March 17, 2009

No prejudice among Indians?

Based on historical antecedents, Ward Churchill claims there'd be no prejudice--no classism, sexism, homophobia, or racism--in a truly sovereign Indian nation.

I Am Indigenist

Notes on the Ideology of the Fourth World

By Ward Churchill
There is no indication whatsoever that a restoration of indigenous sovereignty in Indian Country would foster class stratification anywhere, least of all in Indian Country. In fact, all indications are that when left to their own devices, indigenous peoples have consistently organized their societies in the most class-free manner. Look to the Haudenosaunee (Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy) for an example. Look to the Muscogee (Creek) Confederacy. Look to the confederations of the Yaqui and the Lakota, and those pursued and nearly perfected by Pontiac and Tecumseh. They represent the very essence of enlightened egalitarianism and democracy. Every imagined example to the contrary brought forth by even the most arcane anthropologist can be readily offset by a couple of dozen other illustrations along the lines of those I just mentioned.

Would sexism be perpetuated? Ask the Haudenosaunee clan mothers, who continue to assert political leadership in their societies through the present day. Ask Wilma Mankiller, recent head of the Cherokee Nation, a people who were traditionally led by what were called "Beloved Women." Ask a Lakota woman—or man, for that matter—about who owned all real property in traditional society, and what that meant in terms of parity in gender relations. Ask a traditional Navajo grandmother about her social and political role among her people. Women in most traditional native societies not only enjoyed political, social, and economic parity with men, but they also often held a preponderance of power in one or more of these spheres.

Homophobia? Homosexuals of both genders were, and in many settings still are, deeply revered as special or extraordinary, and therefore spiritually significant, within most indigenous North American cultures. The extent to which these realities do not now pertain in native societies is exactly the extent to which Indians have been subordinated to the morés of the invading, dominating culture. Insofar as restoration of Indian land rights is tied directly to the reconstitution of traditional indigenous social, political, and economic modes, one can see where this leads; the Indian arrangements of sex and sexuality accord rather well with the aspirations of feminism and gay rights activism.

That leaves militarism and racism. Taking the last first, there really is no indication of racism in traditional indigenous societies. To the contrary, the record reveals that Indians habitually intermarried between groups and frequently adopted both children and adults from other groups. This occurred in precontact times between Indians, and the practice was broadened to include those of both African and European origin, and ultimately Asian origin as well, once contact occurred. Those who were naturalized by marriage or adoption were considered members of the group, pure and simple. This was always the native view.
Comment:  On the one hand, I think this is a gross exaggeration of the reality. It conveniently leaves out the stratified societies of the Aztec, Maya, and Inca. Churchill is clearly doing some cherry-picking among the hundreds of Native cultures. He's choosing examples that support his case and ignoring examples that don't.

And of course Churchill describes the way things were, not the way they are. Today most Indians speak English, live in cities, have jobs, own property, practice Christianity, etc. Most don't live a traditional lifestyle, to put it mildly. For better or worse, they've adopted Western ideas and attitudes.

On the other hand, I think there's a lot of validity to these claims. Native cultures were arguably much more egalitarian than the contemporaneous Western cultures. A return to the Native values of liberty, equality, and brother- and sisterhood would be a good thing. If a Native society were free to develop on its own, it might embrace these values.

For more on the subject, see Indians Gave Us Enlightenment. For more of Churchill's thoughts on indigenism, see:

Only one Indian civilization?
Churchill the indigenist

Disclaimer:  Nothing in this posting is meant to support any of Churchill's words or deeds except the words noted here.

12 comments:

Stephen said...

"Native cultures were arguably much more egalitarian than the contemporaneous Western cultures."

As I said before traditional Gaelic (The Irish, Scottish and Manx) were egalitarian (women had so many rights that Celtic cultures were almost matriarchial). But then you've shown how ignorant you are about Celtic matters before (ie referring to the Irish as Anglo-Saxon which they are obviously not). Not to mention Norse cultures were not unequal tyrannies. Middle Eastern societies on the other hand (ie the Ottoman empire) were goram nightmares.

Stephen said...

Also the sad fact is that - even in egalitarian cultures - prejudice is natural and very human (which doesn't mean that it should be excused natural things aren't always positive) the idea that pre-colonial Indians never engaged in prejudice is absurd. Ward might as well have claimed that they didn't breath oxygen.

Kari said...

I laughed when I read this (Churchill's words). He should really travel out to the Pacific Northwest and learn our history. We had a class system (high class, low class, slaves etc) and maybe not necessarily racism, but definitely we had warring tribes who long saw themselves as enemies of each other.

dmarks said...

Kari: I was wondering about that. I found this recently researching the real Quileutes and neighboring tribes. And the situation of "warring tribes who long saw themselves as enemies of each other." was found all over the Americas. I remember reading a biography of Chief Hole-in-the-Day, and it referred to how a rite of passage for the Ojibwe men was to kill a Sioux.

Stephen: I am not sure what Rob means when he argues that "Native cultures were arguably much more egalitarian than the contemporaneous Western cultures."

I am suspecting that he might be referring to the immediate pre-Columbian period, i.e. 1491. There wasn't much egalitarian about Europe in 1491.

Stephen said...

"I am suspecting that he might be referring to the immediate pre-Columbian period, i.e. 1491. There wasn't much egalitarian about Europe in 1491."

Actually there was; as I posted above various Celtic societies and cultures (along with the pre-Christian Norse) were egalitarian and very positive (and still around during the 1400s and in later centuries prior to be wiped out). So it's not exactly accurate to generalize Europe as an unequal hellhole. I'm not denying that Europe had horrible class systems, just that quite a few European cultures were egalitarian. Also it reminds me of this quote:

"You know what the fellow said—in Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace—and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock."

