April 29, 2009

Confederacy in Tecumseh's Vision

Continuing the discussion of Tecumseh's Vision, the second episode of PBS's We Shall Remain series:

  • Tecumseh's brother Lalawethika had a vision and was reborn as Tenskwatawa ("open door"). He stopped drinking and started preaching that Indians should make themselves whole by rejecting Western influences. That they should restore themselves by reviving their Indian cultures and identities.

  • Tecumseh saw that he could use this vision to reunify his people. He parlayed Tenskwatawa's preaching into a pan-Indian organizational scheme. But until war broke out, it was actually Tenskwatawa's movement, and Tecumseh was in his brother's shadow.

  • The movement sent shock waves through Indian country. Many tribes, even the brothers' own Shawnee, were divided. Some saw the brothers as self-serving power seekers.

  • William Henry Harrison wrote a letter to the Delaware Indians, telling them to demand proof of Tenskwatawa's prophetic power. Tenskwatawa responded by correctly predicting an eclipse.

  • Is this the first time someone predicted an eclipse to intimidate people since Columbus did it in 1504? Could be. Good to see this hoary literary device has some basis in reality.

  • A prophecy supposedly uttered by Tenskwatawa to his followers:They have taken away your lands which were not made for them. The whites I have placed on the other side of the Great Water, to be another people, separate from you. In time, I will overturn the land, so that all white people will be covered, and you alone shall inhabit the land.
  • Apparently speeches like this caused the US government to panic. As one historian nicely put it:By 1807 most Americans assumed an orderly process of dispossession and conquest, in which Native Americans would gradually recede from the picture, or assimilate into American society.Boo-hoo! Genocide not going as quickly as you wished? Send in the Indian killers (troops).

  • In 1809 Tecumseh began the first of his epic tours from Alabama to Canada. He offered a novel argument--that the land was held in common by all Indians. That no one tribe could cede it without the permission of the others.

  • As one historian noted, Tecumseh had a much tougher job than the Founding Fathers. They had to unite 13 colonies with central governments and a common language and heritage. He had to unite dozens of tribes with different cultures and languages.

    Moreover, many of the leaders he dealt with ruled only villages, not whole tribes. Getting the support of one band of Indians didn't necessarily mean the neighboring bands would agree.

  • In his 1810 confrontation with Harrison, Tecumseh did something never done before, according to one historian:He stood up, defended Indian land, and said he represented every Indian on the continent.

    He understood that Native American peoples were in a particular historical predicament, and he was articulating that predicament, and was doing it for all of them.
    Sounds like my kind of guy. He reasoned his way to a sound conclusion--that Indians should unite--and said so. He didn't worry if some people might disagree with him because his position was logical and rational.

    An equivalent today might be a Native intellectual arguing that mascots and other stereotypes harm Indians. It doesn't matter if some Indians (and many non-Indians) don't get it. The facts and evidence prove this argument to be true whether people get it or not.

    For more on the subject, see War Footing in Tecumseh's Vision and Review of Tecumseh's Vision.

    Below:  Tenskwatawa by Charles Bird King.

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