The Indian as Egalitarian
According to John Greenway, historians "write about the Indian because the Indian in the American mind is as imaginary as Sandburg's Lincoln, a creation of fantasy, guilt and ignorance, on which everyone is his own authority." Such is the altogether sad and dangerous situation in which we presently find ourselves. Bare with me, dear reader, as I once more attempt to expose a few more myths about the red man.
One of the more enduring fantasies of "native American" culture is that it was an egalitarian paradise. Women were respected as equals; male chauvinism was nonexistent; children were adored; all dwelt together with mutual respect and unfailing love. This, of all the dreamy dreams of the left, is perhaps the most mystifying to explain. Whereas, one can understand why the radical environmentalists think they have historical allies in the Indians; how feminists and their fellow egalitarians can interpret native American society as an Egalitarian Nirvana is beyond me. We once again have an illustration either of utter ignorance of the facts or a brazen dishonesty in the use of them.
The Indians, they say, respected women. It was truly a "non-sexist" society. True? Bernal Diaz del Castillo (the historian who traveled with Cortes) reports that the Mexican Indians gave batches of young women (some of them nieces and daughters of Indian leaders) to the conquistadors as gifts. The Caribs made a practice of capturing women from the neighboring Arawak tribes to use as concubines. Younger women were kept and used to reproduce babies which were considered a rare delicacy at special celebrations. (Remember, it is from the name "Carib" that we derive our word "cannibal.")
Erik Erikson has observed in his book Childhood and Society, that Sioux girls had to be taught to tie their thighs together at night in order to prevent being raped by the boys, "it was considered proper for a youth to rape any maiden whom he caught outside the areas defined for decent girls: a girl who did not know 'her place' was his legitimate prey, and he could boast of the deed." (quoted in Family Matters, Why Homeschooling Makes Sense, by David Guterson).
Was there "sexism"? Indian women did most of the heavy work while the men hunted. They were allowed to eat only after the men had eaten their fill. Until the arrival of the horse, the women carried the family belongings when the tribe migrated (who needs a pack mule when you have a good woman?). Robert Royal points out that the Caribs' own women were kept segregated from the men to such an extent "that the two sexes spoke separate languages. Only the men spoke Carib; the women, even Carib women, spoke Arawak because of the large numbers of captive Arawak women among them." (1492 And All That, p. 105) The reality is that women were treated and viewed by most tribes as nothing more than property to be used as the men pleased. They were, for all practical purposes, slaves. (Where is Betty Friedan when you need her?)
The Muskogean Natchez of the U.S. southeast regularly killed the wives of upper-caste males when their husbands died. The Tahltans of western Canada, killed the male prisoners and enslaved the women of their enemies. The Pawnee observed an annual Morning Star ritual in which a captive maiden was sacrificed and her heart cut out (and this practice continued to the 19th century).
Robert Royal concludes, "Indeed, the position of women in the Americas prior to European contacts was generally worse than it was in the so-called European patriarchies." I dare say, a couple of weeks in a typical tribe would have even Bella Abzug begging for a return to twentieth century "oppression."
Every pagan culture exalts itself and despises all others. Racism is inherent in sinful man. This was true of Indians as well. Most Indian tribes regarded themselves as the only "humans" and all other tribes as beasts. The Iroquois viewed themselves as the wisest of men and all other tribes as "barbarians." The Algonquians meanwhile, called the Iroquois "the Nation of Snakes." This hatred of outsiders is one reason for the difficulty in learning the actual names of certain Indian groups. They are so consistently referred to in pejorative terms, that it is almost impossible to know their true names. This race-based animosity was viciously displayed when outsiders were captured. The tortures endured by foreigners at the hands of the "peace loving humans" make horrifying reading.
This self-important disdain for others also extended to the white man. Many have portrayed the Indians as overawed by White Supremacy. This is true only in regard to the technology (and fire power) the Europeans displayed. Beyond that, the Indian had nothing but disdain for the whites with whom they came in contact. They ridiculed white ignorance of the land and its ways.
