Vine Deloria, Jr. Criticism - Essay

Edward Abbey (review date 9 November 1969)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Custer Died For Your Sins, in New York Times Book Review, November 9, 1969, p. 46.

[In the following review, Abbey asserts that in Custer Died For Your Sins, Deloria "writes with much humor and even sympathy for what he believes to be the white Americans' pathetic inability to feel and understand the true nature of the situation we are living in."]

Even our Indians are turning against us now. Red Power. All the chickens coming home to roost. In Custer Died For Your Sins the author reminds us—and Vine Deloria, former executive director of the National Congress of American Indians, is himself an Indian—that America was discovered not by Columbus, not by Leif Ericson, but by the Indians—over 20,000 years ago. This simple fact has somehow eluded the rest of us, perhaps because the original discoverers of this continent were regarded by the English settlers not as people or human beings but simply as part of the wild life, i.e., as animals.

"They used to shoot us for our feathers," Mr. Deloria complains, going on to point out that the practice of scalping, for instance, was invented in New England by white men. Why? For the same reason that mountain-lion trappers in Arizona nowadays remove the scalps of their victims, as proof of kill, in order to collect the bounty.

Details such as these were never mentioned in our public-school history classes. Why not? The word "genocide" is used a little too easily and carelessly these days (it flows trippingly on the tongue); but in the case of the American Indians, particularly those unfortunate enough to find themselves in the path of our Pilgrim and Puritan forefathers, the term may not be inapplicable. How many Indians are left in New England? Along the Eastern seaboard?

The many parallels between the war in Vietnam and the war against the American...

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Christian Science Monitor (review date 2 April 1970)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "A Sophisticated Indian Looks at the Savage Whites," in Christian Science Monitor, April 2, 1970, p. 7.

[In the following review, the critic praises Deloria's humor and hopefulness in his presentation of the American government's broken promises to the Indians in Custer Died for Your Sins.]

All of Vine Deloria's stylistic limitations, all the lifeless passages which smack of going through the motions in order to get a book-length manuscript, cannot defeat the subject matter of this angry polemic [entitled Custer Died for Your Sins].

The condition of the American Indians is, for the most part, intolerable. In the names of manifest destiny, economic growth, expanding the frontier, laissez-faire capitalism and cultural homogeneity, the original inhabitants of America have been slaughtered, uprooted, swindled, chastised, excluded, and despised.

Mr. Deloria, a Sioux himself, sums it all up unsparingly.

The brutality shown by earlier generations of white Americans was, he suggests, frank at least. In our own day the Indians have been deprived of guaranteed government assistance, subjected to cultural fragmentation, and double-crossed by the United States Government.

Despite the fact that many people think so, the Indian treaties are not quaint historical jokes. Every time the government violates an Indian treaty, which it does, Mr. Deloria points out, with deadening regularity, a little more of its credibility is killed off. While 40,000 GIs die in Vietnam in defense of Washington's treaty obligations, the United States goes on breaking some of the most solemn and oldest treaties in its national history.

Mr. Deloria assumes that the true spirit of a powerful nation can only be observed in its dealings with lesser powers. When the country first undertook to contain the Indians, the national argument was the need for space in which to grow. Isn't that called lebensraum?

Somehow in all this Mr. Deloria manages to retain both a biting sense of humor and a hope for the future; that the grace of the Indian under pressure may be the example to leaven the American whole.

Cecil Eby (review date 4 October 1970)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Tonto was an Uncle Tomahawk," in Washington Post Book World, October 4, 1970, p. 4.

[In the following review, Eby discusses the commercial relationship between white America and its use of land versus the Indians' veneration of nature as presented by Deloria in We Talk, You Listen.]

Adding to the already formidable list of "problems" bedeviling white America is the rise, in recent years, of Red Power. Armed not with tomahawks but with briefcases chock-full of broken promises and treaty violations, the Indian has joined other minority groups in demanding his due. Once upon a time white America could count on a docile Indian population content to subsist on...

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Rosemary Radford Ruether (review date 5-12 January 1974)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of God Is Red, in New Republic, Vol. 170, Nos. 3078-3079, January 5-12, 1974, pp. 25-6.

[Ruether is an American educator and theologian. In the following review, she highlights the contrasts between Christianity and Native American religions that Deloria presents in God Is Red.]

