fowl. But these English having gotten our land, they with scythes cut down the grass, and with axes fell the trees; their cows and horses eat the grass, and their hogs spoil our clam banks, and we shall be starved.” The Americans also quotes Miantonomo, and several other recent books do a decent job explaining King Philip’s War, which is important, because this was no minor war. “Of some 90 Puritan towns, 52 had been attacked and l2 destroyed,” according to Nash. “At the end of the war several thousand English and perhaps twice as many Indians lay dead.”76 King Philip’s War
cost more American lives in combat, Anglo and Native, in absolute terms than the French and Indian War, the Revolution, the War of l8l2, the Mexican War, or the Spanish-American War. In proportion to population, casualties were greater than in any other American war.77
War with American Indians started in New Mexico, in l598, when residents of Acoma pueblo killed thirteen Spanish conquistadors who were trying to take over their town.78 It spread to the Southeast where, “because of fierce and implacable Indian resistance, the Spanish were unable to colonize Florida for over a hundred years.”79 Except for a few minor skirmishes, it ceased in l890 with the massacre at Wounded Knee. Our histories can hardly describe each war, because there were so many. But precisely because there were so many, to minimize Indian wars misrepresents our history.
Most textbook maps, like that above, show “French Territory,” “British Territory,” “Spanish Territory,” and sometimes “Disputed Territory,” with no mention of Indians at all. In maps that include Indian nations, such as the map opposite from D. W. Meinig, The Shaping of America (New Haven: Yale University Press, l986), l: 209, the function of Indians as buffers between the colonial powers is graphically evident.
We must also admit the Indian-ness of some of our other wars. From l600 to l754 Europe was often at war, including three world wars—the War of the League of Augsburg (l689-97), known in the United States as King William’s War; the War of the Spanish Succession (l702-l3), known here as Queen Anne’s War; and the War of the Austrian Succession (l744- 48), known here as King George’s War. In North America the major European powers, England, France, and Spain, buffered from each other by Indian land, fought mainly through their Indian allies. Native Americans inadvertently provided a gift of relative peace to the colonies by absorbing the shock of combat themselves.
Another world war, the Seven Years War (l754-63), in the United States called the French and Indian War, was also fought in North America mostly by Native Americans on both sides. Native Americans not only fought in the American Revolution but were its first cause, for the Proclamation of l763, which placated Native American nations by forbidding the colonies from making land grants beyond the Appalachian continental divide, enraged many colonists. They saw themselves as paying to support a British army that only obstructed them from seizing Indian lands on the western frontier. After hostilities with Britain broke out, however, the fledgling United Colonies in l775 were initially more concerned about relations with Indian nations than with Europe, so they sent Benjamin Franklin first to the Iroquois, then to France.80 Native Americans also played a large role in the War of l8l2 and participated as well in the Mexican War and the Civil War.8l In each war Natives fought mostly against other Natives. In each, the larger number aligned against the colonies, later the United States, correctly perceiving that, for geopolitical reasons, opponents of the United States offered them better chances of being accorded human rights and retaining their land.
Even in describing the French and Indian War, some textbooks leave out the Indians! One of the worst defeats American Indians ever inflicted on white forces was the rout of General Braddock in l755 in Pennsylvania. Braddock had l,460 men, including eight Indian scouts and a detachment of Virginia militia under George Washington. Six hundred to l,000 Native Americans and 290 French soldiers opposed them, but you would never guess any Indians were there from The American Tradition: “On July 9, as they were approaching the fort, the French launched an ambush. Braddock’s force was surrounded and defeated. The red-coated British soldiers, unaccustomed to fighting in the wilderness [sic], suffered over 900 casualties. Braddock, mortally wounded, murmured as he died, ‘We shall know better how to deal with them another time.’” Tradition thus renders Braddock’s last words meaningless, for “them” refers not to the French but to Native Americans.
