|Date:||May 14, 1993|
|Class:||Anthropology 184, Harvard University|
|Comments:||This paper is presented here not because I think it is good. Quite the opposite, in fact, I think it is almost unreadable. The reason I'm proud of it, however, is that I didn't even start on it until six hours before it was due. I was taking this class pass/fail, so it didn't really need to be brilliant, or even decent. The lectures for this class were amazingly good, but I had no desire to write about any of the topics.|
|I believe the assignment here was to discuss what the obstacles are to a truly plural society in the modern world, using examples from the past. I was so sleep deprived while writing this paper, that the assignment might have been something else. In any case, I think I was trying to talk about the human tendency to incorrectly lump outsiders into a single entity. I used the U.S./Souix conflict as a historical example and somehow compared it to modern gangs.|
|So, it may not make any sense, but 10 pages in six hours isn't too shabby. This was the last paper I wrote as an undergrad, and I never even bothered to pick it up, so I'm not sure what grade it got.|
|Hook:||No time in this one for a true hook. About as close as I got to a hook was that fact that this paper deals with two themes that are important in the game of Shadowrun: the Ghost Dance and gangs.|
Immigrant: They don’t even consider us human.
Lee: How can you know that?
Immigrant: Because I’m a history teacher.
— from Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story
One man’s ceiling is another man’s floor.
— The Beastie Boys, What Comes Around
With the hunger and sickness and with the land diminished and the knowledge
that the old life was gone came hopelessness. No more was there anything the
people could do to help themselves. What was needed now was a messiah.
— Rex Alan Smith, Moon of Popping Trees
Leave me alone,
Don’t want your promises no more.
— Ozzy Osbourne
“Them” is a four-letter word. It evokes blanket negative thoughts, images and feelings towards a group other then ones own, as in “we were attacked by them”, “our lands were stolen by them”, or “our culture and existence is threatened by them.” This one word sums up, and perhaps defines, the difficulties of realistically becoming a plural society. In the current multicultural world, should the stigma of “them” not change, the future looks bloody.
In one sense, this idea is linguistic legerdemain—philological masturbation which adds an inane level of academic obscurity to a very serious problem. In another sense, however, the language used by a culture often echoes the sensibilities, concerns and behavior of that culture. In this case, the latter is more applicable. Current mainstream United States society does not possess the vocabulary to express pluralism adequately and this makes the outlook for pluralism in the U.S. grim. It is not the intent of this paper to suggest a new vernacular for the world—this is not a linguistics paper—but rather to argue that the idea of “them” is crucial to pluralism, but for pluralism to function, the feelings of distrust, anger, confusion and fear that “them” connotes must be eradicated.
In exploration of this idea, a feel for how “them” functions to prevent pluralistic situations (and, in fact, encourages situations completely anathema to pluralism) is crucial. This is best illustrated by example. The example used herein, that of the Sioux in the late nineteenth century, has been chosen for a number of reasons. First, in a general sense, the Sioux experience is not unlike that of other indigenous peoples faced with invaders from Europe, though the specifics are quite different; much of the attitudes of and towards the Sioux will sound very familiar to a student of the history of any indigenous peoples. Secondly, even given the atrocity of the Battle of Wounded Knee, the treatment of the Sioux is not a “worst case” example of the problems to which “them”-thinking can lead. Thirdly, the history the Sioux situation is relatively self-contained as a point in time and as a locality. Activity and politics in the United States and Sioux territory affected each other, but not much else. Lastly, the elements of the Ghost Dance and the Battles of Little Big Horn and Wounded Knee, illustrate examples of “them”-type friction in fairly complex and wide reaching areas, such as within the media and in a religious context. Each of these areas and opinions of them will be explored individually, after a factual background of the relevant history of the Sioux.
