Every now and then I am impressed with the thinking of the non-Indian.
I was in Cleveland last year and got to talking with a non-Indian about American history. He said that he was really sorry
about what had happened to Indians, but that there was good reasons for it. The continent had to be developed and he felt
that Indians had stood in the way and thus had had to be removed. "After all," he remarked, "what did you do with the land
when you had it?" I didn’t understand him until later when I discovered that the Cuyahoga River running through Cleveland
is inflammable. So many combustible pollutants are dumped into the river that the inhabitants have to take special precautions
during the summer to avoid accidentally setting it on fire. After reviewing the argument of my non-Indian friend I decided
that he was probably correct. Whites had made better use of the land. How many Indians could have thought of creating an inflammable
A century ago whites broke the Fort Laramie Treaty with the Sioux
so they could march into the Black Hills and dig gold out of the ground. Then they took the gold out of the Black Hills, carried
to Fort Knox, and buried it in the ground. Throughout the Midwest, Indians were forced off their lands because whites felt
that the Indians didn’t put the lands to good use. Today most of this land lies idle every year while the owners collect
a government check for not planting anything. Wilderness was taken because "no one" lived there and cities were built in which
no one could live.
These little insights into the workings of non-Indian society give
me pause on my daily journeys. Whenever I become depressed I always turn to the younger generation and New Left groups for
solace. Instinctively, they seem to understand Indians, and one can find cheer in their wisdom. In describing his beloved
Woodstock Nation at the Chicago Conspiracy trail, Abbie Hoffman, the Diogenes of our times, said that it was located in the
state of mind. "It’s a nation of alienated young people which we carry around in our minds just as the Sioux
Indians carried around the Sioux Nation in their minds," Hoffman said.
Abbie’s chances of relating to the Sioux are comparable to
Custer’s. Although we did not torture prisoners as a rule, traditions have been waived for special occasion and Hoffman’s
visit to a Sioux reservation would certainly be considered an important occasion. Abbie should have been at a certain civil
rights hearing a few years back. One of the whites asked J. Dan Howard, a Standing Rock Sioux tribal councilman, if the Sioux
still considered themselves a nation. "You bet," was Dan’s reply, "we could still declare war on you. You might beat
us but we’d take a lot of you with us."
Again, last summer, a noted female anthropologist presented a scholarly
paper to the effect that Indians drink to gain an identity. Anyone who has ever seen Indians would laugh at the absurdity
of this idea. It is unquestionably the other way. Indians first ask what your name is, then what your tribe is. After these
preliminaries you are sometimes asked to have a drink. Drinking is only the confirmation of a friendship already established
by the fact that you belong to a specific tribe. If we acted the way anthropologists describe us, we would get lousy stinking
drunk, THEN DECIDE WHAT TRIBE WE WANTED TO BELONG TO, and finally choose a surname for ourselves.
All of these things have set me wondering if there isn’t
a better way to distinguish between the Indian mood, life-style, and philosophy, and that of the non-Indian. It is very difficult
to do. Non-Indians are descended from a peculiar group of people. The first group thought they were sailing off the edge of
the world and probably would have had we not pulled them ashore. Their successors spent years traveling all over the continent
in search of the Fountain of Youth and the Seven Cities of Gold. They didn’t even know how to plant an ear of corn when
they arrived on these shores. So the non-Indian is pretty set in his ideas and hard to change.
There are a great many things happening today that can be related
to ideas, movements, and events in Indian country—so many that it is staggering to contemplate them. American society
is unconsciously going Indian. Moods, attitudes, and values are changing. People are becoming more aware of their isolation
even while they continue to worship the rugged individualist who needs no one. The self-sufficient man is casting about for
a community to call his own. The glittering generalities and mythologies of American society no longer satisfy the need and
desire to belong.
Trying to communicate is an insurmountable task, however, since
one cannot skip readily from a tribal way of life to the conceptual world of the non-tribal person. The non-tribal person
thinks in a linear sequence, in which A is the foundation of B, and C always follows. The view and meaning of the total event
is rarely understood by the non-tribal person, although he may receive more objective information concerning any specific
element of the situation. Non-tribals can measure the distance to the moon with unerring accuracy, but the moon remains an
impersonal object to them without personal relationship that would support or illuminate their innermost feelings.