Above is one of many old lithographs that show American Indians attacking Braddock. Some textbooks today make the Indians invisible. Below is the image from The Americans in 2007 titled “The British general Edward Braddock met defeat and death near Fort Duquesne in l755.” No one could infer that Natives had anything to do with his defeat from this image.
In our Revolution, most of the Iroquois Confederacy sided with the British and attacked white Americans in New York and northern Pennsylvania. In l778 the United States suffered a major defeat when several hundred Tories and Senecas routed 400 militia and regulars at Forty Fort, Pennsylvania, killing 340. After the Revolution, although Britain gave up, its Native American allies did not. Our insistence on treating the Indians
as if we had defeated them led to the Ohio War of l790-95 and later to the War of l8l2.
The never-ending source of dispute was land. To explain this constant conflict, half of the textbooks I examined, including several current ones, rely on the cliché that Native Americans held some premodern understanding of land ownership. When students learn from American Journey, for example, that the Dutch “bought Manhattan from the Manhates people for a small amount of beads and other goods,” presumably they are supposed to smile indulgently. What a bargain! What foolish Indians, not to recognize the potential of the island! Not one book points out that the Dutch paid the wrong tribe for Manhattan. Doubtless the Canarsees, native to Brooklyn, were quite pleased with the deal which, just for the record, probably didn’t involve beads at all, but more than $2,400 worth of metal kettles, steel knives and axes, guns, and blankets, in today’s dollars. The Weckquaesgeeks, who lived on Manhattan and really owned it, weren’t so happy. For years afterward they warred sporadically with the Dutch. Perhaps the most famous street in America, Wall Street, was named for the wall the Dutch built to protect New Amsterdam from the Weckquaesgeeks, evidence that the Dutch hardly imagined they had bought Manhattan from its real owners. But our history books leave out this part of the story. The authors of one book, American Pageant, may actually know that the Dutch paid the wrong tribe. The way they phrase it, however—the Dutch bought “Manhattan Island from the Indians (who did not actually ‘own’ it) for virtually worthless trinkets”—again merely invites readers to infer that Native Americans did not believe in land ownership and could not bargain intelligently.82
Europeans were forever paying the wrong tribe or paying a small faction within a much larger nation. Often they didn’t really care; they merely sought justification for theft. Such fraudulent transactions might even have worked in their favor, for they frequently set one tribe or faction against another. The biggest single purchase from the wrong tribe took place in l803. All the textbooks tell how Jefferson “doubled the size of the United States by buying Louisiana from France.” Not one points out that it was not France’s land to sell—it was Indian land. The French never consulted with the Native owners before selling; most Native Americans
never even knew of the sale. Indeed, France did not really sell Louisiana for
$l5 million. France merely sold its claim to the territory. The United States was still paying Native American tribes for Louisiana throughout the nineteenth century. We were also fighting them for it: the Army Almanac lists more than fifty Indian wars in the Louisiana Purchase from l8l9 to l890. To treat France as the seller, as all our textbooks do, is Eurocentric. Equally Eurocentric are the maps textbooks use to show the Lewis and Clark expedition. Even the newest maps still blandly label huge expanses “Spanish Territory,” “British Territory,” and “French Territory,” making Native Americans invisible and implying that the United States bought vacant land from the French. Although the Mandans hosted the expedition during the winter of l804-05 and the Clatsops did so the next winter, even these tribes drop out. Apparently Lewis and Clark did it all on their own.
