Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee

by Dee Brown

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Language and Plot as Weapons to Defeat Misconceptions

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Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1437

In Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee Dee Brown relies on many harrowing eyewitness accounts from Native Americans, letting them tell their side of how the West was won. Several reviewers consider these eyewitness accounts the most important part of the book. For example, in her New Statesman review, Helen McNeil says that the book ‘‘awakens a more authentic sense of … grandeur with the moving speeches of the great chiefs.’’ In fact, Brown's later Native-American books that do not include these eyewitness accounts have often been panned because Brown does the talking. For example, in his New York Magazine review of Brown’s Native-American novel Creek Mary's Blood (1980), Joshua Gilder says it lacks the ‘‘sweep and … authenticity’’ of Brown's Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, which was ‘‘due in large measure to his letting the Indians speak for themselves.’’

Despite the popularity of the eyewitness accounts, Brown is not an absentee narrator. Like one of the military leaders in the book, Brown serves as a general, deploying his two main forces—the techniques of language and plot—in a calculated manner to give the eyewitness accounts as much impact as possible. In the process, he attempts to defeat his enemy: the misconceptions and falsehoods that have plagued Native-Americans and their reputation among non-Natives.

Brown’s first weapon is language. His book differs from previous books about Native Americans in this time period, because he uses many Native-American interpretations. For example, the Sioux and Cheyennes frequently see trains pass through their land in the Powder River country. Says Brown: ‘‘Sometimes they saw Iron Horses dragging wooden houses on wheels at great speed along the tracks. They puzzled over what could be inside the houses.’’ Brown uses the terms ‘‘Iron Horses’’ and ‘‘wooden houses’’ to describe trains and train cars as a Native-American at this time would have perceived them. Brown also uses the Native-American designations for U.S. military ranks in his descriptions. For example, to a Native American at this time, a general was known as a ‘‘Star Chief’’ and a colonel was an ‘‘Eagle Chief.’’

In addition, Brown refers to prominent American historical figures by their Native-American names. For example, many Native Americans called General George Armstrong Custer ‘‘Hard Backsides,’’ ‘‘because he chased them over long distances for many hours without leaving his saddle.’’ Brown also uses Native-American naming systems for natural processes like time. White people divide the year into twelve months and refer to these time periods by cryptic names like May and June. However, Native Americans referred to these time periods by their actual, perceivable correlation to nature. So, in Brown’s book, May is ‘‘the Moon When the Ponies Shed’’ and June is ‘‘the Strawberry Moon.’’ By using distinctly Native-American interpretations like these in his narration, Brown takes his readers deep into the Native-American experience. In the process, the reader begins to identify with the Native Americans.

When readers identify with characters, they tend to feel sympathy for them. Through his second weapon, plot, Brown organizes his story to maximize his readers’ sympathetic emotions. With any historical book, the author has to make choices about what events to include and how to organize them. As McNeil notes, Brown does not choose to make many distinctions among the various tribes: ‘‘One isn’t reminded that the Navahoes were settled, the Apaches predatory, the Poncas gentle or the Utes lazy, since in any case the same fate awaited them all.’’ Brown establishes a three-part structure for most chapters, which demonstrates again and again that Native Americans lost no matter what they did. Typically, the chapter begins with a discussion of...

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a chief or tribe who has lost something—generally a piece of their land—and still has more to lose. For example, in the beginning of the second chapter, Brown notes: ‘‘As the result of two deceptive treaties, the woodland Sioux surrendered nine-tenths of their land and were crowded into a narrow strip of territory along the Minnesota River.’’

Following the discussion of what has been already lost, Brown introduces the second part of his three-part structure, the struggle. For Native Americans in the nineteenth century, the struggles were many, whether they decided to go to war or did not. Many tribes in the book do choose to fight to retain their remaining land and freedom. In most cases, the tribes win some battles but end up losing the war. The U.S. soldiers are too advanced and numerous to be defeated, something that the Native Americans begin to realize. For example, Little Crow is leery about fighting at first, because ‘‘he had been to the East and seen the power of the Americans. They were everywhere like locusts and destroyed their enemies with great thundering cannon.’’ Even when the Native Americans outnumber the whites, the latter’s military technology can be the decisive factor in the victory. As many Native Americans learn: ‘‘Bravery, numbers, massive charges—they all meant nothing if the warriors were armed only with bows, lances, clubs, and old trade guns of the fur-trapper days.’’

In cases where the Native Americans try to remain peaceful, Brown shows many ways that they are provoked into war. In several cases, settlers or miners hungry for the Native Americans’ remaining land spread incriminating lies in an effort to get the government to take their land. During the Civil War, Native Americans were sometimes provoked into fighting because it was the safer of two options for white, male citizens. Says Brown about the Cheyenne wars in Colorado: ‘‘There was political pressure on Evans from Coloradans who wanted to avoid the military draft of 1864 by serving in uniform against a few poorly armed Indians rather than against the Confederates farther east.’’ Even after the Civil War, when the draft was no longer an issue, some settlers used lies to provoke Native Americans and and kill them because peace was not profitable for the settlers. Brown notes that Tucson citizens in 1871 ‘‘were opposed to agencies where Apaches worked for a living and were peaceful; such conditions led to reductions in military forces and a slackening of war prosperity.’’

