(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Vine Deloria, Jr. 1933–

(Full name Vine Victor Deloria, Jr.) Sioux nonfiction writer and editor.

The following entry presents an overview of Deloria's career. For further information on his life and works, see CLC, Volume 21.

Vine Deloria is representative of the well-educated politically active sector of American Indians. Deloria is especially concerned about the plight of Indians forced to live in a white man's system. In his writings, Deloria argues for the return of sacred Indian grounds and an isolationist policy that would enable his people to function as a separate nation within the United States.

Biographical Information

Deloria was born on March 26, 1933, in South Dakota to an Episcopal minister and his wife. Deloria is a Standing Rock Sioux who was raised on a reservation. In 1958 he received his Bachelor of Science degree from Iowa State University. 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 in 1963, however, he realized a more effective means of serving the Indian's cause was through the legal system. Consequently he earned a law degree from the University of Colorado in 1970. Deloria became involved in Indian affairs as executive director of the National Congress of American Indians in Washington, D. C. During his leadership, from 1964 to 1967. Deloria turned the nearly defunct organization into a forceful voice for Indian tribes. Deloria also has been active in the Council on Indian Affairs, the Institute for the Development of Indian Law, and the Indian Rights Association. In addition to his involvement in these organizations, Deloria has written and edited several books on Indian affairs and taught political science at several universities.

Major Works

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 focuses on 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. In Custer Died for Your Sins (1969). Deloria satirizes the way in which anthropologists and churches have historically perpetuated stereotypes and misconceptions of Indians. In God Is Red (1973), Deloria proposes that Christianity is no longer practical; that its promise of heaven is too remote from everyday life in an industrial society; and that the naturalism of Indian religion is the only hope for Western civilization. In Behind the Trail of Broken Treaties (1974); The Indian Affair (1974); and American Indians, American Justice (1983), Deloria examines the history of Indian-white relations, especially the role of the government. In these books he criticizes federal policy toward Indians and their institutions as being ethnocentric and destructive. Deloria also proposes that the United States government should honor its treaty obligations to 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 American Indian.

Critical Reception

Most reviewers comment on the lack of bitterness present in Deloria's work. Critics praise his use of humor and his scholarly approach to the sometimes very emotional question of Indian rights. Edward Abbey stated, "Despite the sense of injustice and frustration which he and most Indians must surely feel, Mr. Deloria presents his case without the deep bitterness we might expect." Although many people do not agree with his ideas, Deloria is nevertheless respected for the sincerity and integrity of his works. Wilcomb E. Washburn asserts, "The secret of Deloria's success in becoming the preeminent Indian spokesman is his inexhaustible energy, his wry good humor, his not inconsiderable scholarly gifts, and his diplomatic skill."