Deloria, Vine, Jr. Essay - Critical Essays

Deloria, Vine, Jr. (Vol. 21)


Vine Deloria, Jr. 1933–

American Indian young adult and adult nonfiction writer and editor.

Deloria is representative of a new breed of American Indian: well-educated and concerned for the plight of the Indian forced to live in a white man's system. In his writings, Deloria argues for the return of sacred grounds and an isolationist policy that would enable his people to function as a separate nation within the United States. A Standing Rock Sioux born and raised on a reservation, Deloria is particularly qualified to enlighten the public on the Indian's present status in our society. Following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, Deloria trained for a career as a minister. After receiving his degree in divinity from the Lutheran School of Theology, however, he realized a more effective means of serving the Indian's cause was through the legal system, and consequently earned a law degree from the University of Colorado. As executive director of the National Congress of American Indians in Washington, D.C., Deloria turned that nearly defuct organization into a forceful voice for the Indian tribes.

Deloria has stated that his exposure to Western culture has served to reaffirm his childhood commitment to the traditional Indian way of life. The main premise of his writings is the need for an Indian cultural nationalism, as opposed to the intellectual assimilation of minorities advocated by the white establishment. Deloria approaches the issues from a religious and legal standpoint. He believes that Christianity is no longer practical, with its promise of heaven so remote from everyday life in an industrial society, and that the naturalism of Indian religion is the only hope for Western civilization. Deloria also believes the government should honor the various treaties made with the Indians concerning their lands. Despite the seriousness of his subjects, Deloria's writing is informal and often wryly humorous, making it accessible to any reader interested in the modern Indian. Although many people do not agree with his ideas, Deloria is nevertheless respected for the sincerity and integrity of his works. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 53-56.)

Nancy Oestreich Lurie

[The differences in goals and methods of black militancy and red nationalism is a subject fraught with confusion and misunderstanding for the general public, both black and white.] Deloria's very equivocation as to any mutual relevance of the red and the black movements [in Custer Died for Your Sins] is characteristic of the thinking of many young Indians and thus informative. Another chapter—that on Indian humor—would have elucidated the Indian mood very well for the average, uninformed American and helped to explain what "Custer Died for Your Sins" implies. These chapters and those dealing with the central issue of treaties in Indian political ideology, the history of cross-purposes in Indian administration, the nature of Indian leadership, the interplay of cultural and social forces between country- and urban-based Indians, the range from assimilationists to traditionalists among Indians, and even Deloria's personal preferences as to policy and program reform justify the subtitle of his book as An Indian Manifesto rather than just An Indian's Manifesto….

The book is certainly crotchety, and the three chapters dealing with anthropologists, missionaries, and the government are fully comprehensible only to an often infighting ingroup rather than to the general public for whom the book is intended. Nevertheless, whatever personal bias Deloria brings to his writing out of his more white than Siouan ancestry, a...

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James A. Phillips

If ["Custer Died for your Sins: an Indian Manifesto"] is indicative of Deloria's methods, he's more interested in results than in being tactful.

Nauseated by the traditional Indian image, he asserts the worth if not the dignity of the redman and blasts the political, social, and religious forces that perpetuate the Little Big Horn and wigwam stereotyping of his people. Admittedly and intentionally he offends the people from whom help might come—Congress, anthropologists, and churches. When he's not specifically attacking these groups, he's vituperative about the general society that allows other groups to have predicaments, problems, or troubles, but insists that Indians have a "plight."… The threat of Indian insurrection is more latent than tacit, and understandably so if we can believe his lengthy discussion of how Indians have been neglected, cheated, and starved in a society so concerned with improving the lot of minority groups such as the Blacks….

Although Deloria's subject is serious, he approaches it nonformally. In fact, he devotes a chapter to Indian humor in addition to generously sprinkling anecdotes and one-liners into his commentary….