The final part of Brown’s three-part plot structure in most chapters is the bitter ending. Due to the massive struggles that Native Americans faced whether or not they chose to remain peaceful, most chapters end badly. The chiefs, who are often depicted as strong in the beginning and middle of the chapters when they are fighting for their land and people, end up dead, in prison, in exile, or on a reservation with the rest of their people. Even the exceptions to this rule, such as the chapter depicting Red Cloud's successful war, ultimately end negatively. In a later chapter, Red Cloud is forced to sign away his beloved Powder River country and live on a reservation. Red Cloud’s plight highlights the overall plot structure of the book, which mimics the three-part structure of the individual chapters. The book starts out with many Native Americans living free and retaining parcels of their land. As the story progresses and the trickle of white emigration turns into a flood, ever-larger armies and groups of land-hungry white settlers cut down the various tribes. By the end of the book, the noose of white emigration has tightened around so much of the country that most Native Americans are dead, in prison, or on scattered reservations.

The effect on the reader is profound. Brown has gotten his readers to root for the underdogs by using eyewitness accounts and language to draw readers into the Native-American experience. Yet, in each chapter Brown steadily crushes any hope that the reader might have for the Native Americans winning much of anything. By using these strategies, Brown makes his readers more receptive to the most important aspect of his book—his anger. Brown’s tone, or attitude towards his subject matter, is one of barely restrained outrage, and he wants readers to get angry, too. To this end, he fills his book with sarcastic and scathing comments that further underline the savagery of whites in the late nineteenth century. For example, at the end of one chapter, Brown describes how three major Cheyenne leaders were killed, and in the process he mimics the infamous saying: ‘‘The only good Indian is a dead Indian.’’ Says Brown: ‘‘Roman Nose was dead; Black Kettle was dead; Tall Bull was dead. Now they were all good Indians.’’

Source: Ryan D. Poquette, Critical Essay on Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, in Nonfiction Classics for Students, Gale, 2003. Poquette has a bachelor's degree in English and specializes in writing about literature.

Brown's Alternative History of North America

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Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1811

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, written by the eminent historian Dee Brown is an epic history of the invasion of Native America by the white Europeans. Many histories that deal with this time period are written from the point of view of the white conquerors and tend to ignore or de-emphasize the violence and deceit perpetrated by the United States government and the European settlers upon Native America. Brown shows that the “westward expansion” of white history was much more complicated when viewed from another angle. Brown’s powerful history is told from the point of view of the victims of the invasion themselves. In his history, he tells the compelling and heart-rending story of the Native Americans beset by a vastly more powerful enemy, and shows their attempts to heroically defend themselves against their tragic fate. Using an array of sources and quoting from the Native Americans of that era, Brown’s history is a graphic account of the broken treaties and the genocide that the United States government and its citizens inflicted upon the indigenous peoples of the continental United States.

The United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide describes genocide as actions done with the intention of destroying a particular group of people. The convention declares that genocide is a crime whether committed during war or peacetime. It bans killing or causing serious injury, either mental or physical, to an individual because of his or her group identity. It bans destroying a people’s means of survival. It bans taking children away from a people and giving them into the care of people of another group. In Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Brown demonstrates, in retrospect, that the United States government, in its relationship with the Native Americans, committed these acts. Using old records as well as the words of Native Americans, Brown recounts in detail how the United States military, often aided by white civilians, repeatedly attacked peaceful Native-American camps without provocation. Native Americans were often shot and killed by soldiers as well as civilians because of their racial identity. These murderous deeds were often justified by such sayings as, “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.” At the time, the term “genocide” was not used. That seems to be a point that Brown is making in his history; the conquerors, acting with such simple and shallow directives, were able to perpetrate deeds that their own value systems deemed immoral and unlawful.

Brown’s technique is so effective because it takes the common history of events and brings it to life. Brown is a conventional historian when he recounts the timeline of history on the North American continent, beginning with the Arawak, the natives of San Salvador where Columbus had first landed. He goes on to show the conquest of the entire continental United States, stretching from the East Coast, where the English first landed in 1607, to the West Coast where gold was discovered in California in 1848. Brown also utilizes novelistic technique in his history, which adds a powerful dimension. Drawing on a broad array of sources, he brings his history and the individual characters involved alive with this writing technique. This history uses dialogue to give characters in the struggle real voices, from both sides of the conflict, as well as photographs of many of the Native-American warriors who tried to help their people survive the white onslaught. Brown even includes old Indian songs. The Native Americans are seen to have been real people, happy with their way of life, and even willing to share the bounty of their land. Bringing history to the personal level, Brown's book gives a different and disturbing view of the discovery and conquest of North America. For instance, Mangas Colorado of the Apaches, Big Snake of the Poncas, Crazy Horse of the Lakota Sioux, and many others were all murdered while in the custody of the United States Army. The reader feels these tragic deaths when the human voices and faces are included vividly in the text.

By so intricately researching and assembling his history, Brown is able to show how the forces of cultural imperialism were so devastating, and brings the individuals and tragedy in this history alive for the reader. There are white conquerors and Native-American resistors in this history. The complexities of the history are also revealed when Brown shows sympathetic whites and honest settlers, as well as Native-American mercenaries who helped to devastate their own people. Brown’s history also shows the insidious nature of the violence. The aggressive soldiers are displayed as men taking orders from a distant political bureaucracy, carrying out impersonal directives that become extremely violent on the ground level. Brown shows how the whites justified to themselves their broken treaties, their wanton killings, and their destruction of a culture as they followed the policy of Manifest Destiny, the belief that God had given them the rights to the land.