Some recent textbooks still chide Natives for not understanding that when they sold their land, they transferred not only the agricultural rights, but also the rights to the property’s game, fish, and sheer enjoyment. “To Native Americans, no one owned the land—it was there for everyone to use,” in the words of The Americans. Nonsense! American Indians and Europeans had about the same views of land ownership, although Natives did not think that individuals could buy or sell, only whole villages. Authors seem unaware that most land sales before the twentieth century, including sales among whites, transferred primarily the rights to farm, mine, and otherwise develop the land, not the right to bar passage across it. Undeveloped private land was considered public and accessible to all, within limits of good conduct.83 Moreover, tribal negotiators typically made sure that deeds and treaties specifically reserved hunting, fishing, gathering, and traveling rights to Native Americans.84
Most textbooks do state that conflict over land was the root cause of our
Indian wars. Pathways to the Present, for example, begins its discussion of the War of l8l2 by telling how Tecumseh met with Gov. William Henry Harrison of Indiana Territory to complain about whites encroaching upon Indian land. Other recent textbooks likewise emphasize conflict with the Indians, who were seen as backed by the British, as the key cause of this dispute. All along the boundary, from Vermont to the Georgia Piedmont, white Americans wanted to push the boundary of white settlement ever
farther into Indian country. This is a significant change for the better; earlier textbooks simply repeated the pretext offered by the Madison administration—Britain’s refusal to show proper respect to American ships and seamen—even though it made no sense. After all, Britain’s maritime laws caused no war until the frontier states sent War Hawks—senators and representatives who promised military action to expand the boundaries of the United States—to Congress in l8l0. Whites along the frontier wanted the war, and along the frontier most of the war was fought, beginning in November l8ll when Harrison replied to Tecumseh’s complaint by attacking the Shawnees and allied tribes at the Battle of Tippecanoe. The United States fought five of the seven major land battles of the War of l8l2 primarily against Native Americans.85
All but two textbooks miss the key result of the war. Some authors actually cite the “Star Spangled Banner” as the main outcome! Others claim that the war left “a feeling of pride as a nation” or “helped Americans to win European respect.” The American Adventure excels, pointing out, “The American Indians were the only real losers in the war.” Triumph of the American Nation expresses the same sentiments, but euphemistically: “After l8l5 the American people began the exciting task of occupying the western lands.” All the other books miss the key outcome: in return for our leaving Canada alone, Great Britain gave up its alliances with American Indian nations in what would become the United States. Without war materiel and other aid from European allies, future Indian wars were transformed from major international conflicts to domestic mopping-up operations. This result was central to the course of Indian-U.S. relations for the remainder of the century. Thus Indian wars after l8l5, while they cost thousands of lives on both sides, would never again amount to a serious threat to the United States.86 Although Native Americans won many battles in subsequent wars, there was never the slightest doubt over who would win in the end.
Another result of the War of l8l2 was the loss of part of our history. As historian Bruce Johansen put it, “A century of learning [from Native Americans] was coming to a close. A century and more of forgetting—of calling history into service to rationalize conquest—was beginning.”87 After l8l5 American Indians could no longer play what sociologists call
the role of conflict partner—an important other who must be taken into account—so Americans forgot that Natives had ever been significant in our history. Even terminology changed: until l8l5 the word Americans had generally been used to refer to Native Americans; after l8l5 it meant European Americans.88
Ironically, several textbooks that omit King Philip’s War and the Native American role in the War of l8l2 focus instead on such minor Plains wars as Geronimo’s Apache War of l885-86, which involved maybe forty Apache fighters.89 The Plains wars fit the post-l8l5 story line of the textbooks, since they pitted white settlers against semi-nomadic Indians. The Plains Indians are the Native Americans textbooks love to mourn: authors can lament their passing while considering it inevitable, hence untroubling.
The textbooks also fail to show how the continuous Indian wars have reverberated through our culture. Carleton Beals has written that “our acquiescence in Indian dispossession has molded the American character.”90 As soon as Natives were no longer conflict partners, their image deteriorated in the minds of many whites. Kupperman has shown how this process unfolded in Virginia after the Indian defeat in the l640s: “It was the ultimate powerlessness of the Indians, not their racial inferiority, which made it possible to see them as people without rights.”9l Natives who had been “ingenious,” “industrious,” and “quick of apprehension” in l6l0 now became “sloathfull and idle, vitious, melancholy, [and] slovenly.” This is another example of the process of cognitive dissonance. Like Christopher Columbus, George Washington changed his attitudes toward Indians. Washington held positive views of Native Americans early in his life, but after unleashing attacks upon them in the Revolutionary War and the Ohio War in l790, he would come to denounce them as “animals of prey.”92
This process of rationalization became unofficial national policy after
the War of l8l2. In l845 William Gilmore Simms wrote, “Our blinding prejudices . . . have been fostered as necessary to justify the reckless and unsparing hand with which we have smitten [American Indians] in their habitations and expelled them from their country.” In l87l Francis A.
