What are some controversial issues in Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee

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The book was controversial because it challenged the triumphalist narrative of American history that most Americans had previously been exposed to. It was not the first book to do so--there were academic works that had begun to challenge this line of thinking at the time, but it was certainly the...

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The book was controversial because it challenged the triumphalist narrative of American history that most Americans had previously been exposed to. It was not the first book to do so--there were academic works that had begun to challenge this line of thinking at the time, but it was certainly the first popular book to do so. As a work of history, I would compare it to A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn, which essentially seeks to invert the traditional narrative, often at the expense of nuanced historical analysis. This is not to deny the basic thrust of the book, but to point out that we ought to consider Brown's purpose in writing the book, which was to provide a counter-narrative, or, as one of the responses said, a "corrective," to the American myth of the West and the Indian. 

 

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I agree with the post above; Brown's text does a remarkable job in revealing the victimization of the Native Americans, specifically the Sioux, during this time period in American History, but could have given more historical context and balance to the book in terms of social and government issues. 

For me, the most obvious controversial issue in Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee is genocide--which is definitely an ugly label to put on any incident occurring on American soil.  Brown challenges the reader's perceptions that the U.S. always acts as the 'good guys' through powerful descriptions of the widespread mistreatment of Native American populations and especially with the whole-sale slaughter of innocents at Wounded Knee.

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For me, the main controversial issue in this book is the general conclusion of the work as a whole.  In essence, this is a book that portrays the white Americans as being in the wrong at every turn.  This may have been an important corrective in 1970, when the book was published and perhaps all portrayals of Native Americans emphasized that they were savages who needed to be removed.  Today, however, we need a more rounded and balanced view.  For example, when Brown talks about how whites killed off the buffalo, this would need to be balanced with the idea that Native Americans killed buffalo for commercial purposes (to sell tongues and hides to whites) as well.

It is not beneficial to historiography to portray Native Americans as either horrible savages or completely innocent victims.  We should portray them (and all other groups) in a more nuanced way.

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