Brown’s history connects the relationship between cultural imperialism and religious and economic beliefs. The European settlers believed that the Native-American religions were not valid. The government often gave Native-American leaders the choice between accepting the European religion and way of life, or perishing. Brown reveals that many Native-American chiefs were aware of this choice, and heroically chose death before the destruction of their cherished beliefs. Thus, Brown makes the reader aware of the tragic loss of an entire culture, tragic because its people defended it valiantly.

Brown gives many instances of how the Native Americans and their culture were continually reviled. The whites in this history, with deeply imbedded racism, saw the Native Americans as savages who did not deserve civilized treatment. In spite of Judge Dundy’s legal decision in 1879, they were not considered persons under the law. A main thrust of Brown’s history is the contention that the United States government and its citizens justified their genocide by falsely declaring that the Native Americans and their various cultures were inferior to their own. This was so strongly ingrained within the white culture that any white person who dared to be friendly to the Native Americans was called an ‘‘Indian lover’’ and was usually met with great disfavor, often of a violent nature, from the rest of the white populace. When Brown uses quotes by Native-American leaders speaking in English, it reveals the eloquence and intelligence of the human beings on the losing side of the war.

The ordinary white settler, from Brown’s point of view, seemed unwilling to look closely at the genocide perpetrated by their government on their behalf. The average settler just wanted land, a place of his or her own, and many were willing to kill (or let the army kill) the former inhabitants to get it. Brown uses the details of white history to show how the land was taken. For instance, in Colorado in the early 1850s, Governor Evans, in collusion with Colonel John M. Chivington—head of the Colorado Volunteers—and the Indian Agent Samuel G. Colby, schemed to drive all of the Native Americans out of Colorado. They wanted the land for themselves and their friends. In particular, Denver had been built upon Arapaho land, and unless the Native Americans were completely driven out of the state, they would have a claim upon the city. To achieve this end, Governor Evans ordered all the Cheyennes and Arapahos to report to the reservation at Fort Lyons. He then issued a proclamation giving all citizens of Colorado the right to pursue and kill any Indians found living out on the plains. Soon there were no free Cheyennes or Arapahos in Colorado, and Brown’s history clearly shows the violent mechanism of white land acquisition.

Writing his history from the point of view of the victims rather than the conquerors, Brown shocks the reader by recounting deadly brutality. He details instances when the United States military, often aided by white settlers, attacked and destroyed entire Native-American villages, killing men, women, and children indiscriminately, burning the tipis, clothing and other means of survival. Often they would kill or steal the Native-Americans’ horses, leaving the survivors on foot and without adequate food, clothing or shelter. Women and children, especially babies, would often die of exposure or starvation. Brown does not allow the reader to overlook the painful events. His history is told with impressive detail, down to the particulars of what individuals were doing on the mornings of battles, detailed statistics of the wounded and dead, and words spoken and written by participants on both sides. It is the expert use of details that reflects Brown's conviction of an historian seeking justice and truth, however belatedly. At the same time, Brown maintains an objective tone, despite the brutality he is recording, and this effectively allows the reader to absorb the implications and emotions of the injustices revealed.

Sympathetic to the spirituality of the Native Americans, Brown describes how their rich spiritual lives were often reviled or repressed. He recounts how white missionaries were often put in charge of the Native Americans living on the reservations and how they would ban non-Christian spirituality. The government banned the Ghost Dance, a powerful and healing spiritual ceremony. Brown details the murder of Sioux warrior chief Sitting Bull and the massacre of an unarmed camp of Ghost Dancers, finally putting an end to the dance.

Brown describes how the Native Americans watched as their land was ruined, the streams polluted, the trees cut down, and many animal species, such as the buffalo, almost completely destroyed. Several times, Brown quotes Native Americans, who, in addition to lamenting the destruction of their own way of life, were mystified and saddened by how the whites seemed to hate nature. Brown states, “To the Indians it seemed that these Europeans hated everything in nature—the living forests and their birds and beasts, the grassy glades, the water, the soil, and the air itself.” Brown also gives the reader glimpses into the Native Americans’ connection with nature, when he refers to seasons as ‘‘summer moon’’ or the ‘‘moon of strong cold’’ rather than calendar time, for instance. This has the effect of creating more empathy in the reader for the lost culture.

Brown’s history ends with the massacre at Wounded Knee, a devastating loss for Native America. The last lines of text remark, ironically, on a sign over a church: ‘‘PEACE ON EARTH, GOOD WILL TO MEN,” after the brutal killings. Then an eloquent quote by Black Elk, followed by an Indian song of longing, and a photograph and quote of Red Cloud are final reminders to the reader of the tragic history of the Native Americans.

Source: Douglas Dupler, Critical Essay on Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, in Nonfiction Classics for Students, Gale, 2003. Dupler has published numerous essays and has taught college English.

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee and the Indian Voice in Native Studies

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Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 5349

In 1971 Dee Brown wrote Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee—a book that stunned America, persuading a generation to listen to the voice of Native Americans. Society learned about the Indian as a victim in the American West.

