Saturday, September 17, 2011

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee


It is no exaggeration to say that this was the most brutally depressing book I have ever read.

The book is subtitled "An Indian History of the American West." It covers roughly 1860-1890, when the last remaining free Indian tribes were harassed, killed, arrested, rounded up, forced to surrender, and moved to reservations. Often those reservations were nowhere near their original homelands. Basically every single promise and treaty made with the Indians was broken in the course of opening the Western territories to white settlers.

I really don't know what else to say about this book. The stories are heartbreaking. And it didn't matter if the Indians fought back, agreed to peace, tried to escape, or fled across the borders. The might of the United States government was brought to bear upon the tribes. Literally...literally...there was no way for them to win. They were attacked no matter what, and sooner or later they were all forced into reservations. Guess what happened there? They were starved, and eventually reservation lands were stolen from them, too. Anyone who tried to help them was removed from his position. The policy of the US Government was simple: remove the Indians from any valuable land, kill any Indians that resisted or held positions of respect, and then strip away their Indian identities by teaching them to adopt white ways.

While reading Bury My Heart, I did find myself ruminating on the state of the world today. I'm a bleeding heart liberal, and I like to think that people can be good to each other. I'm often appalled by the violence in the world, especially that perpetrated against the most vulnerable and poverty stricken citizens. (At one point, Sitting Bull travels around the country with Buffalo Bill's Wild West show, but he donates all of his money to the urchins that follow the show. He said, "The white man knows how to make everything, but he doesn't know how to distribute it." That's a fairly accurate comment even today, when our poverty rate is soaring while the rich control more and more of the country's wealth.) But books like this make it pretty damn clear that people are more predisposed to evil than good when it comes to other people. I think that's why it was so depressing. If people really are good, there isn't a whole lot of evidence to support that assertion. Maybe I should be less surprised at the state of the world?

Anyways, the photograph above is of Red Cloud, one of the last, great Sioux chiefs. He was quoted in his old age as saying, "They made us many promises, more than I can remember, but they never kept but one: they promised to take our land, and they took it."


1 comment:

  1. I was just thinking I was way overdue for a post over here... and here you are! Still reading each others' minds, even after all these years. ;)

    Bury My Heart sounds like too much for me. I have to go ostrich in these situations, I am embarrassed to admit. I cannot change what happened to those people and yet thoughts of them would keep me up at night.

    The quote from Red Cloud is astoundingly powerful. I am tearing up right now. People are awful.