June 27, 2006

The mythology of the vanishing Indian

More from A Lingering Miseducation:  Confronting the Legacy of Little Tree:From books like The Indian in the Cupboard, Little House on the Prairie, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and Two Little Savages (written by one of the early leaders of the American Boy Scouts, Ernest Thompson Seton) come stories of howling savages, sullen squaws and noble braves, pinto horses and buffalo-hide tepees, and legions of faceless, nameless Indians fading away before the inevitable forward-march of Euroamerican civilization.

Euroamerican children have suffered greatly from these images, for the mythology of the Vanishing Indian creates both a monocultural blindness and assumptions of supremacy (what Ward Churchill aptly titles {22} "Fantasies of the Master Race") as well as a visceral horror of digging too far into American history and discovering that a) the "inevitable vanishing" was neither inevitable or complete, as the battles for and against colonization are still being fought at the end of the twentieth century; b) the march of "civilization" has revealed itself to be simply an exercise of oppression and violence, and has turned technology into as much an ecocidal system as one of genocide; and c), this generation of colonialists, the children who accept the privileges of colonialism without question, is every bit as much responsible for the dispossession and slaughter of Indian peoples as their ancestors, even if they didn't do the shooting, raping, or removing themselves. This is a sad legacy for Euroamerican children to inherit, and with every new Indian-themed book published and film produced without regard to real Indians or real lives, they will continue to be educated into a centuries-old campaign of colonialist oppression.

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