Vine Deloria, spokesman for the rise of "red consciousness," is the son of an Indian Episcopalian clergyman. Himself seminary-trained, Deloria's criticism of the white man's relation to Indian society has increasingly focused on the character of Christianity. Deloria believes that the white man's destruction-relationships with other people and with the earth have been...

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James R. Kerr (review date November 1984)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of American Indians, American Justice, in The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. 476, November, 1984, pp. 186-87.

[In the following review, Kerr praises American Indians, American Justice as a highly readable examination of the United States federal government's policies concerning American Indians and their effects on Native American governmental and judicial institutions.]

This admirable book [American Indians, American Justice] analyzes the roots of Indian tribal government and justice and how they have been modified by the American legal system. It asks the important question, How much of...

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Wilcomb E. Washburn (essay date January 1985)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Toward Indian Nationhood," in Natural History, Vol. 94, January, 1985, pp. 76, 78-9.

[In the following essay, Washburn asserts that in The Nations Within, "When all is said and done, Deloria and Lytle, while not providing a practical solution to the Indian future, have laid the basis for a more mature consideration of that future by Indian tribal leaders."]

Vine Deloria, Jr.! The name—to some contemporary white Americans—conjures up emotions similar to those raised in the nineteenth century by the names Geronimo and Red Cloud. For many years Deloria, with his pen (and now with his word processor), has struck terror in the hearts of snooping...

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Southwest Review (review date Autumn 1985)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of American Indian Policy in the Twentieth Century, in Southwest Review, Vol. 70, No. 4, Autumn, 1985, pp. 550-51.

[In the following excerpt, the critic states that the essays contained in Deloria's American Indian Policy in the Twentieth Century "contain valuable information of interest to scholars and general readers alike."]

American Indian Policy in the Twentieth Century, edited by Vine Deloria, Jr., presents eleven essays that examine several often ignored areas in Indian history. Tom Holm, for example, in "The Crisis in Tribal Government," suggests that Wounded Knee II was not a "typical" inner city riot, but instead was an...

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Thomas Burnell Colbert (review date February 1987)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of American Indian Policy in the Twentieth Century, in The Historian, Vol. XLIX, No. 2, February, 1987, pp. 287-88.

[In the following review, Colbert asserts that the essays in Deloria's American Indian Policy in the Twentieth Century are educational and informative.]

Native American studies programs at colleges and universities have increased in number and size over the last twenty years. Likewise, the amount of scholarly activity focusing on Indian life and history has proliferated. However, much of the endeavor, especially within the discipline of history, has centered on Indian-white relations in the years before the twentieth...

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Stephen Cornell (review date March 1987)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of American Indian Policy in the Twentieth Century, in Contemporary Sociology, Vol. 16, No. 2, March, 1987, pp. 157-59.

[In the following review, Cornell traces the policy issues addressed in Deloria's American Indian in the Twentieth Century.]

Vine Deloria introduces this valuable new collection[, American Indian Policy in the Twentieth Century,] with the observation that the last few decades in Indian affairs have seen substantial progress. This progress, he argues, has been in the formulation of Indian policy, where Indian input is greater than it has ever been. Whether or not policy outcomes actually have improved remains, as...

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James Biser Whisker (review date 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of A Sender of Words: Essays in Memory of John G. Neihardt, in Reprint Bulletin, Vol. XXXIV, No. 1, 1989, p. 16.

[In the following review, Whisker asserts that the essays in A Sender of Words are in honor of John G. Neihardt and his importance to Amerindian studies, rather than a critique of his work.]

The title of the work comes from a letter of 1931 from a visionary Sioux Indian named Black Elk to the subject of these essays, John G. Neihardt. Black Elk was the subject of Neihardt's most significant work, Black Elk Speaks. Few, if any, Americans better understood the Americans culture, at least as its remnants existed into the...

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Tod D. Swanson (review date January 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of God Is Red: A Native View of Religion, in Journal of Religion, Vol. 75, No. 1, January, 1995, pp. 161-62.

[In following review, Swanson lauds how Deloria has updated his God Is Red for the 1990s.]

The second edition of God Is Red is a badly needed updating of a groundbreaking book. Before it was first published in 1973, scholars tended to portray Native traditions either as though they were frozen in a timeless past or as though they were precarious survivals of premodern times. By contrast, Vine Deloria presented the Native religions as a viable alternative for modern Indian people. Just as Jewish theologians had started with...

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