The plea of this book is retribalization of the people and recolonization of unsettled areas of the nation while Indians fear-fully note the ever-present dangers of reservation entanglements and the black power movement. Indians must learn to employ unity as a weapon, something they have hitherto feared for minor, selfish reasons. If more voices as strong as Deloria's are heard, there may yet be a place in America for Indians. (p. 270)

James A. Phillips, "'Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto'," in Best Sellers (copyright 1969, by the University of Scranton), Vol. 29, No. 14, October 15, 1969, pp. 270-71.

Tyler Thompson

If you are interested in savoring the emotional tone (as well as listening to some of the crucial ideas) of the emerging Indian protest movement, you will find [Custer Died for Your Sins] useful and important. Indian resentment toward white men and white society is set forth with memorable vividness….

But this book is no mere negative diatribe. In it we find set forth the essence of a program for rehabilitating Indian society, perhaps even for saving white society in the bargain….

The book is full of exaggeration—much of it quite deliberate. It contains many paradoxes, if not contradictions. Yet its message emerges with startling clarity. It is a message worth hearing.

Tyler Thompson, "Red, Brown Protest," in The Christian Century (copyright 1970 Christian Century Foundation; reprinted by permission from the February 18, 1970 issue of The Christian Century), Vol. 87, No. 7, February 18, 1970, p. 213.∗

Cecil Eby

Deloria brings into focus the moods and habitat of the contemporary Indian as seen by a Standing Rock Sioux, not by a research anthropologist or a jobber in the basketry trades. He peels away layers of tinsel and feathers heaped upon the Indian by misinformed whites (beginning with Columbus), and he reveals an uncanny ability for impaling them on the fine points of their own illogic.

Cecil Eby, "Tonto Was an Uncle Tomahawk," in Book World—The Washington Post (© 1970 Postrib Corp.; reprinted by permission of Chicago Tribune and The Washington Post), October 4, 1970, p. 4.

John S. Phillipson

[Mr. Deloria] is an Indian with an ironic sense of humor and an urgent message for the world today: to survive, it needs the flexibility of the tribe and the tribal viewpoint. (pp. 281-82)

In ["We Talk, You Listen" we have] a discussion interwoven of ecology, economics, politics, sociology, anthropology, history, and religion, all relating to man's sad plight today in which he faces fairly imminent extinction unless he drastically changes his way of life. Instead of the "liberal nonsense" he decries, Mr. Deloria gives us advice we should do well to heed. It makes sense. I found only Chapter 3 dull going, with a noticeable amount of social-scientific jargon, some faulty syntax ("a media") and...

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The New Yorker

[We Talk, You Listen: New Tribes, New Turf is an] argumentative rather than informative book…. [The author] adopts a controversial style reminiscent of his forefathers' fighting style: avoid pitched battles, loose a shower of arrows, and dart off. The Parthians fought the Romans this way, the Turks the Crusaders; though it is not magnificent, it is war. Mr. Deloria's paleface readers are not persuaded or enlightened; they are simply attacked. Here and there, Mr. Deloria seems to be starting a conversation, but it always turns into a war whoop.

"Briefly Noted: 'We Talk, You Listen: New Tribes, New Turf'," in The New Yorker (© 1970 by The New Yorker...

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W. Roger Buffalohead

A number of American Indians have wanted to write a book like [Custer Died For Your Sins], or have threatened to. But while others dreamed, procrastinated, or found other outlets for their energies, Vine Deloria, Jr. … persevered and has produced a witty, provocative, and sometimes crotchety interpretation of the past and current state of affairs of American Indians.

Written for the general public, this is nevertheless an Indian book and, as such, contains much of significance for Indians and non-Indians alike. Many on both sides will find viewpoints designed to raise the blood pressure and force a reappraisal of Indian-white relations. (p. 553)

Unlike many younger Indians,...

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N. Scott Momaday

The title of Vine Deloria's new book, We Talk, You Listen, is significant in that it appears to express in itself a new and prevalent attitude among Indians, and young Indians in particular, a quality of anger and self-assertion that has been dormant for a long time, for generations indeed. The New Indian, as he has been called, talks of living standards and job opportunities, education and health programs—both on and off the reservations—and he talks as never before of political action and organization. (p. 39)

In two books to date, Custer Died for Your Sins and We Talk, You Listen, Vine Deloria, Jr., has written about the Indian world, traditional and contemporary, in terms...

