December 16, 2016

American Indian myth and reality vis-a-vis #DAPL and #NoDAPL

It is true that Anglo America/official America broke many Indian treaties, including with the people we call the Sioux. But, some context is needed.

Before oh, about 1800, the Black Hills were not Sioux land. They were only moving west of the Missouri, at least in any number, about the same time Lewis and Clark were  moving up that river. The map on page 5 of this PDF, also reproduced at left by screen capture, demonstrates that for the Teton (Lakota) Sioux, the most western branch, pretty clearly. (Note the 1785 line, and how it's almost entirely east of the Missouri. As of Lewis and Clark time, they had finally started moving west of the Missouri in more numbers. They were regularly visiting the Black Hills, but the Black Hills were not yet part of "their territory."

That said, why the move? They were doing so, moving west, because the Ojibwe (Chippewa) had kicked their butts out of western Wisconsin and other areas closer to the Great Lakes. As documented on Ojibwe history (Wiki is really uneven in its articles about different Native American peoples), this happened at the end of the 1600s and in the 1700s. Before 1500 CE, they seemed to have lived in Ohio, and from there, migrated northwest. Then the Ojibwa, who got guns from the French before the Sioux got as much in the way of white man's goods, shoved them further westward.

Before that, the Black Hills are best described as an American Indian neutral ground, before 1800 or so, and possibly before 1820 or so. This map, which purports to be around 1800 for inland tribes, but has a lot of vacant space, has a bit more detail. Ergo, per one factoid of American history, while the Black Hills may have become Sioux religious ground, it most certainly is NOT ancient Sioux religious ground.

Otherwise, many so-called "tribal maps" are temporally static and diachronic to boot. In other words, they may show where one tribe was located at, in 1800, but where another was already located at in 1600. And, please, do note cite me back a Vine DeLoria, who loved to put on and off his Ph.D. hat at will.

And, the area of the Missouri River of the Dakota Pipeline? Mandans and other American Indians lived there before the Sioux pushed them out. Or the Arikara. Or the Hidatsa. See here. Indeed, the town of Mandan sits across the Missouri River from Bismarck and is the county seat of Morton County of recent infamy over the Dakota Pipeline.

I don't know if any Mandans, or Arikara, or Hidatsa, were at the #NoDAPL protests or not. If they were, I don't know if they got overlooked by the mainstream media, shunted aside by the Sioux, a combination of both, or what.

All of this ignores that American Indians generally didn't think in terms of land possession, of course. Nor did they, in terms of talking about despoiled graves, bury their dead European-style, in most cases, before the Columbian contact.

That said, there's still plenty of good ancient Mandan, Arikara and Hidatsa, and not-so-ancient Sioux, reasons to scrap this sucker.

As for polluting their land? Yes, we did it. They did it to their own land, too. Don't buy the myth of American Indians as proto-environmentalists. And, don't buy a rebuttal myth that white America corrupted them. We did, with our technology, give them the power to be worse at this, yes.

We as a nation need to do our best to right our wrongs. We don't need to do that by, in part, pretending that American Indians were living in some quasi-Edenic Rousellian state of nature before 1492.

They weren't.

Most American Indians, like the Sioux, even without signed treaties, had agreements with other peoples — that they broke. Many of them committed wars for the primary purpose of seizing slaves and forced tribal members. Many of them, to the limited degree their technology allowed, overused the land. Some had homemade alcohol pre-1492, as well. American Indian religious belief, in many tribes, was far from enlightened. Witness the barbarism of the Sioux's Sun Dance.

In short, American Indians aren't savages, but they're not angels either. They're people. We do them no real service by viewing them as either angels or savages rather than as people. I've overcome some bad fatherly thinking from my childhood. I don't want to replace one stereotype with another.

And, they're different people. A Sioux, or Dakota, isn't a Hopi, who isn't a Navajo, who isn't a Cherokee. That said, to the degree that assimilation continues, and legally, they're all Americans.

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