Walker, Commissioner of Indian Affairs, considered American Indians beneath morality: “When dealing with savage men, as with savage beasts, no question of national honor can arise.” Whatever action the United States cared to take “is solely a question of expediency.”93 Thus, cognitive dissonance destroyed our national idealism. From l8l5 on, instead of spreading democracy, we exported the ideology of white supremacy. Gradually we sought American hegemony over Mexico, the Philippines, much of the Caribbean basin, and, indirectly, over other nations. Although European nations professed to be shocked by our actions on the western frontier, before long they were emulating us. Britain exterminated most Tasmanian aborigines; Germany pursued total war against the Herrero of Namibia. Most western nations have yet to face this history. Ironically, Adolf Hitler displayed more knowledge of how we treated Native Americans than American high schoolers today who rely on their textbooks. Hitler admired our concentration camps for American Indians in the west and according to John Toland, his biographer, “often praised to his inner circle the efficiency of America’s extermination—by starvation and uneven combat” as the model for his extermination of Jews and Gypsies (Rom people).94
Were there alternatives to this history of war? Of course, there were.
Indeed, France, Russia, and Spain all pursued different alternatives in the Americas. Since the alternatives to war remain roads largely not taken in the United States, however, they are tricky topics for historians. As Edward Carr noted, “History is, by and large, a record of what people did, not of what they failed to do.”95 On the other hand, making the present seem inevitable robs history of all its life and much of its meaning. History is contingent upon the actions of people. “The duty of the historian,” Gordon Craig has reminded us, “is to restore to the past the options it once had.” Craig also pointed out that this is an appropriate way to teach history and to make it memorable.96 White Americans chose among real alternatives and were often divided among themselves. At various points in our history, our anti-Indian policies might have gone another way. For example, one reason the War of l8l2 was so unpopular in New England was that New
Englanders saw it as a naked attempt by slave owners to appropriate Indian land.
Peaceful coexistence of whites and Native Americans presents itself as perhaps the most obvious alternative to war, but was it really possible? In thinking about this question, we must take care not to compare a static Indian culture to changing modern culture. We have seen the rapid changes in independent Native cultures—giving up farming in response to European military actions, the flowering of multilingualism, development of more formal hierarchies, the entire Plains Indian culture. Such changes would no doubt have continued. Thus we are not talking about bow-and-arrow hunters living side by side with computerized urbanites.
