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[personal profile] deborah
I promised [livejournal.com profile] sanguinity that if I read books based on recommendations from her I would share my opinions of them. Somewhat frustratingly, they keep getting recalled. I guess I am happy about this, because it means somebody else at the university is interested in reading the same topics, but I would have liked to have read more than the introduction to Andrea Smith's Conquest: Sexual Violence and the American Indian Genocide before I had to return it.

Because of recalls, I am rushing through all but the first couple of chapters of Vine Deloria's Custer Died for Your Sins. So take all of my impressions with a grain of salt; this book needs more time than I am able to give it. Most notably, with the exception of the final chapter, I have skimmed the entire second half of the book.

I wish it had footnotes. I understand the vast irony of how frustrated I was with the lack of notes while reading Chapter 4, "Anthropologists and Other Friends," which explicitly and repeatedly bemoans using footnotes as a false source of authenticity. Nonetheless, I like to check on facts that surprise me so that I can learn more (further reading, of course, being far easier now than it was in 1969). In the chapters about treaties and bills I can at least learn more when he names the specific bill or treaty, but I'd like to know the names of some of the anthropological studies he hand-wavingly mentions. In large part this is because I like to talk with my friends about things I read, and if the thing I read is shocking, I know my friends will challenge it, I want to have outside research that I can use to say, "no, no, Deloria is not exaggerating here." Also, I always would like to learn more about what I read. Interestingly, given his scorn for footnotes, he says in the afterword, "I apologize only for not having documentation enough to reveal some of the real scandals that are occurring today in the Congress and churches in regards to Indians." (269))

I know so much has changed in the 41 years since this book was first published, but I wish I knew more about the specifics. It's hard because I don't know what has changed about US government relationships with recognized and unrecognized tribes in the ensuing almost half-century. The political context of this book is a world in which the Civil Rights movement is still controversial in mainstream society, in which Bobby Kennedy's death is still ringing changes on the political and social scene. It's the height of the Black Panther and Red Power movements -- if I'm not mistaken, doesn't this book act as an early Red Power manifesto? It's a world in which Martin Luther King Jr. has only just been killed.

I was surprised at how useful and thought-provoking I found the book, not least because my previous exposure to Deloria was reading the introduction to Red Earth, White Lies, which I put aside because I don't have the context to read it fairly. This is a very different argument style; in its pragmatism, it almost seems to have been written by a different person.

I've set a rule for myself that every time I get cranky about some generalization it makes -- about white people, about liberalism, about scholarship, etc. -- I have to stop and breathe and let it sink in, instead of knee-jerk being angry. More often than not, when I get over the cranky, I can see his point. I think it's a little bit easier going because he is very nice to Jews in this book, which obviously makes me feel less targeted and therefore more prone to listening. It's important for me to remember that I'm not magically immune to backlash bingo, it's just that I happened to come from a group for whom Deloria feels more sympathy.

Some of the chapters seem to be written from diametrically opposing points of view. The chapters about termination and anthropology are wholly pragmatic, repeatedly stating that if the powers that be stopped treating Indians differently from any other people situations would improve drastically. Meanwhile, the chapter on missionaries comes from a different perspective, claiming that reactions to European law, landownership, religion, punishment, etc., all came about because of entirely different world views. It's a bit weird to read "When told to settle down and become farmers, most Indians rebelled. ... Even today I have watched Indian people... wishing that the land were returned to its primitive beauty" (103) immediately after finishing the chapter that attacks the romanticized replacement of kitchen gardens with powwows (87). I think I am missing subtleties here; I can't see the distinction of his preference for churches over powwows in the anthropology chapter with his preference for traditional religious practices over Christianity in the missionaries chapter.

I'm going to have to read this book again when there isn't a ticking clock. The chapter "The problem of Indian leadership" looks... well, depressingly apropos to a contemporary American Democrat. In the chapter "Indians in modern society," with its hypothesis of the relationship between corporatism and tribalism, makes me think of Bowling Alone (a book whose premise I despise and disagree with): "Clubs as social tribes wage fantastic warfare for the loyalties of the individuals of the community" (231). The latter half of this book definitely deserves more attention than I am giving it.



Since I give page numbers, I should also give information for the edition I am using. Vine Deloria, Jr.. Custer Died for Your Sins: an Indian Manifesto. New York: Macmillan. 1969.
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