By 1800, a growing group of Native American tribes had, with the aid of the horse, carved out an empire for themselves in what is now called South Dakota. They called themselves the Lakota Sioux, and were mostly hunters. Whites made contact with the Lakota about this time, mostly trappers. There were few whites and many Sioux, so the two groups were basically civil to one another; however, by the 1840’s, the Sioux found their land being crossed over by white settlers en route to California. In addition to bringing many diseases, the settlers used up many of the natural resources in the Sioux lands. The Lakota became more and more irritated at this, and began to attack some of the westbound wagons. On September 17, 1851, U.S. government signed the Treaty of Horse Creek with some of the Sioux chiefs, giving the Sioux U.S. Army protection for attacks by whites and a substantial tribute of goods annually for the next ten years, provided that the Sioux stayed within certain boundaries, didn’t molest other Indians or whites, allowed forts on their lands, and stopped harassing settlers.1
A minor incident on August 17, 1854 started some big problems for the Sioux. A Mormon wagon train came through Lakota territory, and one of its trailing cows wondered into a circle of Lakota tipis, where she was shot. Through a variety of circumstances (including, according to some sources, reliance on a translator who was a “trouble-maker and a drunk”2), this incident led to a shoot-out between the Sioux and the Army (in this case, a small troop led by a Lt. Grattan), resulting in Grattan’s men being scalped. This lead to a series of raids and retaliations, culminating in the killing of over a hundred Sioux, mostly women and children3, at Sand Creek in the summer of 1864. More raids followed, this time peaking by the killing and mutilation of 80 Army soldiers by the Sioux on December 21, 1865.
Eventually, the Treaty of 1868 was signed, creating the Great Sioux Reservation into which no white could set foot. The U.S. offered rations, teachers, individual land rights, farming inducements and what amounted to infrastructure in 1868 (a sawmill, grist mill, doctors, carpenters, engineers, etc.) in exchange for an agreement for the Indians to remain within the boundaries of the Reservation, refrain from fighting with other Indians or whites, and to “compel all their children between the ages of six and sixteen to go to school.”4
The Treaty of 1868 kept the peace for a time, but by 1875, white prospectors began to see the Black Hills of the Sioux Reservation as an intriguing mining opportunity. In spite of the U.S. Army’s attempts to keep them out, a “few hundred” fortune-hunters slipped into the Black Hills, only to be scalped by the Sioux5. The government decreed that all Sioux, some of whom were wandering unchecked the Reservation, must return to their agencies by January 31, 1876, or suffer military attack. None of these roaming bands check in, and the Army was sent in. The Sioux, led by Crazy Horse, attacked some of the Army force, forcing them to retreat. The next day Crazy Horse met up with Sitting Bull and the main Sioux fighting force at Little Big Horn, where they decimated the Army’s 7th Cavalry, led by Lieutenant Colonel George “Long Hair” Custer.
Little Big Horn “had been the Army’s worst defeat by Indians” in years6. The Army’s stepped-up its effort to bring the Sioux to bay, and within a year, the Sioux had surrendered to the U.S. Army.
The following decade was one of great stagnation of the Sioux. Into this stagnation came word of a man called Wokova who claimed to have a vision, a divine revelation. Wokova said taught a Ghost dance that would bring back the spirits of the dead, who would bring back the buffalo and cause the earth to swallow up the white man. Bands of Sioux began practicing this dance, creating general consternation in nearby whites who heard of it, and the press contained many stories predicting upcoming battles. These concerns reached the Army, who decided that Sitting Bull was responsible for a large part of the dance. He was arrested and killed on December 15, 1890.
By this time, several bands of disaffected Sioux (many possessing a large percentage of Ghost dancers) were wandering about the Reservation, which was viewed as an uprising by the Army (and many Sioux). Strong Army presence kept Sioux raids to a minimum, and many of the bands surrendered. A man named Big Foot surrendered peacefully to the 7th Cavalry (Custer’s old unit) at a place called Wounded Knee, whereupon the Army and Big Foots band shared camp. The next day, December 29, 1890, the Army asked the Sioux to give up their weapons in preparation to be taken back to the agency. There was a scuffle, and an Indian gun went off. Although many sources say the shot was unintentional, violence erupted by the end of the day as many as two hundred Sioux were lying dead in the snow.