We should keep in mind that the thousands of white and black Americans who joined American Indian societies must have believed that coexistence was possible. From the start, however, white conduct hindered peaceful coexistence. A thousand little encroachments eventually made it impossible for American Indians to farm near whites. Around Plymouth, the Indians leased their grazing land but retained their planting grounds. Too late they found that this did not keep colonists from letting their livestock roam free to ruin the crops. When Native Americans protested, they usually found that colonial courts excluded their testimony. On the other hand, “the Indian who dared to kill an Englishman’s marauding animals was promptly hauled into a hostile court.”97 The precedent established on the Atlantic coast—that American Indians were not citizens of the Europeans’ state and lacked legal rights—prevented peaceful white- Indian coexistence throughout the colonies and later the United States. Even in Indian Territory, supposedly under Native control, whether Indians were charged with offenses on white land or whites on Indian land, trial had to be held in a white court in Missouri or Arkansas, miles away.98
Since many whites had a material interest in dispossessing American
Indians of their land, and since European and African populations grew ever larger while plagues continued to reduce the Native population, plainly the United States was going to rule. In this sense war only prolonged the inevitable. Another alternative to war would have been an express commitment to racial harmony: a predominantly European but nonracist United States that did not differentiate racially between Indians and non-
Indians.99 U.S. history provides several examples of relatively nonracist enclaves. Sociologists call them triracial isolates because their heritage is white, black, and red, as it were. For centuries these communities occupied swamps and other undesirable lands, wanting mostly to be left alone. The Revolutionary War hero Crispus Attucks, an escaped slave of Wampanoag, European, and African ancestry, was a member of such an enclave. The Lumbee Indians in North Carolina comprise the largest of these groups. Other triracial isolates include the Wampanoags in Massachusetts, the Seminoles in Florida, and smaller bands from Louisiana to Maine.l00
The first English settlement in North America, Roanoke Island in l585,
probably did not die out but was absorbed into the nearby Croatoan Indians, “thereby achieving a harmonious biracial society that always eluded colonial planters,” in the words of historian J. F. Fausz. Eventually the English and Croatoans may have become part of the Lumbees. The English never learned the outcome of the “Lost Colony,” however. Frederick Turner has suggested that they did not want to think about the possibility that English settlers had survived by merging with Native Americans. Instead, Fausz tells us, “tales of the ‘Lost Colony’ came to epitomize the treacherous nature of hostile Indians and served as the mythopoetic ‘bloody shirt’ for justifying aggressions against the Powhatan years later.” Triracial isolates have generally won only contempt from their white neighbors, which is why they have chosen rural isolation. Our textbooks isolate them, too: none mentions the term or the peoples.l0l
A related possibility for Natives, Europeans, and Africans was intermarriage. Alliance through marriage is a common way for two societies to deal with each other, and Indians in the United States repeatedly suggested such a policy.l02 Spanish men married Native women in California and New Mexico and converted them to Spanish ways. French fur traders married Native women in Canada and Illinois and converted to Native ways. Not the English. Textbooks might usefully pass on to students the old cliché—the French penetrated Indian societies, the Spanish acculturated them, and the English expelled them—for it offers a largely accurate summary of European-Indian relationships.l03 In New England and Virginia, English colonists quickly moved to forbid interracial
marriage.l04 Pocahontas stands as the first and almost the last Native to be accepted into British-American society, which we may therefore call “white society,” through marriage. After her, most interracial couples found greater acceptance in Native society. There their children often became chiefs, because their bicultural background was an asset in the complex world the tribes now had to navigate.l05 In Anglo society “half-breeds” were not valued but stigmatized.
Another alternative to war was the creation of an American Indian state within the United States. In l778, when the Delaware Indians proposed that Native Americans be admitted to the union as a separate state, Congress refused even to consider the idea.l06 In the l840s, Indian Territory sought the right enjoyed by other territories to send representatives to Congress, but white Southerners stopped them.l07 The Confederacy won the backing of most Native Americans in Indian Territory, however, by promising to admit the territory as a state if the South won the Civil War. After the war Native Americans proposed the same arrangement to the United States. Again the United States said no, but eventually admitted Indian Territory as the white-dominated state of Oklahoma—ironically, the name means [land for] red people in Choctaw.
Our textbooks pay no attention to any of these possibilities. Instead, they dwell on another road not taken: total one-way acculturation to white society. The overall story line most American history textbooks tell about American Indians is this: We tried to Europeanize them; they wouldn’t or couldn’t do it; so we dispossessed them. While more sympathetic than the account in earlier textbooks, this account falls into the trap of repeating as history the propaganda used by policy makers in the nineteenth century as a rationale for removal—that Native Americans stood in the way of progress. The only real difference is the tone. Back when white Americans were doing the dispossessing, justifications were shrill. They denounced Native cultures as primitive, savage, and nomadic. Often writers invoked the hand or blessings of God, said to favor those who “did more” with the land.l08 Now that the dispossessing is done, our histories since l980 can see more virtue in the conquered cultures. But they still pictured American Indians as tragically different, unable or unwilling to acculturate.