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Alfonso Ortiz

[Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto] is the most ambitious and most successful overview of contemporary American Indian affairs and aspirations I have ever read, whether "contemporary" is defined as the 1950's, 1960's, or the beginning of the 1970's…. Neither the range of scholars who view the Indian from the confines of their own academic perspectives nor the areal specialists are likely to be satisfied with Deloria's coverage, but this is a danger inherent in any and every attempt at a general treatment of the Indian's current status in American life. The two chapters covering laws, treaties, and termination, for instance, are too programmatic, but the subjects have been well chronicled by...

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Peter Mayer

[With "God Is Red" Deloria] has written yet another gripping account on the fate of the American Indian. Vine Deloria's interests range far and wide; the lore of his people is examined from an incredible number of different perspectives; various books of the Bible are introduced as history, and incredibly complex scientific (and other) data or explanations … are cited to give new twists to old beliefs. It is indeed a fascinating tale.

The discussion takes place on two levels. The first, and the one I can recommend to all readers, consists of a recital of selected injustices perpetrated upon the Red Man by the European settlers on this continent. The second, which is really the thesis of the book, I...

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Robert C. Nelson

Christ Jesus' guidelines have been judged impractical because difficult to obey. The falterings of his followers have been taken as proof enough that the Sermon on the Mount is too lofty to apply to real people.

But Christianity persists, in spite of its abusers. It survives all the perilous times. The Kingdom of God is not conquered, damaged, or displaced. It is always safely within—as Jesus said it would be—within consciousness centering more on God, less on self.

Thus Vine Deloria's indictments [in "God is Red"] are not new; his alternatives are. He finds American Christians bumbling and hypocritical; cruel, inane, and rootless. Rootless. That's his key. American Christians...

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George H. Frein

[With God Is Red Deloria has written] a highly telling polemic against Christianity.

The core of God Is Red is a comparison of Christian and Indian beliefs about the nature of religion, creation, the meaning of history, the character of religious experience, death, human personality and community, and the role of religion in the contemporary world. The basic difference between the two religions is that one perceives the world in terms of time, the other in terms of space. (p. 186)

Many readers will find fault with the Christian writers Deloria relies upon to describe the Christian faith, but they serve well enough. Other writers more in keeping with one's own Christian...

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Francis A. Lalley

His native viewpoint is the unique strength of Deloria's writing. He can explain how the world appears to those who were here on this continent countless centuries before Europeans arrived. The world does not appear as an arena for struggle between humanity and nature, as the Christian creation story suggests. Death is not something evil that must be conquered, as the Christian resurrection may imply. Religion for the native people has never been "other worldly" but intimately tied to the natural phenomena of this world. In these areas and others, Deloria discusses the differences of perception and feeling among Christian and native people with regard to this continent and its religious meaning.


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Leo E. Oliva

[In Behind the Trail of Broken Treaties] Deloria argues effectively that the best solution to the "Indian problem," for Indians and the federal government alike, is to honor old treaties and to develop a new treaty relationship which gives tribes the status of quasi-international independence (with the U.S. acting as protector). The legal and moral arguments are set into historical developments; and the major objections to restoration of tribal sovereignty are countered with reason and with examples from around the world…. This well-written plea deserves the consideration of every American: Deloria is clearly a spokesman to be heard.

Leo E. Oliva, "The Contemporary...

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Dee Brown

Among his people Vine Deloria Jr. has achieved a status somewhat similar to that of Sitting Bull's leadership of the Sioux tribes a century ago. Deloria is not a warrior ("The time for playing cowboys and Indians is over," he said recently) but is more the strategist—the thinker and the planner…. What Deloria wants is affirmative action by the U.S. Congress to define Indian tribes as smaller nations to be left alone to run their own affairs….

"Behind the Trail of Broken Treaties" is not only the best account yet written of events leading to Wounded Knee 1973, it is also a compelling argument for a reopening of the treaty-making procedure between Indian tribes and the U.S. Government; an action...