It is true that many tribes would "adopt" captured members of other tribes (and even whites) to replace their own members who had been killed in battle. But this fact does not contradict the racial bias that dominated. The outsiders were accepted only in as far as they accepted and participated in the culture of the tribe. Cultural pluralism, which modern multi-culturalists so much adore, was unknown among any of the Indians -- it simply did not exist.
Elitism was also found even within tribes. The Tainos had three social castes. According to their faith, human beings sprung from two caves on the mountain Cauta. The one (the cave of the Jagua Tree), gave birth to rulers. The other named Amayauna, was the "place of the people without merit," and sent forth the commoners. These sorts of social distinctions were not unusual. The members of the lower classes along with the weak were made the regular victims of discrimination. Belonging to the upper class did not gurantee respect once you became aged or infirm. The sick and elderly were often killed so they would not inconvenience the tribe during a migration.
Often, infra-tribal jealousies prevented the development of any sort of tribal political structure. John Greenway has noted that most tribes had no concept of a "chief" until the coming of the white man. The white man naturally looked for a formal political structure with a leader or chief, but when such inquiries were initially made, they drew only a blank stare or complete puzzlement from the Indians. "[T]he nearest any Indian tribe got to a chief was somebody who could persuade a few young braves to accompany him in a sneak raid on the neighbors' horses." Thus, whoever was the strongest (or the most brutal) became "chief," ruled autocratically, and, consequently, got the privilege of dealing with the paleface authorities. Greenway notes ruefully, "Several such expeditions [raids against whites or other Indians] would authorize a warrior to sign treaties with the whites and eventually visit Washington for a real raid." ("Will the Indian Get Whitey," National Review, March 11, 1969)
There persists the idea that the Indians of North America actually constituted nations in a primitive, constitutional sense. Some have suggested that these early, native American confederations were the true model for the American republic. David Van Every's Disinherited, is a notorious example of this. Van Every not only asserts the existence of "twenty great Indian nations" but goes on to praise the pure democracy that "flourished" within these nations. Van Every confidently asserts the Indian's "instinctive sympathy" with the Negro and their "abhorrence" of slavery as an institution. Alas, however, his own book contradicts these assertions (he gives the census of the Cherokee Nation in 1825, wherein is noted the existence of 1,277 Negro slaves. These slaves were, by the way, prohibited from owning cattle, voting, or marrying Indians.)
The idea, however, that there was some sort of pan-tribal unity (a native American example of e pluribus unum) is an illusion. John Greenway notes that the very concept of "tribe" was introduced by white men, "The real Indian was only most tenuously a member of a tribe. His ecological unit was the nomadic band, either hunting-gathering or primitive agricultural, with little cohesion beyond an approximation to a common language and some weak psychological unity. These marauding social fragments cohered only when profitable raiding [or a common enemy -- jsw] was visible."
Again, to quote Robert Royal, "Tribal systems, almost by definition, exist by sharply delineating those within from those outside the kinship system, though kinship among most Native Americans is a primarily social rather than biological, concept. . . . The Iroquois tribes stopped perpetrating cannibalism on one another after forming their confederation, but continued it, along with torture, against captives from other tribes. Those who find modern, mainstream America horribly exclusive and its treatment of various groups outrageously inequitable might benefit from some exposure to comparative ethnology."
Enslavement, cannibalism, and torture of other Indians were commonplace throughout the native American cultures of North and South America. Tribes that accepted Christianity and relented in their cruelty toward others, as the Huron, were simply wiped out by more ruthless tribes like the Iroquois. The early French explorers (who were not exactly strangers to torture and brutality) were often shocked speechless by the cruelty manifested by Indians to their captives.
Inter-tribal warfare was nearly constant in pre and post-Columbian America. Both the Algonquian and Iroquoian cultures sanctioned corporate revenge on neighboring tribes. Of course, such revenge provoked retaliation from the injured party so that many tribes lived in a state of continual warfare. One reason the Tainos were so friendly with Columbus and his men was that they saw them as potential allies against the merciless Caribs. Thus occurred the first in what was to become a long series of wars where Europeans were drawn into disputes which had begun long years before.