The full impact involved the emergence of an academic Indian voice in the following years. Native Americans had always expressed their concerns and opinions about issues ranging from legal status, to living conditions, to past mistreatment at the hands of the United States government. But the Indian voice was not widely heard, at least by the dominant society, until the 1960s during the Civil Rights protests and the concurrent rise of American Indian activism. During the late 1960s and at the start of the next decade, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee opened the door for the Native American voice and launched a generation of American Indian studies in academia.

At unexpected times, an important work comes along and jolts society, provoking a reaction—right time, right book. And Dee Brown’s book has had a long life, perhaps because of its portrayal and inclusion of the Wounded Knee tragedy of 1890 with the slaughter of 350 Minneconjou Ghost Dancers (mostly women and children).

The book was copyrighted in 1970 and appeared in print in January 1971. During the remainder of 1971, Holt, Rinehart and Winston reprinted the book 13 times in 11 months, and it has sold five million copies! This is impact, even in the hard-edged world of capitalism! During these years of the so-called ‘‘Third World’’ movement, the book unveiled a story that Native Americans had always known.

While many enthralled readers turned the pages of Bury My Heart, their consciences acknowledged this mistreatment of the American Indian. Guilt seized them. Scholars, however, remained doubtful about Brown's work. The late historian Wilcomb Washburn noted:

While Brown’s work, from the scholarly point of view, leaves something to be desired, its impact has been phenomenal in raising the consciousness of the white Americans about the past history of Indians and whites in America.

The book capitalized on the liberal 1960s, offering something new and different as the decade closed.

Many of us recall those years, witnessing radical changes in America: bell bottoms, the peace sign, Jimi Hendrix, marijuana, Janis Joplin, the 1964 invasion of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the New Left, underground protest groups, Vietnam, the Civil Rights movement, the NAACP John F. Kennedy LBJ, and more that we wore, hated, believed in, smoked, and became immersed in.

For Native Americans, “Red Power” emerged as a philosophical outspokenness of politics and cultural renaissance, but it confirmed a national identity of ‘‘being Indian.’’ The Chicago National Indian Conference and the rise of the National Indian Youth Council (NIYC) in 1961, Indian Fish-Ins in Washington in 1964, the founding of the American Indian Movement in 1968, Red Power, and the Alcatraz Take-over in 1969 witnessed a new era of Native American deconstruction and reaction for a generation of Native Americans who wanted to study about themselves and their people's histories and cultures. It was a struggle.

But for Native Americans to succeed at higher education was not yet reality. In 1961, only 66 Indians graduated from four-year institutions. During that decade, the college dropout rate for Native Americans remained at 90 percent. By 1968, only 181 Native Americans had graduated from college. By 1970, Estelle Fuchs and Robert J. Havighurst estimated a 75 percent rate for Indian college drop-outs. Twenty years later, in 1988 and 1989, 3,954 Indian students had received Bachelor's degrees, with 1,086 having received Master's degrees and 85 graduate students earning a Ph.D. However, Native Americans still believed that institutions of higher learning were a means for future betterment of Indian people.

Bury My Heart awakened scholars and writers, and especially Native Americans. Native scholars began writing about the feelings of Indian people and about their opinions. Indians felt the frustration of urban alienation and the influence of Red Power activists, and they began to put pen to paper.

In addition to Dee Brown’s work, two other important books about Indians appeared during these years—Vine Deloria, Jr.’s Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto (1968) and N. Scott Momaday’s House Made of Dawn (1966). The latter won the Pulitzer Prize, the only work written by a Native American to be recognized.

A part of this scholarly current to study American Indians derived especially from the political movements of Black Power, Brown Power, and Red Power. Civil Rights for minorities and equal rights for women expressed during political protests and activism caused society and institutions of higher learning to reconsider the status and past written histories of ethnic groups and women. Thus, the 1960s represented pivotal changes in American society, as people contemplated their own lives and the values of the mainstream society and the dominant culture that had stressed the importance of education, economics, religion, and individualism.

Until the 1960s, mainstream society had refused to listen to, or to learn from, Native Americans. Naturally, this provoked the title of Vine Deloria, Jr.’s book, We Talk; You Listen: New Tribes, New Turf. From an Indian point of view, Deloria predicted in 1972:

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.

On the heels of We Talk: You Listen came Deloria’s God Is Red (1974), in which he pointed out that Native Americans identify with place rather than time as do white men, and that Indians galvanize toward group identity rather than individuality. Undoubtedly, Americans were looking for security in various ways and forms, even looking to Native Americans because of their traditional values of communalism and environmental relationship with the earth. As a result of the self-examining society of the 1960s, people began to ask questions about their inner selves, wondering who they were, and they researched their roots. They needed something with which to identify, and to bring balance to their lives. Many looked toward history for answers, as the rugged individualist American began to break down.

Timing proved to be germane to the powerful influence of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. It was the link to the past, and a model by which people could re-examine that past. Although the revelation of America’s mistreatment of Native Americans was shocking, it was not unique; 90 years earlier, Helen Hunt Jackson’s A Century of Dishonor had been published—an exposé that had alerted the public to the plight of the American Indian. However, it was as a result of Dee Brown’s book in 1971 that journalists, writers, and scholars began to offer new ideas and theories, and they introduced new ways to look at their subjects in a broader context with open minds.

Until the 1960s, the dominant society had maintained strict control over learning, forcing Western linear teaching into the minds of Indian students at boarding schools and missionary schools, while public schools berated the ways of Native Americans and presented them as inferior to white ways. The Native-American perspective was ignored until the unleashing in the 1960s.

