As young braves in the Seneca tribe of the Iroquois Nation we reveled in the deeds of our ancestors. “Ride on, ride on, sons of Iroquois,” we sang at our nightly campfire. “Brave and bold are we.”
Although we were Senecas but for two weeks each summer in the confines of a Boys Club camp in rural New Jersey, the virtues we absorbed reflected those of the real Seneca that came before us.
You would never know it reading contemporary literature, but the Iroquois were some serious ass kickers. So were just about all the American Indian tribes that held sway over decent real estate.
They had to be to get that land and keep it. The wimpier tribes retreated to the caves and mountains and deserts. This is something of a simplification, I know, but at least it is an honest one.
The dishonest interpretation, now all but mandatory in academia, is that Europeans and their descendants, many of them anyhow, “hated North America’s indigenous peoples” and practiced a “race-based brutality … crucial to the ‘conquest’ of this land.”
I learned the above reading a chapter called “White Invasion” in Bob Drury and Tom Clavin’s book on Daniel Boone, “Blood and Treasure,” one of three books I struggled to read this month dealing with Indian themes. “Blood and Treasure” I could not finish. The guilt tripping wore me out.
I almost put down Jennifer Raff’s “Origin” on reading the “Land Acknowledgment Statement” on page 8, a disgraceful kowtowing all the rage among the woke today.
“This book was written on land taken from the Kaw (Kansa), Osage, and Shawnee nations,” writes Raff. Raff lives in Lawrence, Kansas, a town settled by New Englanders who gave up everything – many of them their lives – to keep Kansas free from slavery. Ho-hum.
When Lewis and Clark first encountered the Kaw in 1803, there were only about 1,500 of them in eastern Kansas, their numbers “reduced by war with their neighbors.” In a neighborhood that included the Comanche and the Pawnee, the Kaw had far worse fears than a federal agent with a checkbook.
I read Raff’s book “Origin,” subtitled “A Genetic History of the Americas,” because the subject has long interested me. Unlike some fields in which the “science” has been ruthlessly “settled,” early American studies is still rough and tumble, and Raff is not above biting an ear of a dissenting scholar or poking an eye.
When Raff is not lamenting “brutality of colonialism” or “brutal colonization practices,” she is denouncing the “outright brutality by a number of scientists who have benefited at the expense of the people they were so curious about.”
In each of the three books, the word “brutal” and its derivatives is reserved for Europeans, but the authors should know better. The many captivity narratives render this posture silly.
Yes, Europeans could be brutal. But for many Indian tribes, torture was routine and recreational. Even the women and children could play.
The brutality of the Maya and the Aztecs puts Raff’s wokeness to the test. As she knows, each civilization practiced human sacrifice – with torture often part of the package – on an industrial scale.
Her escape from this conundrum is as insulting as it is ingenious. Given the belief that a rain god controlled the growth of their crops, “Both the Maya and the Aztecs regularly performed sacrifices to this god for the survival of their people.”
Now for the kicker: “Like Abraham in the book of Genesis, they sometimes offered what they valued most – children – in accordance with the god’s wishes.”
Let’s see: total victims of human sacrifice in a four-day ceremony honoring a new Aztec king – “an estimated 80,000,” total victims of human sacrifice by Abraham and his descendants – zero. If awards were given for spurious moral equivalency, Raff would need lots of shelf space.
Finally, what makes Raff’s book so comically paradoxical is her effort to find the point of embarkation, the “origin,” for immigrants she continually refers to as “Native American” or “indigenous.” As Raff knows better than anyone, Indians are, like the rest of us, neither.
No one does more injustice to an individual Indian than David Maraniss does to Jim Thorpe in his book “Path Lit by Lightening.”
The book should have been a celebration of how, in one generation, America abandoned its alleged “race-based brutality” and embraced this world-class athlete as one of its own.
Instead, it is a weepy lament about the “racism” Thorpe suffered along the way to his multi-sport stardom.
In 1912 Thorpe led his Carlisle Indians to the national collegiate football championship. In that same year, he won gold medals in both the decathlon and the pentathlon at the Stockholm Olympics.
Just 36 years after Little Big Horn, Americans of every stripe cheered him on. In his subsequent careers in major league baseball and professional football, Thorpe was always the star, the main attraction.
That is not the story Maraniss wants to tell. He prefers to dwell on the micro-aggressions in the “racist world of 1912” that Maraniss now suffers on Thorpe’s behalf.
Despite his stardom, Thorpe had to endure newspaper stories that described the Carlisle team as “a determined horde of redskins” or himself as “Thorpe in Giant War Paint.”
Maraniss mocks the phrase, “Lo, the poor Indian,” and writes a book that drowns in that very cliché.
Each of these authors stands guilty of late stage “presentism” – if only they had been there back then, they would have behaved so much better than those … those … deplorables.
Jack Cashill’s newest book, “Untenable: The True Story of White Ethnic Flight from America’s Cities,” is now on pre-sale.
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