The modern view of the Indian as the Great Pacifist is pure moonshine. Royal makes this observation, "We grow apprehensive over the violence between gangs in our inner cities today. But for centuries raids of one group on another were part of everyday life in most of pre-Columbian America." (Columbus On Trial, p. 35) John Greenway points out how integral warfare was to native American life, "they [the Indians] fought for the fighting. Without war and raiding and scalping and rape and pillage and slavetaking, the Indian was as aimless as a chiropractor without a spine." ("Will the Indians Get Whitey?")
The history of Indian migrations on this continent is illustrative. There was nothing that remotely resembled fixed boundaries among these tribes. Boundary lines, such as they were, were constantly redrawn as one tribe gained ascendance over another and drove their enemies from the territory. To say then that the Europeans "stole" the land from the "original owners" is to assume a condition that did not exist. There were no "owners." Most tribes lived a nomadic existence moving from one piece of ground to another. In the face of this, the European concern to purchase the land from the Indians was quite comical -- to the Indians. They stood in amused incredulity over the naivete exhibited by these Christian Europeans who felt obligated to pay them for land!
This points to the highly selective indignation that afflicts those who seek "justice" for the Indian. Let us not try to justify any dirty-dealing by wicked white men, but the plain fact is, the Indians have no grounds for strong complaint. Consider the case of the Sioux. It is generally acknowledged that among all the tribes, the claims of the Sioux to the Black Hills area of South Dakota and Wyoming have the most legitimacy. The Sioux have complained that the white man took the land illegally, by force. Yet no one bothers inquiring how the Sioux obtained the land in the first place. Ah, well, since you asked:
The Sioux came into possession of the Black Hills in the mid-17th century by driving out (by force) the Kiowa and Cheyenne tribes (this occurred, incidentally, after the Sioux had been forcibly driven from Minnesota and southern Ontario by the Ojibways). You say, "Well let's give it to the Kiowa and Cheyenne!" Not so fast. The Kiowas and Cheyennes drove out the Crows who apparently had driven out the Arapaho who had lived there 1,000 years previously. We have no certain information on the people who inhabited the land before the Arapaho. Paul Valentine observes, "One thing is certain: No single group lived in the Black Hills permanently from the mists of time. Rather, tribe after tribe, all culturally disparate, speaking different languages, praying to different gods, squabbled over the land. The only difference is that some of the later tribesmen had white faces.'" ("Hollywood's Noble Indians: Are We Dancing With Myths?" Washington Post, 3/31/91)
We could go on, but you get the drift. The modern view of the Indian is a tad distorted. Keep these realities in mind when you hear Kirkpatrick Sale pontificate, "There is only one way to live in America, and there can be only one way, and that is as Americans -- the original Americans -- for that is what the earth of the Americas demands. We have tried for five centuries to resist that simple truth." I don't know about you, but I am glad to let Mr. Sale have all he wants of native American culture (and many converted "native Americans" would say "Amen").
None of this should be taken to imply that every Indian tribe was full of unmitigated evil. There were differences among the Indians just as there are within any race or culture. Not all were equally degraded or evil. There are examples of nobility, courage, loyalty, and love among the Indians just as there are among all men. The point of this article is to demonstrate how many historians are dealing with history.
What we have in the history of the Indians is true of the history of many other peoples; it is history as propaganda. One is driven to ask: Why are the same standards not applied to native American cultures that are readily applied to Western culture? Why are the Indians excused for doing that for which the white man is excoriated? Why is the West condemned for its priests and religion while the shamanism and superstition of pagan cultures is defended? Why is the one intolerably offensive and the other indescribably beautiful? I hope by now, the answers to these questions are obvious.
When you read most modern history, you are merely reading the bigotries of men who hate God and the society produced by His Word and grace. Their writings are one long exercise in seeking "to break His bonds in pieces and cast away His cords" (Psalm 2:3). Most of modern historiography is marked by a profound hatred of Christendom and thus, anything (no matter how revolting it may be in truth) is better (after some careful editing) than Christ and His culture. This tragic blindness should cause you both to read warily and to weep.