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More than any other author, Indian or white, dealing with the topic of current Indian affairs, Vine Deloria has challenged and stimulated the general public and the academic community. The impact of his Custer died for your sins …, We talk, you listen …, and God is red … attests to that. [Behind the trail of broken treaties] is equally provocative. Deloria calls for government adoption of the "Twenty Points" of the caravan of Indians known as the Trail of Broken Treaties that occupied the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1972. A major goal is to restore authority to make treaties with Indians and to restore Indian tribes to a status of quasi-international independence with the U.S. acting as...

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Jean K. Boek

[We Talk, You Listen: New Tribes, New Turf] is another product of an era in which advocates are being heard for black power, women's lib, senior power, unionization of teachers, gay liberation, consumer's rights, and unification of higher education. It is also observable that some of these advocates wish their audience simply to accept their version of the situation without being given the opportunity of examining it further. In common with these, Vine Deloria, Jr. gives the reader a view of Indian problems without providing independent means of assessing this information. Hence, as he hops from one topic to the next under the rubrics of the communications gap, stereotyping, black power, and the artificial...

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[The Indian Affair is a] short, critical essay by a noted Indian author on the despoiling and exploiting of the American Indian by individuals, federal agencies, and corporations, all aided by Christian missionaries. Yet, churches are cited for educating the Indians when no one else would, and some leading government figures are credited because of their pro-Indian efforts. Due to its brevity the work offers little in the way of detail. It should serve, however, as a good general introduction to the topic for all those who like to read about Indians. It offers little, however, to the scholar or the researcher.

"Social and Behavioral Sciences: 'The Indian Affair'," in...

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Francis Paul Prucha

In his Behind the Trail of Broken Treaties: An Indian Declaration of Independence …, Deloria draws together the arguments for autonomous status for the Indians. It is not an objective account, for Deloria is clearly promoting a cause. The book, too, has a good many factual errors, and it is frequently inconsistent in what it proposes. The author, moreover, has a hard time deciding just what status he is advocating for the Indians. Is it to be "international status," "quasi-protectorate status," "contractual sovereignty" or "a new treaty relationship"? Nor can he assert that he speaks for all the Indians. Yet the message that comes through despite these faults is an extremely important one. No one can read...

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Frances Svensson

[In Behind the Trail of Broken Treaties Deloria argues that] Indian tribes are, or should be under treaty law, semi-autonomous and self-determining communities….

The usual claim of "pragmatists" in Indian policy today is that it is too late to redress the grievances of the past. Indians are too few, too politically and economically impotent, too little endowed with the capacity for self-improvement. Deloria chooses to counter these arguments with a comparative study of the political, economic, and educational profiles of various independent and semi-independent states recognized internationally. (p. 1306)

The argument, of course, is that "contract sovereignty" is akin to...

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Marily Richards

[Deloria fills a gap with Indians of the Pacific Northwest] by describing the impact of rapid white settlement on the Puget Sound and Washington Coast tribes, which are often neglected in history books in favor of the potlatch and totem pole tribes farther north. The chapters which relate—in exhaustive detail—the long uphill battle waged to retain treaty-guaranteed fishing rights and maintain tribal identity may cause reader interest to lag. However, Deloria has a keen understanding of Indian rights and often enlivens his narrative with fascinating information such as the account of how the Lummis built an ultramodern aquaculture project capable of producing 100 million oysters a year in the traditional...

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Linda Morgan Rubens

In what is essentially a legal and political history [Indians of the Pacific Northwest: From the Coming of the White Man to the Present Day], Deloria introduces the tribes of the Puget Sound region with an eye toward their historic and current victimization and their efforts at fighting back. He makes known the complex, fish-based economy that operated before the coming of the white man…. Deloria calls close attention to a series of treaties forged in the mid-19th century when Washington became a U.S. territory. These treaties have been pivotal in present-day battles over Indian fishing rights. The state of Washington and the U.S. Department of the Interior come in for heavy criticism; the author, who himself...

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