November 29, 2007

German knows more than Zuni

Looking to a German for U.S. history

Expert on American Indian culture teaches class at Ramstein High[O]n Wednesday, Peter “Forest Wolf” Heiser, a German who owns a moving company in Idar-Oberstein, spoke to three history classes on American Indian heritage and culture.

Bryan Sanchez, who describes himself as belonging to the Zuni tribe in New Mexico, had asked Heiser to speak to the classes.

Sanchez, coordinator of the school’s internship program, says he believed Heiser had a better feel for the culture and the history than he has.
What Heiser teaches:In the early 1990s Heiser learned about American Indian culture from Archie Fire Lame Deer, a Lakota chief and medicine man who had come to Europe to teach American Indian practices to Europeans interested in the culture.

Over the years Heiser has visited numerous tribes around the United States and has performed American Indian rituals like the sun dance, in which participants dance for four days without food or water and sitting in a sweat lodge to discover personal visions.

The fact that he was German, he said, didn’t make a difference when talking about the American Indian culture.
Comment:  Uh, there isn't one "American Indian culture." There are hundreds of Indian cultures. They have some common features, but these features don't include the Sun Dance or a buffalo's head.

What Heiser is apparently teaching is Plains Indian culture. In other words, he's teaching the stereotypes everyone already knows about Indians.

Is there a single German aficionado who knows anything about Indians other than Plains Indians? If so, I don't recall him.

Sanchez the Zuni teacher should stick to his, er, guns. I'm betting he knows a lot more about the Zuni and other Pueblo cultures than Heiser does.


alanajoli said...

Hrm. I get your point about not propagating the idea that all American Indian cultures are Plains Indian cultures. However, I want to make sure you're not saying what it sounds like, which is that Plains Indians cultures aren't meritous of study, because they reinforce stereotypes. Given the proper context (and lack of assumption that all American Indian cultures = Plains Indian cultures), study of Plains Indians is still valid, no?

Rob said...

Sure, the study of Plains cultures is valid in the proper context. But it sounded to me like Heiser was giving the students a general introduction to Indians, not specific information on the Lakota. Why else would Sanchez say Heiser knows more about Indians (in general)? Sanchez referred to "the culture and the history," not Lakota culture and history.

These hobbyists never say something like, "I'm obsessed with 19th-century Plains cultures even though I recognize that these cultures are 1) 150 years out of date and 2) don't represent the hundreds of other Indian tribes." What they tend to say is, "The Lakota are the heart and soul of Indian culture. Their traditions represent all that's good and true about Indians."

These are paraphrases, to be sure, but I think they're reasonably accurate. For an example with extended debate on the subject, see Orthodox Wannabe League Considers Themselves Indian. See especially the "Readers respond" pages.

alanajoli said...

Great, thanks for clarifying. I didn't realize in full the dichotomy you're describing, though I do remember hearing about it vaguely back in college. ;) Checking out the link now!

Anonymous said...

is anyone one here commenting on this native american in any sense of the word except you were born in america?

Rob said...

I'm not Native and I don't think Alana is. But normally about half the commenters on my blog are Native.

What exactly is your point, Anonymous? Do you disagree with something Alana or I said? If so, state the area of disagreement and make the case for your position.

FYI, I've commented on several thousand Native issues even though I'm not Native. Most Native people don't object to my thoughts. Indeed, they welcome them. That's why Native-owned organizations such as and Indian Country Today pay me for my work.

If you object to non-Natives commenting on Native issues, I suggest you stop reading Newspaper Rock. Because I don't plan to stop writing it. I'm in this for the duration.