Their bodies lie in a mass grave at Wounded Knee.
While this brief history highlights elements of the conflict between the Sioux and the invading whites, it by no means speaks for itself. To understand why events unfolded as they did, it is necessary to understand how the various parties involved viewed themselves and each other. It is here where negative mystique surrounding “them” comes to play. Each of the groups involved had a very different set of values and goals, all completely justified and basically at odds with one another; however, due to a general lack of understanding about “them”, the other side, differences usually ended violently.
All of these groups had one flawed perception in common, a perception that is used here (somewhat dangerously) by this writer: that the groups in question were homogenized and could be viewed as being of a single thought. No attempt is made to correct for this perception in the limited space of this paper, but be aware of it.
One of the largest problems faced by the Sioux was that they and the whites differed greatly in opinions regarding the importance of treaties. To the whites, who were very legalistic compared to the Sioux, a treaty was a binding agreement between to political entities, allowing for a clear cut method of expected behavior, a way to know if it had been violated. Note that this did not stop the U.S. from breaking treaties, but it is important that the U.S. thought that they had a treaty with them, the Sioux. Usually, this was not the case. The Sioux Nation was not a nation at all, but a collection of tribes with a common language and common culture. Because treaties were signed by (supposedly) a majority of the Sioux chiefs, the U.S. felt that was legally sufficient; however, the Sioux never saw this logic at all, for a simple reason. “That reason was one the white men never did come to fully understand, and it was this: the Lakota neither understood not cared about this foolish thing the white men called ‘a majority’.”7 Chiefs who did not sign a treaty saw no reason at all to honor the treaty. Those Sioux could act as they wanted towards the U.S., as they had made no agreements with them. In addition, the Sioux and U.S. had different views of territory, the end result of which was that even when the U.S. felt it had gained right by treaty to cross through a certain area (such as the Bozeman Trail), the Sioux felt the U.S. was violating the same treaty.
More important than these considerations, however, was that the Sioux neither liked nor trusted the white man. In the early 1800’s “the Sioux word for ‘stranger’ and ‘enemy’ was the same”8. The Sioux reaction to the California bound settlers is much like that of a homeowner to a group of people who wander into his house, tear up his carpet, eat his food, and leave without so much as a hello. When more and more strange pale people begin to do this over and over, the homeowner is likely to take steps to protect his home and himself against them. A dividing line is drawn between “us” (the Sioux) and “them” (the invaders), and there is nothing pleasant about “them”.
When they Sioux attacked, they did so as any society would, according to their own values of warfare. It simply didn’t occur to the Sioux that there was another way of waging war. Rex Smith says this about the Sioux code of war:
In war the Sioux expected neither to give mercy nor to receive it. There was no dishonor in killing the enemy, regardless of how or of whether they were warriors, women, children, or aged. The only dishonor lay in showing cowardice before the enemy. This was how the Sioux were taught; this is how it had always been. Consequently, from their point of view, fighting in this manner was both moral and just.9
The mutilation of soldiers killed in battle, for scalps, bones and so on, was as natural to the Sioux as receiving medals is to the current U.S. Army; however, the Sioux judged other groups not by arrogantly assuming that what was right for the Sioux was right for others, but by comparing the group’s actions to whatever code was held by the group about those actions. When the Army killed women and children, and mutilated bodies, by the Sioux reckoning, they were dishonoring themselves. The U.S. not only had a moral code of war which included mercy for warriors who were surrendering and defeated and non-combatant status for women, children and the helpless, they taught this moral code often10. While this seems a convenient double-standard, to this writer, judging others by their traditions instead of your own is a refreshing outlook from a world of “universal” legality and morals.