In his introduction to Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Dee Brown wrote:

… I have tried to fashion a narrative of the conquest of the American West as the victims experienced it, using their own words whenever possible. Americans who have always looked westward when reading about this period should read this book facing eastward … This is not a cheerful book, but history has a way of intruding upon the present, and perhaps those who read it will have a clearer understanding of what the American Indian is, by knowing what he was.

The emotions that Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee brought forth in readers made for a precedent-setting work. Dee Brown described the feelings and emotions of Native Americans in such a way as no historians had successfully done—he humanized them.

As the decade of the 1970s began, numerous books continued to be published about Indians, resulting in some 13 books in print. In 1971, Hazel Hertzberg published The Search for an American Indian Identity: Modern Pan-Indian Movements, indicating that social, cultural, and political history of a minority was indeed important enough to write about, especially in the 20th century. Other noted works appeared as well, including Francis Paul Prucha, ed., The Indian in American History (1971); Joseph G. Jorgensen, The Sun Dance Religion: Power for the Powerless (1972); Richard Slotkin, Regeneration Through Violence: The Mythology of the American Frontier, 1600-1860(1973); Bernard Sheehan, Seeds of Extinction: Jeffersonian Philanthropy and the American Indian (1973); and Memoirs of Chief Red Fox (1972).

While these important works encouraged a growing interest in the American Indian, and as more books appeared on the horizon, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee had articulated an Indian version of the history of the American West. Rediscovering the ‘‘Indian voice’’ had also occurred in 1971 with Virginia Irving Armstrong, I Have Spoken: American History Through the Voices of the Indians; W. C. Vanderwerth, Indian Oratory: Famous Speeches Told by Noted Indian Chieftains (1971); Joseph Cash and Herbert Hoover, eds., To Be an Indian: an Oral History (1971); and Joseph Epes Brown, ed., The Sacred Pipe: Black Elk’s Account of the Seven Rites of the Oglala Sioux (1971). But though these works did not have the same success as Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, the door had been opened for listening to the Indian point of view. Students and scholars in particular were keenly interested in what Indians thought about the history of Indian-white relations.

Meanwhile, the National Indian Youth Council and the American Indian Movement (AIM) expressed a contemporary Indian voice, albeit of multiple opinions, during the early 1970s. ‘‘The First Convocation of Indian Scholars,’’ limited to 200 participants, convened in 1970 at Princeton University, and the ‘‘Second Convocation’’ occurred the following year at the Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies in Colorado.

And as Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee was appearing in January 1971, other interests were developing simultaneously in Indian activism and Native American militancy. Indian activists protested that colleges and universities offered very little about American Indians—or incorrect information—in their college courses. Non-Indians, too, began to embrace the opportunity to study Native Americans to see the courses they had to offer. This interest in Indian curriculum was not new, but was rather a renaissance of Native American issues, which led to a genre of literature with increasing demands. Writings and scholarship was changing, and new sources and inspiration were pursued.

Because of the emergence of Native American studies programs, the momentum carried throughout the 1970s. Even history as an academic discipline began to re-examine its basic approach. In an article entitled ‘‘American Historians and the Idea of National Character: Some Problems and Prospects,’’ David Stannard wrote about the American search for ‘‘National Character’’ as a means for writing history, and that historians were looking toward the behavioral sciences in their analyses. Yet, although new ideas about writing history entered the discipline, the old habit of disregarding Native Americans and other minorities still prevailed.

In the early 1970s, the discipline as practiced by mainstream historians refused to make Native Americans a true part of American history. Simultaneously, the Indian struggled for his place in other academic disciplines as well. In 1970, Jeanette Henry reprimanded the history profession and American society for denying Native Americans a proper place in the written history of this country:

… Every dominant political class in any society attempts to control the ideology of the people most particularly through the learning process in the schools. It is not to be wondered at that “this” American society does the same. The school boards and curriculum commissions which control the adoption and purchase of textbooks usually adopt books to support the dominant political class. So too do the professors in universities, [and] departments of various disciplines.

During these times of Civil Rights protests, Indian activism, and AIM militancy, Indian academic warriors like Jeanette Henry and others took on the academic disciplines at academic conferences and in journals, books, and all forms of the printed word. The number of such warriors was small, drawing from a rank of less than 200 Native Americans holding a Ph.D. by the mid-1970s, and this group, which included outspoken Native Americans without doctorates, naturally polarized American academia and Native Americans.

The turf of battle of the American Indian Movement against the United States had been extended to academics, and leading this Indian attack was Vine Deloria, Jr.’s Custer Died for Your Sins; We Talk, You Listen; and God Is Red, as well as other related works. Deloria’s chapter on ‘‘Anthropologists and Other Friends’’ in Custer Died for Your Sins became a volleying point for heated discussions, charging writers and scholars who exploited Indians for personal gains and misrepresenting Native Americans and their cultures. Deloria insulted anthropologists by writing in his inflammatory chapter that some people are cursed with plagues and bad luck, ‘‘… but Indians have been cursed above all other people in history. Indians have anthropologists.’’