When they stress Natives’ alleged unwillingness to acculturate, American histories slip into the story line of the official seal of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. “Come Over and Help Us” is white settler propaganda, which grew into an archetype of well-meaning Europeans and tragically different Indians.
The trouble is, it wasn’t like that. The problem was not Native failure to acculturate. In reality, many European Americans did not really want Indians to acculturate. It wasn’t in their interest. At times this was obvious, as when the Massachusetts legislature in l789 passed a law prohibiting teaching Native Americans how to read and write “under penalty of death.”l09 President Thomas Jefferson told a delegation of Cherokees in l808, “Let me entreat you therefore, on the lands now given [sic] you to begin every man a farm, let him enclose it, cultivate it, build a warm house on it, and when he dies let it belong to his wife and children after him.”ll0 In reality, the Cherokees already were farmers who were visiting Jefferson precisely to ask the president to assign their lands to them in severalty (as individual farms) and to make them citizens.lll Jefferson put them off. The American Way asks students, “Why were the Indians moved further west?” Its teachers’ edition provides the answer: “They were moved so the settlers
could use the land for growing crops.” We might add this catechism: “What were the Indians doing on the land?” “They were growing crops!” When Jefferson spoke to the Cherokees, whites had been burning Native houses and cornfields for l86 years, beginning in Virginia in l622.
A census taken among the Cherokee in Georgia in l825 (reported in Vogel, ed., This Country Was Ours, 289) showed that they owned “33 grist mills, l3 saw mills, l powder mill, 69 blacksmith shops, 2 tan yards, 762 looms, 2,486 spinning wheels, l72 wagons, 2,923 plows, 7,683 horses, 22,53l black cattle, 46,732 swine, and 2,566 sheep.” Some Cherokees were wealthy planters, including Joseph Vann, who cultivated three hundred acres, operated a ferry, steamboat, mill, and tavern, and owned this mansion. It aroused the envy of the sheriff and other whites in Murray County, who evicted Vann in l834 and appropriated the house for themselves, according to Lela Latch Lloyd.
No matter how thoroughly Native Americans acculturated, they could not succeed in white society. Whites would not let them. “Indians were always regarded as aliens, and were rarely allowed to live within white society except on its periphery,” according to Nash.ll2 Native Americans who amassed property, owned European-style homes, perhaps operated sawmills, merely became the first targets of white thugs who coveted their
land and improvements. In time of war the position of assimilated Indians grew particularly desperate. Consider Pennsylvania. During the French and Indian War the Susquehannas, living peaceably in white towns, were hatcheted by their neighbors, who then collected bounties from authorities who weren’t careful whose scalp they were paying for, so long as it was Indian. Through the centuries and across the country, this pattern recurred. In l860, for instance, California ranchers killed l85 of the 800 Wiyots, a tribe allied with the whites, because they were angered by other tribes’ cattle raids.ll3
The new textbooks do a splendid job telling how the “Five Civilized
Tribes”—Choctaws, Chickasaws, Cherokees, Creeks, and Seminoles— acculturated successfully, but were exiled to Oklahoma anyway. Nevertheless, authors never let these settled Indians interfere with the traditional story line. Forgetting how whites forced Natives to roam, forgetting just who taught the Pilgrims to farm in the first place, our culture and our textbooks still stereotype Native Americans as roaming primitive hunting folk, hence unfortunate victims of progress. As Boorstin and Kelley put it, “North of Mexico, most of the people lived in wandering tribes and led a simple life. North American Indians were mainly hunters and gatherers of wild food. An exceptional few—in Arizona and New Mexico
—settled in one place and became farmers.”
