Native American Nightmare
NATIVE AMERICAN TESTIMONY: A CHRONICLE OF INDIAN-WHITE RELATIONS FROM PROPHECY TO THE PRESENT, 1492-1992. Edited by Peter Nabokov, Viking, 474 pp., illustrated, $25.BLACK HILLS, WHITE JUSTICE: THE SIOUX NATION VERSUS THE UNITED STATES, 1775 TO THE PRESENT. By Edward Lazarus, HarperCollins, 486 pp., $27.50. IN THE ABSENCE OF THE SACRED: THE FAILURE OF TECHNOLOGY & THE SURVIVAL OF THE INDIAN NATIONS. By Jerry Mander, Sierra Club Books, 446 pp., $25
IN "Native American Testimony," editor Peter Nabokov quotes a Hidatsa Indian in l914 who realizes a clear difference between the white man and the Indian. Whites "pace back and forth in their rooms," said the Indian, but Indians sit quietly. To a great degree, books written today by non-Indians reflect a caring part of United States culture. This part likes to pace back and forth, and then encapsulate Indian history and issues in books. As most Indians are not really "encapsulators" but rather strike me as visionaries caught in a nightmare, these books are useful the way a comb untangles hair. It does a job but remains a cosmetic instrument. What is needed, after so many years of oppression, are fewer books and more acts ensuring Indian empowerment on reservations today. No more vivid nightmare exists for Indians than the US government seizure of the Black Hills in South Dakota. In his book "Black Hills, White Justice," Edward Lazarus tells us in grotesque detail a story of betrayal and the longest legal struggle (and stalling act) in American history. In l868, the United States government signed a peace treaty with the Sioux Nation promising an inviolate homeland. Included in the treaty was ownership of the Black Hills. Later, when gold was discovered there, the US wanted the land back. White-owned companies broke the treaty, including Homestake Mining Company. They literally scrambled for the gold. The Indians said "no" to the land grab, but there was little they could do. The US declared war on the Sioux and took the Black Hills back. For the next 100 years, as Lazarus details so well, the Sioux had no choice but to seek restitution in the white man's courts. The courts paced back and forth relentlessly for an astonishing 100 years while millions in gold was mined. Lazarus's father, Arthur Lazarus Jr., was the Sioux lawyer for many years on the case, and because of this the son has unique insights into the prolonged legal maneuvering. Page by page the case is reasonably explained, but in reality it adds up to a book-length indictment of a system of delay disguised as a protector of rights. Possibly any white person connected with the case should be indicted too, but on second thought, how long would the trials take? The terrible irony is that when the complex case was decided for the Indians, they refused the money and even chased Lazarus and another attorney off the reservation. The Black Hills are sacred, said the Indians, reflecting their increased pride in their heritage. Today, most Indians want the Black Hills returned. For the vocal rhythms, lonely spirituality, and confusion felt by Indians down through the years, the voices speaking in "Native American Testimony" are genuine. Editor and anthropologist Nabokov has pulled together speeches, testimony, and statements from Indians that were recorded in letters, transcripts, newspapers, and so on. It is a wonderfully organized compilation, if a chronicle of decimation can be wonderful. Each chapter is preceded by a contextual essay relating to events or concepts. Even the notes on sources at the end of the book are fascinating. Historical photos of Indians and conditions are sprinkled throughout. So poignant are some of the voices that it is a book to be read in short doses. If you pick it up in a bookstore, flip to Page 174 for the folk-tale description from Old Lady Horse (a Kiowa) of how the buffalo gave up. To the plains Indians, the buffalo was life itself. To make way for railroads, professional white hunters slaughtered buffalos by the tens of thousands. One hunter could kill as many as 150 buffalo a day. Old Lady Horse said, "The buffalo saw that their day was over. They could protect their people no longer. Sadly, the last remnant of the great herd gathered in council, and decided what they would do." From Jerry Mander's point of view in "In The Absence of The Sacred," the march of technology, as well as the pacing back and forth of the white man, has not blessed Indian cultures at all. And the jury is still out, writes Mander, on the benefits-to-cost ratio of technology for the world as a whole. Mander, the author of the provocative bestseller "Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television," suggests capitalistic aggression is the culprit in the Indian nightmare. Mander writes that "it may be the central assumption of technological society that there is virtue in overpowering nature and native peoples." I wonder. Is there a better example than the Black Hills? He says the Indian problem today and in the past in the US and other countries, "is directly related to the needs of technological societies to find and obtain remotely located resources, in order to fuel an incessant and intrinsic demand for growth and technological fulfillment." He quotes former Energy Secretary James Schlesinger as saying that American Indian lands are "America's energy ace-in-the-hole," as if there is no need to check in with the Indians to see if they agree. Mander's style is smooth and concerned. He's a former advertising executive who knows how to state problems succinctly. But his suggestions on how to "de-tech" the world remind me of a man pacing back and forth in his room without the slightest idea of how to implement the changes. For instance, he writes, "Those technologies found incompatible with sustainability and diversity on the planet must be abandoned." Right. It may be that aspects of Indian cultures can reeducate us away from technology-dependent lives, but who will lead into this new world?