In the middle of the battlefield, native scholars like the late Alfonso Ortiz challenged his own anthropology profession to re-examine Indians and treat them more appropriately. He realized in one of his writings that he had ‘‘taken a position, fully mindful of the dangers of being shot at from both sides.’’ Ortiz wrote:

… Anthropology is a science born of imperialists and colonial powers and … at best, all too many of its practitioners still approach their tribal and peasant subjects with a neo-colonist attitude.

He noted that there were too few Indian scholars to help turn the tide at that time in 1970. A stronger Indian academic voice was needed if, indeed, academia was to revise its paternalistic views of Native Americans.

Sensitive and open-minded non-Indian scholars began to include cultural studies in their writings about Native Americans. Hence, cross-cultural studies and cross-disciplinary works evolved. Attempting to understand Indian culture, environment, and community became essential in order to understand Native Americans. This approach, combined with academia's contemplation of new ideas and theories, urged a reconsideration of the previous means of examining history and the Indian and other minorities.

Then in 1970, the Western Historical Quarterly produced its first issue. The following year, the sixth president of the Western Historical Association, Robert Utley, assessed the field and changes in Western history amidst societal changes resulting from the 1960s. He wrote:

Indeed, I shall be surprised if western studies do not gain new life from the intellectual and social ferment now troubling the nation. As attitudes, beliefs, assumptions, and traditions of American life come increasingly under scrutiny, stereotypes begin to disintegrate … Does not the current obsession with minority and ethnic studies suggest unplowed western fields? Scholars are already beginning to till these fields …

And in 1971, as an example of Utley's admonition, Doubleday published William Loren Katz's The Black West, a documentary and pictorial history; Seth M. Scheiner and Tilden G. Edelstein edited The Black Americans: Interpretative Readings; the third edition of Morris U. Schappes' edited work A Documentary History of the Jews in the United States, 1654-1875, reappeared in print; and Leonard Dinnerstein published his edited book, Antisemitism in the United States.

In November of 1969, The Black Scholar journal had produced its first issue, and other African-American publications appeared, such as the Journal of Black Studies with its first issue published in 1970. Subsequently, the Journal of Ethnic Studies released its first issue in the spring of 1973. Other minority journals and publications followed throughout the decade and afterwards, such as the Ethnic Forum in the summer of 1981.

In 1971, Lawrence Towner, past president of Chicago’s Newberry Library, and other key individuals, conceived of the idea to establish a center in the Library for studying the history of the American Indian. Towner wanted Indian involvement, so he contacted D’Arcy McNickle, a Flathead Indian studying anthropology, who also studied at Oxford University. In September 1972, the Center for the History of the American Indian opened its doors for business with a supporting grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, The Newberry Library, and 11 supporting universities. D’Arcy McNickle became the first director of the Center, with many scholars becoming research fellows who would study Native Americans over the years. In 1997, the McNickle Center celebrated its 25th year of researching and studying the American Indian.

In the 1970s, people learned that American Indians have always lived in their own way, in spite of federal policies designed to force them to assimilate into the dominant society. The current 547 federally recognized Native American tribes and other Indian communities exist according to their particular identity and heritage; and this need for freedom of expression involves culture, political concerns, religion, and intellectualism. Although American Indians have sought self-determination since the 1960s, a dominant control of the media, including textbook companies, the film industry, and a majority of publications, suppressed the advancement of Indian people and their communities throughout Indian country.

A “natural sovereignty” for Indian people has meant that all native communities possessed a heritage of freedom. A native identity is based on desired segregation from other peoples and their natural right to pursue their own way of life. This is done on reservations throughout Indian country and in urban Indian areas in most major cities where Native Americans survived the relocation program of the 1950s and 1960s. Currently, more than two-thirds of the total Indian population of just over two million live in urban areas; thus Indian country consists of reservations and urban Indian communities.

A history of struggle is common to all nations, and American Indian tribal nations have certainly had this experience. Their struggle has been one against European imperialism and the United States. The invasion of these foreign nations has defeated and suppressed the Native American, and, in some cases, annihilated Indian people.

Euroamerican colonization has a history of going beyond building homesteads and clearing the land for crops; this colonization experience has been one of deliberate destruction of Native Americans and their culture. Attempts at co-existence did not work out, and the Indian nations fell before the Euroamerican colonization after patriotic resistance in every region of the country.

Aside from attempts of genocide, the survival of Native Americans, even against overwhelming odds, compelled the United States to assimilate Indian people into the ideological “melting pot” of white values. Simultaneously, in order to accomplish this assimilation or desegregation, the United States government and its military sought to suppress the native intellectualism of Indian people. With biased scientific evidence in the late 1800s, and in an attempt to justify the American experience with Frederick Jackson Turner's ‘‘frontier thesis,’’ America sought to subordinate Native Americans. An insecure American culture believed it necessary to deem Native American knowledge and native intellectualism to be inferior. Undoubtedly, this was intellectual racism on the part of America, which has not been fully addressed.

The conservativism of the Eisenhower era of the 1950s had caused a backlash against this kind of ideology, provoking an experimentation with liberalism during the next ten years and afterward. But as for Native Americans, they continued to look for themselves in textbooks and public forms of the media. The mainstream saw a “doomed” Indian in books and at the cinema. Perhaps, even worse, in the 20th century Native Americans had virtually disappeared, and simply were not needed by Turnerian historians to explain the history of this country.

