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Sunday, September 16th, 2007

Time Event
9:08a
Wow ...
This is quite a powerful book. It's the sort of thing that one would hope would be in the Social Studies curriculum of every highschool in the U.S., but I doubt that's going to happen. Dover Thrift Editions' Great Speeches by Native Americans, edited by Bob Blaisdell, costs a scant $2.50 cover, so it would be one of the cheapest texts to assign a class, but the sort of light this throws on our history is not likely to be welcome by many.

Now, as "regular readers" of this space may recall, I have read quite a number of "Native American" books, ranging from the Black Elk books on NA spirituality (and their like) to the more "political" books of Vine Deloria Jr.; originally being interested in filling in the North American gaps in my shamanic studies which have been primarily in South and Central America. Much of the "history from the other side" genre (which this book clearly is), also hits me in an uncomfortable place, as I have at least two Mayflower ancestors, so all of the Bad Things being done by Whites to the natives are pretty easily extrapolated as having a fair likelihood of being "crimes of my fathers", as we've been around here since 1620!

Great Speeches by Native Americans covers a rather large chunk of time, the earliest speech in here dates from 1540 (addressing the ravages of the Spanish on the indigenous tribes of Florida), and the latest is from 1991 (a presentation at an Aboriginal Law Association conference) ... 450 years of pretty much saying "We can't believe you Whites are being such total jerks!", as even in the non-confrontational pieces, the theme of broken promises and ignored treaties is a common thread.

Of course, I'd been familiarized with the general outline of the history here (from reading Deloria and others), but it does really bring it home to see Chief after Chief in decade after decade (the book is organized chronologically), voicing the same concerns, the same complaints, and (generally speaking) asking for the same redresses. It is notable, that some of these speakers had a better grasp on the situation that others, and, unfortunately, those were the ones strongly agitating for all-out armed response such as Tecumseh, who attempted to forge a unified front of native tribes to fight on the British side in the War of 1812:

"The White men are not friends to the Indians: at first they only asked for land sufficient for a wigwam; now, nothing will satisfy them but the whole of our hunting grounds, from the rising to the setting sun."
It is interesting that there are countering speeches from other Chiefs included, who clearly did not "understand the situation" the way Tecumseh did, believing that if they were neutral, or sided against the British "You can then return to your lands, and hunt the game, as you formerly did.", arguing that to follow Tecumseh would mean obliteration (possibly true), but not taking into consideration the already long history of American expansion!

The quoted pieces come from a wide variety of sources (including the Congressional Record from official appearances of Chiefs in the capitol), and range from brief half-page snippets to extensive (20-30 page) works such as William Apes' 1836 "Eulogy on King Phillip". Another longish one is by Chief Joseph (of the Nez Percé) whose 1879 address in Washington D.C. outlined the recent history of his tribe, and how they had desperately tried to hold onto their traditional land. In the closing section of this he expresses his desires in a manner that should warm the heart of any Libertarian ...

"Let me be a free man - free to travel, free to stop, free to work, free to trade where I choose, free to choose my own teachers, free to follow the religion of my fathers, free to think and talk and act for myself - and I will obey every law or submit to the penalty."
Powerful stuff. Frankly, I wonder if Crowley had a copy of this at hand when he penned Liber Oz several decades later, as the words (and desires) of Chief Joseph can certainly be seen to echo in the latter document!

Again, I really believe that Great Speeches by Native Americans should be required reading of all Americans, just to understand that reaching our current place in the world "wasn't pretty" and has left a stain on our national character that we choose to ignore. As noted, this is in the Dover Thrift series, so is remarkably affordable at $2.50 ... and can be had via either your local brick-and-mortar bookstore or on-line (these are great for "nudging" a sub-$25 order up to free shipping!). Do go pick up a copy of this, however ... it's a real eye-opener!


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