Ironically, to Native eyes, Europeans were the nomads. As Chief Seattle put it in l855, “To us the ashes of our ancestors are sacred and their resting place is hallowed ground. You wander far from the graves of your ancestors and seemingly without regret.” In contrast, Indian “roaming” consisted mainly of moving from summer homes to winter homes and back again.ll4 One way to understand why acculturation couldn’t work for most Natives is to imagine that the United States allowed lawless discrimination against all people whose last name starts with the letter L. How long would we last? The first non-L people who wanted our homes or jobs could force us out, and we would be without resources. People around us would then blame us L people for being vagrants. That is what happened to Native Americans. In Massachusetts, colonists were constantly tempted to pick quarrels with Indian families because the result was likely to be acquiring their land.ll5 In Oregon, 240 years later, the process continued. Ten
thousand whites had moved onto the Nez Percé reservation by l862, so a senator from Oregon suggested that the United States should remove the nation. Senator William Fessenden of Maine pointed out the problem: “There is no difficulty, I take it, in Oregon in keeping men off the lands that are owned by white men. But when the possessor happens to be an Indian, the question is changed altogether.”ll6 Without legal rights, acculturation cannot succeed. Inmuttooyahlatlat, known to whites as Chief Joseph, said this eloquently: “We ask that the same law shall work alike on all men. If an Indian breaks the law, punish him by the law. If a white man breaks the law, punish him also. Let me be a free man—free to travel, free to stop, free to work, free to trade where I choose, free to talk and think and act for myself.”ll7 It was not to be. Most courts simply refused to hear testimony from Native Americans against whites. After noting how non-Indians could
rise through the ranks of
summed up the possibilities
in white society:
anthropologist Peter Farb
“At almost no time in the
history of the United States, though, were the Indians afforded similar opportunities for voluntary assimilation.”ll8 The acculturated Native simply stood out as a target.
The authors of history textbooks occasionally announce their intentions in writing. In the teachers’ edition of The American Way, for instance, Nancy Bauer states: “It is the goal of this book that its readers will understand America, be proud of its strengths, be pleased in its determination to improve, and welcome the opportunity to join as active citizens in The American Way.” That the author could not possibly pay reasonable attention to Indian history follows logically. It is understandable that textbook authors might write history in such a way that descendants of the “settlers” can feel good about themselves by feeling good about the past. Feeling good is a human need, but it imposes a burden that history cannot bear without becoming simpleminded. Casting Indian history as a tragedy because Native Americans could not or would not acculturate is feel-good history for whites. By downplaying Indian wars, textbooks help us forget that we wrested the continent from Native Americans. Today’s college students, when asked to compile a list of U.S. wars, never think to include Indian wars, individually or as a whole. The Indian-white wars that
dominated our history from l622 to l8l5 and were of considerable importance until l890 have mostly disappeared from our national memory.
The answer to minimizing the Indian wars is not maximizing them. Telling Indian history as a parade of white villains might be feel-good history for those who want to wallow in the inference that America or whites are bad. What happened is more complex than that, however, so the history we tell must be more complex. Textbooks are beginning to reveal some of the divisions among whites that lent considerable vitality to the alternatives to war. Several tell of Roger Williams of Salem, who in the l630s challenged Massachusetts to renounce its royal patent to the land, asserting, “The natives are the true owners of it,” unless they sold it. (The Puritans renounced Williams, and he fled to Rhode Island.)ll9 Most authors now mention Helen Hunt Jackson, who in l88l paid to provide copies of her famous indictment of our Native American policies, A Century of Dishonor, to every member of Congress.l20 All recent textbooks tell how Andrew Jackson and John Marshall waged a titanic struggle over Georgia’s attempt to subjugate the Cherokees. Chief Justice Marshall found for the Cherokees, whereupon President Jackson ignored the Court, reputedly with the words, “John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it!” But no textbook brings any suspense to the issue as one of the dominant questions throughout our first century as a nation. None tells how several Christian denominations—Quakers, Shakers, Moravians, some Presbyterians—and a faction of the Whig Party mobilized public opinion on behalf of fair play for the Native Americans.l2l By ignoring the Whigs, textbooks make the Cherokee removal seem inevitable, another example of unacculturated aborigines helpless in the way of progress.