In 1968, an Indian student (Shoshone and Bannock) enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley, expressed her frustration at finding her place in the white man’s world:

It’s hard for me to go to college and eventually be assimilated and never be able to relate to the American Indian and their problems. I feel they’re trying to make me into a white person … There is little opportunity to learn anything about my own history; I've tried to take courses in history at the University. I can't find out anything about my people.

Until the late 1960s, post-modern America had continued to move forward with increasingly less interest in American Indians, leaving the issue up to Indians to fight for Indian education. But as American Indians were rarely in the path of the daily concerns of the federal government and the public in general, it was left to colleges and universities and Indian communities to advance the interests of America’s original people. The American public and our nation’s leaders needed to be educated about Indian people and their issues and concerns.

President Lyndon Johnson was sensitive and responded to the concerns of Native Americans and their problems when he gave his “Forgotten American” speech in 1968. In actuality, LBJ proved to be more understanding of Native Americans and their circumstances than his popular predecessor, John F. Kennedy.

Following Johnson’s pro-Indian efforts, which included the Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968, Richard Nixon continued presidential support of Native Americans. In 1972, the Indian Education Act authorized educational programs for American Indian and Alaskan native children, college students and adults, with funding from the Department of Education. In addition, the Bureau of Indian Affairs also funded educational programs for Native Americans. The termination policy of the 1950s and 1960s came to a halt by Congress, and the Kennedy Study Report disclosed an increased need for Indian education. Furthermore, Indian action, especially the militancy of AIM, called for a new federal Indian policy during the early 1970s of the Nixon years.

In 1974, President Gerald Ford signed the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act, which took effect in 1975. This new federal Indian policy authorized the development of Indian education and other reform programs. In addition, organizations like the Ford Foundation and Donner Foundation saw it as their task to educate more Native Americans in graduate programs.

American Indian intellectualism has always existed, but it has not always been acknowledged. Unfortunately, the most brilliant Indian individuals were called to lead their people in war against the United States—those such as Tecumseh, Sitting Bull, and Chief Joseph in the 19th century. In post-modern America, Indian intellectualism should be allowed to be expressed; however, conservative academic attitudes have suppressed or ignored the opportunity for Native American thoughts and ideas. Should not American Indian intellectuals have the same right as others to offer their ideas, philosophies, and theories? Should not American Indian people have the same opportunities to obtain a college education and have the same opportunities to succeed as other Americans? Many years ago, before the first Native American Studies Program, the Lakota sage Luther Standing Bear challenged white society: “Why not a school of Indian thought, built on the Indian pattern and conducted by Indian instructors?”

As teaching and discussing Native American studies became important in the late 1960s and in the 1970s, ethnic studies programs began to emerge on college campuses, and the study of American Indians experienced a renaissance.

Although in 1968 San Francisco State University became the first college to establish a Native American studies program, few people know that the first official Indian studies program had been attempted at the University of Oklahoma in 1914, when Senator Robert Owens of Oklahoma introduced a resolution in the United States Congress calling for an Indian Studies Department. However, nothing had resulted from Owens’ efforts. Another effort was made in 1937, once again at the University of Oklahoma, but it too failed. The impetus for an American Indian studies program was premature until after World War II.

In 1968, American Indian studies programs also emerged at the University of Minnesota, the University of California, Berkeley, and later at the University of California, Los Angeles. In 1969, Trent University, Ontario, started the first native studies program in Canada. These early programs became the flagships of Indian studies in the United States.

Native American studies programs and departments began to develop during the 1970s, and they flourished. By 1985, 107 colleges and universities had either a program or department of American Indian studies. Many were a part of an ethnic studies program or a unit of an anthropology department. Eighteen Native American studies programs or departments offered majors, and 40 of these offered minors. (For example, a student could obtain a Ph.D. in the Ethnic Studies Department at the University of California, Berkeley, but Native American Studies was under the umbrella of Ethnic Studies.)

By 1995, six Native American studies units offered graduate programs, including the University of California-Berkeley, University of Arizona, University of California-Los Angeles, and Montana State University; and Harvard University continues to offer a graduate program in American-Indian Education. During the mid-1990s, 13 research centers and institutions existed whose objectives focused on American Indians.

In 1976, an estimated 76,000 American Indian students attended accredited colleges and universities. By 1984, some 82,672 Native Americans were enrolled in colleges and universities. Another 60 percent of that number attended two-year community colleges. It was obvious that many Indian youth wished to pursue American Indian studies. By 1997, 124 Native American studies programs existed. Admittedly, most of these programs lack recognition and visibility; however, several have earned national distinction through the years for their activities such as the programs at Berkeley, UCLA, University of Minnesota, University of Oklahoma, and University of Arizona, Tucson.

In 1996, the American Indian studies program at the University of Arizona announced the end of a seven-year struggle to offer the first doctoral program in American Indian studies. With seven core Native American faculty, and with a total of 19 faculty participating in the program, American Indian studies at the University of Arizona have set an important new precedent.

The need for more visibility of Native American studies and other ways of academic advancement is imperative in educating other minorities and mainstream Americans about Native Americans and their many diverse cultures. Carter Blue Clark, a Muscogee Creek historian and executive vice president at Oklahoma City University, stated:

American Indian Studies is trapped in … [a] cultural dilemma ... American Indian Studies fits no standard academic mold. American Indian Studies is by its nature interdisciplinary … American Indians are unique, and so is their discipline. They stand alone among all of the other ethnic groups because of their history, which involves treaties, tribalism, and other aspects that set them apart.