The Sioux saw schools and farming as being forced upon them by the whites, and they would have preferred to be left alone. Farming was considered unfit for a warrior. Red Cloud told a white Reservation agent:
“Father, the Great Spirit did not make us to work. He made us to hunt and fish. … The white man can work if he wants to, but the Great Spirit did not make us to work. The white man owes use a living for the lands he has taken.”11
Education was viewed as useless, as Sioux had little opportunity to use reading and writing in a way they considered profitable. Also, according to Smith, the Sioux were “being taught that Indians were inferior people and that the only worthwhile people were whites, which they could never be.”12 Consequently, the Sioux, especially after they had been beaten, viewed the white’s actions as unwanted and unnecessary meddling.
After so much of oppression, the Sioux did what many other cultures bereft of material hope do—they turned to religion, in this case the Ghost dance. The use of the word “religion” here is deliberate. The point of the dance was to revitalize the Sioux, eliminating their problems through the supernatural forces invoked by doing the dance. As Mooney says when defending his use of the word “religion” to describe the Ghost dance, “the idea of obtaining temporal blessings as the reward of a faithful performance of religious duties is too natural and universal to require comment.”13 This was not a cult of personality, in spite of being the vision of a single man. The moral code suggested by Wokova should sound familiar: “Do no harm to any one. Do right always. Do not tell lies. Do no harm to anyone.”14 The Sioux focused more upon Wokova’s apocalyptic message than his morals, however, viewing the dance more as a religious deliverance from the white man than the behavioral code intended, and combining it with armed conflict.15
Many sources submit that it was the Sioux’s generally oppressed hopeless state that allowed the Ghost dance to be mutated and embraced by a majority of the Sioux tribe. The Sioux held that the dance would make the white man’s gunpowder incapable of driving a bullet through Sioux skin.16 There is, however, a somewhat logical rationale for the acceptance of a messiah: many chiefs had been schooled and/or converted to some brand of Christianity, and the possibility might of occurred to them that the Great Holy would send a savior to the Sioux who would be a Sioux. Whatever the reason for embracing the Ghost dance, for the purpose here, it is sufficient that the Sioux genuinely believed in the dance (or at least behaved as if they did). The dance became the Sioux’s best (and last) hope against their oppression by the whites.
The whites however, were completely confused and frightened by what was being done by them, the Sioux. The dance was often called a craze. One historian assumed everyone thought it was some wacko cult, saying “you will readily understand what a dangerous doctrine this was to get hold a superstitious and semi-civilized people.”17 A Bishop wrote that the dance had “spread among the heathen part of the people” in an otherwise scientific-like statement of his observations. Whites on the frontier saw the Indians performing bizarre rituals and did a very non-plural thing: they got scared. Instead of seeking to understand the Sioux, they called in the Army for protection from them.
In addition to freaking out over religious differences, U.S. settlers viewed the Sioux as mighty inconvenient. They were sitting on land that might be farmed and mined. This didn’t bother the settlers so much as the fact that while the Indians were on the land, they weren’t doing anything with it. It sat there, practically begged for the settlers to come in and do something useful with it while the Indians did whatever it was they did.
This might not have been a problem, but the number of settlers seeking the American Dream was growing, and the places for them to go were becoming more crowded and less numerous. Many got impatient, such as the prospectors that snuck into the Black Hills. In many cases, it was settlers who first broke treaties, creating publicity and situations that the government had to set in order by treaty or war. When the Indians attacked so viciously, the settlers were no longer inconvenienced by the Indians, but threatened by them. Settlers were uncertain about Indian intentions toward the frontier. This resulted in three affects: 1) political pressure on the government to deal with the Indians, 2) direct appeals to the military for protection, 3) vastly increased tension levels of settlers, Indians, and the military.