Tribal society is of such a nature that one must experience it
from the inside. It is holistic, and logical analysis will only return you to your starting premise none the wiser for the
trip. Being inside a tribal universe is so comfortable and reasonable that it acts like a narcotic. When you are forced outside
the tribal context you become alienated, irritable, and lonely. In desperation you long to return to the tribe if only to
preserve your sanity. While a majority of Indian people today live in cities, a substantial number make long weekend trips
back to their reservations to spend precious hours in their own land with their people.
The best method of communicating Indian values is to find points
at which issues appear to be related. Because tribal society is integrated toward a center and non-Indian society is oriented
toward linear development, the process might be compared to describing a circle surrounded with tangent lines. The points
at which the lines touch the circumference of the circle are the issues and ideas that can be shared by Indians and other
groups. There are a great many points at which tangents occur, and they may be considered as windows through which Indians
and non-Indians can glimpse each other. Once this structural device is used and understood, non-Indians, using a tribal point
of view, can better understand themselves and their relationship to Indian people.
The problem is complicated by the speed of modern communications
media. It floods us with news that is news because it is reported as news. Thus, if we take a linear viewpoint of the world,
the sequence of spectacular events creates the impression that the world is going either up- or downhill. Events become noted
more for their supportive or threatening aspects than for their reality, since they fall into line and do not themselves contain
any means of interpretation. When we are unable to absorb the events reported to us by the media, we begin to force interpretations
of what the world really means on the basis of what we have been taught rather than what we have experienced.
Indian people are just as subject to the deluge of information
as are other people. In the last decade most reservations have come within the reach of television and computers. In many
ways Indian people are just as directed by the electronic nature of our universe as any other group. But the tribal viewpoint
simply absorbs what is reported to it and immediately integrates it into the experience of the group. In many areas whites
are regarded as a temporary aspect of tribal life and there is unshakable belief that the tribe will survive the domination
of the white man and once again rule the continent. Indians soak up the world like a blotter and continue almost untouched
by events. The more that happens, the better the tribe seems to function and the stronger it appears to get. Of all the groups
in the modern world Indians are best able to cope with modern situation. To the non-Indian world, it does not appear that
Indians are capable of anything. The flexibility of the tribal viewpoint enables Indians to meet devastating situations and
survive. But this flexibility is seen by non-Indians as incompetence, so that as the non-Indian struggles in solitude and
despair he curses the Indian for not coveting the same disaster.
In 1969, non-Indians began to rediscover Indians. Everyone hailed
us as their natural allies in the ancient struggle they were waging with the "bad guys." Conservatives embraced us because
we didn’t act uppity, refused to move into their neighborhoods, and didn’t march in their streets. Liberals loved
us because we were the most oppressed of all peoples who had been oppressed, and besides we generally voted Democratic.
Blacks loved us because we objected to the policies of the Department
of the Interior (we would probably object if we had set the damn thing up ourselves) which indicated to them that we were
another group to count on for the coming revolution. I attended one conference last fall at which a number of raging militants
held forth, giving their views on the upcoming revolt of the masses. In a fever pitch they described the battle of Armageddon
in which the "pigs" would be vanquished and the meek would inherit the earth (or a reasonable facsimile thereof). When asked
if he supported the overthrow of the establishment, an old Sioux replied, "not until we get paid for the Black Hills." Needless
to say, revolutionaries have not been impressed with the Indian fervor for radical change.
Hippies proudly showed us their beads and, with a knowing smile,
bid us hello in the Navajo they had learned while passing through Arizona the previous summer. We watched and wondered as
they paraded by in buckskin and feathers, anxiously playing a role they could not comprehend. When the Indians of the Bay
area occupied Alcatraz, the hippies descended on the island in droves, nervously scanning the horizon for a vision of man
in his pristine natural state. When they found that the tribesmen had the same organizational problems as any other group
might have, they left in disappointment, disillusioned with "Indianism" that had existed only in their imaginations.