The Native American presence in academia had emerged noticeably with the works of the first generation of Indian scholars in post-modern America—Vine Deloria, Jr., and N. Scott Momaday in the late 1960s, as well as Francis LaFlesche John Milton Oskison, John Joseph Matthews, Luther Standing Bear, James Paytiamo, George Webb, John Tebble, John Rogers, and D'Arcy McNickle. Because the public and publishers seemed willing to entertain the writings of Native Americans, another group soon followed, consisting of Howard Adams, Robert Burnette, Harold Cardinal, Rupert Costo, Edward P. Dozier, Jack D. Forbes, Jeanette Henry, Bea Medicine, Alfonso Ortiz, and Robert K. Thomas. In the creative writing field, the list included Leslie Silko, Duane Niatum, Simon Ortiz, Gerald Vizenor, James Welch, Ray Young Bear, and many others.

American Indian intellectualism also has been expressed by publication of a dozen or more Native American journals, which were founded in the 1970s and 1980s. In the mid-1990s, articles about Native Americans were published in Akwekon (Cornell University, 1984), American Indian Culture and Research Journal (UCLA, 1974), Journal of American Indian Education (Arizona State University, 1961), American Indian Law Journal (Institute for the Development of Indian Law, Washington, D.C., 1975), American Indian Law Review (University of Oklahoma, 1973), American Indian Quarterly (now at University of Oklahoma, 1974), Canadian Journal of Native Studies, Journal of Alaska Native Arts (Institute of Alaska Native Arts, Fairbanks, Alaska, 1984), Journal of Navajo Education (Chinle, Arizona, 1983), Native Studies Review in Canada, Tribal College Journal, and Wiscazo Sa Review (Eastern Washington University, 1985). The majority of these journals are peer-judged and externally refereed. Because of the diversity of Native Americans and their multiple interests, more Indian journals are needed. Yet, human and financial resources are lacking, thus limiting American Indian and non-Indian scholars publishing their works.

American Indian identity in academia has required increased attention and action. In 1985, historian Carter Blue Clark stated:

Interest in American Indians will continue as a result of the historic legacy of Manifest Destiny, yearning for family roots, and a lingering romantic attachment to the glories of a bygone era. The necessities of earning a living with marketable skills will not lessen the need to maintain Indian cultural ties and to learn more about one’s Indianness through American-Indian Studies. Even though some of the attributes of Indian studies will alter with changing demands from society and administrators, American Indian Studies will continue to offer insights into America’s unique culture and heritage. The basic mission of American Indian Studies is to educate and enlighten all students about the diverse and rich cultures that make up American Indian life.

As Indian communities have continued to flourish—with much promise for this next century and the new millennium—academia has endeavored to keep pace. The number of tribally controlled colleges has increased. The first, the Navajo Community College, started as only an idea in the early 1960s. With funding from the Office of Economic Opportunity, the tribe, and the Donner Foundation, the Navajo Nation founded the Navajo Community College in 1968. Additional tribal colleges were soon established in California, North Dakota, and South Dakota. As of this writing, there are 30 such colleges.

Tribal colleges received major support when the U.S. Congress passed the Tribally Controlled Community College Act in 1978, providing limited grants for starting these institutions in Indian country, including any Alaskan native village or village corporation approved by the Secretary of the Interior. At this pace, one college is being established each year. These community colleges base and develop their curriculum to meet the needs of their people, with practically oriented courses in business and administration.

The faculty for these 30 colleges are degreed Native Americans. It is now estimated that some 400 Native Americans in the United States have earned a Ph.D., and many others have earned a Master's degree. In the various academic fields for the professions, however, there are less than 25 Native Americans in each. And in each of the fields, the number of Native Americans, who are three-fourths or full-bloods are a fraction of the less than 25 in each field.

Institutions such as Arizona State University are extraordinary for having so many Native Americans holding doctorates; most colleges and universities have a couple, one, or none. Native American faculty and American Indian programs are vital to advancing the scholarship of Native American studies and to increasing the number of Indian college graduates. Unfortunately for American Indians, the colleges and universities that were founded to educate Native Americans, such as Dartmouth College, Harvard University, and the College of William and Mary, are not identified today as Indian schools.

Perhaps it is even more sad that the future of Native American studies—and the hope of graduating more American Indians—is in the hands of non-Indians who may not be able to give them the same attention that they commit to other minority groups and the mainstream. American Indian studies and Native Americans suffer from this virtual neglect, and this is reflected on college campuses across the country, where Indian students, faculty, and administrators are a mere fraction of the mainstream.

Yet, in spite of the suppression and neglect of American Indians on college campuses, the interest in them remains for many and complex reasons, including a curiosity of wanting to hear the Indian point of view. The late 1960s and early 1970s represented a drastic change in the study of Native Americans, beginning with listening to the Indian voice of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee—a voice that was varied, coming as it did from a myriad of Indian people who were outraged at the federal government, angry at the dominant society, and frustrated with their own people, or themselves. Dee Brown’s work enabled this voice to be heard and gave it a sense of direction.

Source: Donald L. Fixico, ‘‘Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee and the Indian Voice in Native Studies,’’ in Journal of the West, Vol. 39, No. 17, January 2000, pp. 7-15.


Critical Overview