Playing a unique role in history of the Sioux, the media was motivated mostly out of a desire to sell newspapers. Whatever their personal views of the Sioux were, the stories they printed often featured the Sioux as savages, ready to slaughter whites. It made good copy, dramatic and safe:
to the readers the distinction between the good guys and the bad guys in an Indian fight was so clear-cut and unanimous that the papers never needed to fear accusations of one-sided reporting. [Also] the readers had so little true knowledge of Indians that writers were not inconvenienced by the need for accuracy.18
This, accompanied with headlines reporting of bloody massacres that never happened and inflated accounts of battles that did, was one of the largest disservices to the Sioux of the time. The media, in creating newspapers that were interesting to read (and therefore easy to sell), formed such a fearsome picture of the Sioux, a picture un balanced by any other source of information about them.
The press, especially those equipped to print pictures or carvings of photographs, had a field day with the Ghost dance. It drew reporters and photographers from miles around, all of whom discovered nothing very interesting. This did not dissuade reporters from making up interesting things, however, and “sensational accounts spread to newspapers around the nation, and…became a prime source of information about” the Sioux Ghost dance19. Photographs were sometimes staged.20 Some newspapers deplored this type of reporting, but it was too little to late: them, the Sioux, were now evil in the minds of people thousands of miles away.
Many of the U.S. Government’s views have been alluded to, but only one is particularly relevant here. It is an old story. The U.S. often felt that it was responsible for helping out the Indians, a valiant trait, but the basic assumption of the government, and even civilians who called themselves ‘the friends of Indians’ was that this meant helping the Indians become more like whites. As Alice Kehoe writes:
Europeans and their descendants in America seldom doubted they had a divine mission to “civilize” the Indians. Only radicals and rascals entertained the possibility that there were alternative and equally good ways of living. American Indians who, refused to engaging in European societies’ occupations, live in European-style houses, dress in contemporary European fashion, and use the English language were savages damning themselves to eternal misery.21
While generally true, this is a somewhat misleading statement. It sounds as if the whites sat down and rationalized why they were allowed to civilize the Indians; in reality, it seems to have been just assumed from the outset. Also, often the U.S. government did what they thought best for the Indian for practical reasons. One of the underlying realities of the Treaty of 1868 was a concern by the U.S. that unless the Sioux were switched to farming, they would rapidly be unable to produce enough food for survival. The diminishing game resources no longer would support the Sioux’s nomadic way of life.22
Generally, as so masterfully indicated in Robert Berkhoffer’s book The White Man’s Indian, the U.S. policy towards the Indians was based around assimilating them into the great melting pot. The methods of doing this, such as educational policy and its results could fill a whole book (and, in fact, do), and this writer will defer to Berkhoffer for details. In short, the U.S. government viewed the Indians not so much a threat, but as an obstacle that, once hurtled, needed to be saved by assimilation.
This history and viewpoints upon it all feature a view of “them” as a group to be feared or marginalized. Either this trend must stop, or pluralism is doomed. As David Maybury-Lewis said, “The cultures of the future will be either multicultural or fratricidal.”23
With perhaps one notable exception, the viewpoints expressed above could happen today. Modern America is built on competition, on seeing things as us versus them. America treated its last military action, the attack on Iraq, almost like it treats the Super Bowl, not just with a “go team, go!” attitude, but a “destroy them!” attitude. This trend can be seen in America’s current most watched and ostracized subculture: gangs.
Current gang politics are quite similar to the situation of the Sioux. The Establishment views the gangs as a solid body that is a problem. In reality, gangs generally hate each other. Bloods kill Crips, Crips kill Bloods, Bloods kill Bloods. Many gang members don’t want to hop into the melting pot, either. Gangs are of a different racial group than those in power. Gangs are shunned and feared by the public, perceived as vicious and uncontrollable. Conditions in gang neighborhoods are poor, and many resort to drugs in desperation. The two major differences are that a) gang members operate inside urban American culture rather than on the periphery, and b) gangs generally have better weapons than the authorities which deal with them. Gang members, according to A. C. Jones, a staff member at a gang detention center, feel disenfranchised because whites view gang memebers as “them”, the evil ones, mostly because of race:
I was a Marine, I have an education and a nice family, I’m a peace officer…but every time I walk through the parking lot of a shopping center I see older white women cluth their purses closer to their sides. I hear the click of car door locks as I move past. And that’s a haunting thing. Now, you start feeling that when you’re nine, ten years old, then by the time you’re fourteen or fifteen you’ve got to figure that you’re unwanted. That nobody likes you. Even though you’re hearing in history class that everybody loves you, that you can be all that you can be. Well, it sounds pretty but it’s just not true.24
Jones also voices dissatisfaction with American Independence Day, on the grounds that his forefathers were not free on that day. This type of argument must be both accepted and encouraged in a plural society, but this is just the sort of statement that makes mainstream whites freak out, and condemn “them”.
