June 06, 2011

The Gospel of the Redman

Here's a report on the book The Gospel of the Redman (1935) by naturalist Ernest Thompson Seton.

Some required reading for Indians

By Doug George-KanentiioSeton emphasizes the need to work for the people as a cardinal rule of indigenous America. He cites hospitality as a universal custom, along with generosity, honesty, friendliness and patience. He praises the Native tradition of simplicity and how they avoided becoming encumbered by material possessions.

Above all, Seton notes, was the Native attitude of respect for all living things as expressed through the many social and private rituals of thanksgiving. Humility was valued as an essential characteristic of all true leaders. He also noted the resources of any given Native community were directed at providing for the needs of the young and old.

Seton also had great respect for the Iroquois, citing the Great Law of Peace as an example of what the Native mind had accomplished prior to European colonization. Seton concludes his book by observing “the civilization of the whiteman is a failure; it is visibly crumbling around us. It has failed every crucial test. No one who measures things by results can question this fundamental statement. Apparently, the money-madness is the main cause of it all.”

Wise words from a man who was fortunate enough to know us as we once were.
A key quote from the beginning of The Gospel of the Redman:The culture and civilization of the Whiteman are essentially material; his measure of success is "How much property have I acquired for myself?" The culture of the Redman is fundamentally spiritual; his measure of success is, "How much service have I rendered to my people?" His mode of life, his thought, his every act are given spiritual significance, approached and coloured with complete realization of the spirit world.

Garrick Mallery, the leading Smithsonian authority of his day, says: "The most surprising fact relating to the North American Indians, which until lately had not been realized, is that they habitually lived in and by religion to a degree comparable with that of the old Israelites under the theocracy. This was sometimes ignored, and sometimes denied in terms, by many of the early missionaries and explorers. The aboriginal religion was not their [the missionaries'] religion, and therefore was not recognized to have an existence or was pronounced to be satanic."

"Religion was the real life of the tribes, permeating all their activities and institutions."
Comment:  I've skimmed The Gospel of the Redman. It's a great corrective for people who think Indians are savage and uncivilized.

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