Native Americans would have textbooks note that, despite all the wars,
the plagues, the pressures against their cultures, American Indians still survive, physically and culturally, and still have government-to-government relations with the United States. As recently as l984, a survey of American history textbooks complained that “contemporary issues important to Native peoples were entirely excluded.”l22 The books I examined did better. The American Indian Movement (AIM) spurred three major Indian
takeovers in the early l970s: Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay, the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C., and Wounded Knee, South Dakota. Most new textbooks competently explain the causes and results of all three.
Anti-Indian racism eased considerably during the twentieth century. Taking advantage of their special status as “dependent domestic nations,” as decreed by Chief Justice Marshall long ago, many tribes developed gaming establishments and hotels to build a solid relationship with the global economy. Ironically, the very fact that the United States is beginning to let Natives acculturate successfully, albeit on Anglo terms, poses a new threat to Native coexistence. Poverty and discrimination long helped to isolate American Indians. If they can now get good jobs, as some can, buy new vehicles and satellite televisions, as some have, and commute to the city for part of their life, as some do, it is much harder to maintain the intangible values that make up the core of Indian cultures.l23 Only one textbook— one of the oldest I studied—raises the key question now facing Native Americans: Can distinctively Indian cultures survive? Discovering American History treats this issue in an exemplary way, inviting students to experience the dilemma through the words of Native American teenagers. Newer textbooks cannot raise this issue because they remain locked into non-Indian sources and a non-Indian interpretive framework. Textbooks still define Native Americans in opposition to civilization and still conceive of Indian cultures in what anthropologists call the ethnographic present— frozen at the time of white contact. When textbooks show sympathy for “the tragic struggle of American Indians to maintain their way of life,” they exemplify this myopia. Native Americans never had “a” way of life; they had many. American Indians would not have maintained those ways unchanged over the last five hundred years, even without European and African immigration. Indians have long struggled to change their ways of life. That autonomy we took from them. Even today we divide Native American leadership into “progressives” who want to acculturate and “traditionals” who want to “remain Indian.” Textbook authors do not put other Americans into this straitjacket. We non-Indians choose what we want from the past or from other cultures. We jettisoned our medical practices of the l780s while retaining the Constitution. But Native American medical
practitioners who abandon their traditional ways to embrace pasteurization from France and antibiotics from England are seen as compromising their Indian-ness. We can alter our modes of transportation or housing while remaining “American.” Indians cannot and stay “Indian” in our eyes.
Perhaps Native Americans can break through the dilemma of acculturation and become modern and Indian. Certainly their artists have accomplished this. Only since the l930s have Inuit artists in Canada been carving soapstone, a material that in the previous century their ancestors used for making pots. This sculpture, Dancing to My Spirit, by Nalenik Temela, is a beautiful example of syncretism.
Improved histories might increase the chances for syncretism on both sides of our ideological frontier. If we knew the extent to which American Indian ideas have shaped American culture, the United States might recognize Native American societies as cultural assets from which we could continue to learn. At present, none of our textbooks hints at this possibility; even the more enlightened ones merely champion better treatment for Indians while stopping short of suggesting that our society might still benefit from American Indian ideas.
Even if no Natives remained among us, however, it would still be important for us to understand the alternatives foregone, to remember the wars, and to learn the unvarnished truths about white-Indian relations. Indian history is the antidote to the pious ethnocentrism of American exceptionalism, the notion that European Americans are God’s chosen people. Indian history reveals that the United States and its predecessor British colonies have wrought great harm in the world. We must not forget this—not to wallow in our wrongdoing, but to understand and to learn, that we might not wreak harm again. We must temper our national pride with critical self- knowledge, suggests historian Christopher Vecsey: “The study of our contact with Indians, the envisioning of our dark American selves, can instill such a strengthening doubt.”l24 History through red eyes offers our children a deeper understanding than comes from encountering the past as a story of inevitable triumph by the good guys.
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