We do not live in a plural society, today. Berkhoffer suggests that professions that are pluralistic are nothing “more that the passing fancy of a few alienated whites who talk one way while their many fellow whites think and act quite differently.”25 If gangs are used to test this notion, then Berkhoffer seems correct. America makes a show out of the plight of the poor and the conditions which spawn gangs, gangs as a whole, and even ethnic minorities are regularly treated with distain on an individual basis. Whites wish to help, but trapped into the same patterns as their ancestors, they seem unwilling to accommodate difference. By definition, that is not plural.
Before, mention was made to an exception to the viewpoints of Sioux history. This exception is the press. The modern press has changed its medium of choice from newspapers to live, color, moving pictures distributed instantaneously to the world as soon as possible. While one might hope that the press would have become more accurate, the press is still largely responsible for creating public opinion. One need only look at how overused the footage of the beating of Rodney King was, and the end result of the riots nation wide to see the ability of the national press to take what was basically a local story and turn it, in the name of informing the public, into disaster.
Still, if any one institution has the power to make pluralism a reality, it is the press. The next great social division may very well be along the lines of who has access to information and who doesn’t. The press and television networks have the ability to eliminate this distinction before it starts. They also have the capability to communicate any fact to a large number of people instantaneously, currently the only institution able to do so.26 Such a vehicle can eliminate a huge barrier to removing the negative connotations of “them”: ignorance. The more we learn about each other, the easier it will be to live with each other.
Harvard Professor Diana Eck said that views of acceptance of different peoples were based on one of three principles. The exclusivist view can be summed up, she said, as “us against them”, keeping them out. The inclusivist view of “we include them”, which Eck says is more insidious, as the basic message is ‘we are superior enough to tolerate you among us’. The plural view, she says is exemplified by “we all”.27
This definition of pluralism seems reasonable, but only with a caveat. “We all” is not meant as a homogenous “we”, but as an amalgam of distinct cultures. Doing away with the idea of a group over there called them is dangerous to pluralism. What is necessary is a recognition and—above all—practice of treating them as being as legitimate and necessary as your own group, and the elimination of the negative stigma surrounding the word “them”.
Berkhoffer, Robert F. The White Man’s Indian (New York: Vintage Books, 1978).
Bing, Léon. Do or Die (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 1992).
Carroll, John M., ed. The Arrest and Killing of Sitting Bull (n.p.:The Arthur Clark Company, 1986).
Cornell, Stephen. The Return of the Native (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988).
Jensen, Richard E., R. Eli Paul, and John E. Carter. Eyewitness at Wounded Knee (Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 1991).
Kehoe, Alice Beck. The Ghost Dance: Ethnohistory and Revitalization, Case Studies in Cultural Anthropology (Chicago: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc., 1989).
Mooney, James. The Ghost-Dance Religion and the Sioux Outbreak of 1890 (Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 1991, originally published Washinton D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1896).
Smith, Rex Alan. Moon of Popping Trees (New York: Readers Digest Press, 1975).
Tebbel , John. The Compact History of the Indian Wars (New York: Hawthorn Books, Inc., 1966).
Thornton, Russell. We Shall Live Again: The 1870 and 1890 Ghost Dance movements as demographic revitalization (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986).
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