Shame on you if you don't know movie that's from. ;) (Of course the humor in that is that the Swiss didn't even invent the cuckoo clock).

kalisetsi said...

Kari, I agree; when I saw this, my reaction was: "ha. ha. HA!" There are so many flaws in Ward's thinking that I don't know where to start. Western thinking and Christianity have impacted nearly all of Indian Country, some places more than others, and in my opinion the resulting changes have often been for the worse. But no matter how you look at it, its clearly changed the face of Indian Country, our societies, legal systems, our family structures, our religious beliefs, our cultures. With few exceptions. (Not that everything we used to have was necessarily lost- but for the most part we have evolved and absorbed parts of these things- Christianity and Western culture- into our lives). Its like he took bits of truth from various times and spun them into some New Age crackhead fairytale. Nice creative writing though....

Rob said...

Apparently you don't understand what "Western" means as a cultural concept, Stephen. A traditional Gaelic culture would count as an indigenous culture, not a Westernized European culture. So thanks for supporting my point, buddy, even if you weren't quite clever enough to get it.

I trust this addresses your uncertainty, DMarks. A "Western" culture isn't simply any culture in Europe. Australia and New Zealand have Western cultures while the traditional Basques and Sami of Europe don't. In short, "Western" and "European" are overlapping but not identical concepts.

Rob said...

So I'm "ignorant," Stephen? Once again, you've shown how nasty you are with your frequent attacks without facts. As usual, put up or shut up, mouth. Cite and quote the evidence of my alleged ignorance or admit you can't.

You're lucky people commented on your comment before I got to it. If they hadn't, I would've deleted it as an irrelevant personal attack. The next time you attack me without provocation, expect your comment to be gone.

As I've said before, you're not cluttering my blog with your attempts to bolster your fragile ego. I couldn't care less how defensive you are about your Scots-Irish ancestors--you know, the ones who helped kill Indians. Stop acting like a baby and taking every comment about Europe, America, or the West as if it's a personal attack on you.

Stephen said...

"So I'm "ignorant," Stephen? Once again, you've shown how nasty you are with your frequent attacks without facts. As usual, put up or shut up, mouth. Cite and quote the evidence of my alleged ignorance or admit you can't."

I'm not saying your ignorant in general I said you were ignorant about Celtic history. For example you repeated the myth that the Irish famine/genocide was just a potato blight, you called the Irish an 'anglo-saxon' ethnic group (technically there's no such thing) and your on the Irish doesn't strike me as being well informed. And spare me the talk of personal attacks; you called me names multiple times.

"You're lucky people commented on your comment before I got to it. If they hadn't, I would've deleted it as an irrelevant personal attack. The next time you attack me without provocation, expect your comment to be gone."

*Yawn.*

"As I've said before, you're not cluttering my blog with your attempts to bolster your fragile ego."

Says the guy who's whining about personal attacks.

"I couldn't care less how defensive you are about your Scots-Irish ancestors--you know, the ones who helped kill Indians."

First of all I'm not talking just about the Scots-Irish I'm talking about a multiple Celtic and Norse cultures. Second if the Scots-Irish in America were so evil why do so many South Eastern Indians have Scots-Irish ancestry? Why did so many Scots-Irish intermarry with Indians?

Was John Ross an evil Indian killer? I've condemned the actions of Andy Jackson btw. Oh yeah and I note you didn't comment about any of the other cultures I mentioned. Not to mention my posts didn't even include the Scots-Irish.

"Stop acting like a baby and taking every comment about Europe, America, or the West as if it's a personal attack on you."

I haven't been I'm simply pointing out historical fact.

Stephen said...

"Apparently you don't understand what "Western" means as a cultural concept, Stephen. A traditional Gaelic culture would count as an indigenous culture, not a Westernized European culture. So thanks for supporting my point, buddy, even if you weren't quite clever enough to get it."

(I missed the part; my eyes don't handle this small text so well). This kind of a semantic excuses; western and european are often used in the same context. Oh well my mistake.

Stephen said...

Oh and I've researched my ancestors pretty thoroughly and I haven't found any Indian killers/fighters; one ancestors fought against the brits in the American revolution but mostly the Scots-Irish in my family were piss poor farmers and other impoverished rural people. There was no need to insult my ancestors; it's kinda silly to say the least.

Rob said...

My alleged ignorance of the Irish is an opinion, Stephen, not a fact. If you don't know the difference between the two, I'm not sure I can help you.

I addressed your erroneous claims about my knowledge of the Irish in Irish Cry Over White House Access. Read it and alleviate your ignorance, again.

Going back 12 generations (240 years), you have 4,096 ancestors. Are you saying you know the histories of all 4,096 of them and can prove they weren't Indian killers? I strongly doubt it.

Besides, you said you were multi-ethnic. In addition to Scots-Irish ancestors, you probably have various Celtic and Norse ancestors. I'd say you're defensive about all of them.

Why did the Scots-Irish intermarry with Indians? Um, because after they invaded Indian territory and killed Indian men, Indian women were "free" to be taken and married? You must be incredibly naive if you think intermarriage proves the absence of cultural oppression.

I didn't address the other cultures you mentioned because your points were obvious. Churchill has a glorified notion of Indian cultures. Other cultures also have their pluses and minuses. Ho-hum.

I guess you missed my point about personal attacks. I have every right to attack people personally in my blog. You don't. If you want to attack me or anyone personally, take a hike and do it somewhere else.