For nearly a year, the various minority and power groups have tried
to get Indians to relate to the social crisis that plagues the land. Churches have expended enormous sums creating "task forces"
of hand-picked Indians to inform them on the national scope of Indian problems. They have been disappointed when Indians didn’t
immediately embrace violence as a technique for progress. Government agencies have tried to understand Indians in an urban
context that no longer has validity for even the most stalwart urbanite. Conservationists have sought out Indians for their
mystical knowledge of the use of land. It has been an exciting year.
There is no doubt in my mind that a major crisis exists. I believe,
however, that it is deeper and more profound than racism, violence, and economic deprivation. American society is undergoing
a total replacement of its philosophical concepts. Words are being emptied of old meanings and new values are coming in to
fill the vacuum. Racial antagonism, inflation, ecological destruction, and power groups are all symptoms of the emergence
of a new world view of man and his society. Today thought patterns are shifting from the traditional emphasis on the solitary
individual to as yet unrelated definitions of man as a member of a specific group.
This is an extremely difficult transition for any society to make.
Rather than face the situation head-on, people have preferred to consider social problems as manifestations of a gap between
certain elements of the national community. The most blatant example of this attitude is to speak of the "generation gap."
Other times it is categorized as a racial problem—the white racist power structure against the pure and peace-loving
minority groups. We know that this is false. In those programs where blacks have dominated they have been as racist against
Indians as they claim whites have been against them. Behind every movement is the undeniable emergence of the group as a group.
Until conceptions of the nature of mass society are enlarged and accepted by the majority of people there will be little peace
in this society.
But one cannot go skipping from a group to group checking out movements
and ideas to see if everything will come out all right. A better way of understanding events would be to find the similarities
of structure that exist. Generalizations on this basis, if the necessary philosophical distinctions are maintained, would
be most helpful. It would appear to me that modern society has two alternatives at this point. American people are being pushed
into new social forms because of the complex nature of modern communications and transportation, and the competing forms are
neo-tribalism and neo-feudalism. The contest of the future is between a return to the castle or the tipi.
The difference between the castle and the tipi is immense, yet
there are such great similarities that it is difficult to distinguish between them. Each offers social identity and economic
security within a definite communal system. But the leveling process of the tribal form prevents the hereditary control over
a social pyramid, and the feudalistic form has the efficiency to create and control technology. Both are needed if we are
to rule machines instead of submit to them.
Many people can and will support the return of the castle. We have
already experienced Camelot and the universal longing for its return. The massive corporate organizations have driven us well
into the era of neo-feudalism. But the continual failure of the total economic system to support the population and the corporation
speaks of the necessity to reorient social goals more in line with a tribal-communal life style. Tribalism can only be presented
in mosaic form. And there is a certain novelty in this approach. No single idea inevitably leads to another. The total impact
of tribalism is thus no dependent upon acceptance of a single thesis. If events and ideas do not strike one immediately, time
does not rode them but serves to shed further light on the problem.
After viewing social problems from a number of angles, I can see
but one conclusion: America needs a new religion. Nearly every event and movement today shows signs of fulfilling this role,
but none has the centered approach that would permit it to dig its roots in and survive. I am not advocating a return to Christianity.
That "religion" had had two thousand years of bloodshed and hypocrisy and has failed to do anything more than help turn men
into machines. We are probably entering an era in which religious sensitivity is expressed in rigorous adherence to the values
of racial and ethnic groups—secularization of religious feeling in political action.
If my conclusion is correct, then it is necessary to outline the
Indian point of view as a contribution to the discussion of the problem. Further generalization about how we are all alike—all
people—are useless today. Definite points of view, new logic, and different goals define us. All we can do is try to
communicate what we feel our group means to itself and how we relate to other groups. Understanding each other as distinct
peoples is the most important thing.
As to the point of view, there really is a difference. A man was explaining
his war experiences to his son one day. "There we were, surrounded by thousands of the enemy. Bullets were whizzing around
our heads. Our water was gone. We had no food and our ammunition was running out. Suddenly, in the distance, we heard the
welcome sound—of war whoops."