August 19, 2012

How hippies helped Indians

Hippies and Indians: Pathway to the Mainstream

By Adrian JawortSherry L. Smith is the author of Hippies, Indians and the Fight for Red Power (Oxford University Press, 2012), which covers the period from the mid-1960s Northwest “fish-ins” through the 1973 Wounded Knee standoff and explores the alliance of leftists, hippies and other whites who supported Native American–led Red Power movements. Indian Country Today Media Network spoke with Smith, distinguished professor of history at Southern Methodist University, about how citizens of all colors united to give American Indians a stronger voice in their own land.

What was it about American Indians that drew hippies to them?

I think there was this perception that Indian people lived outside the mainstream of American culture, and in that perception of what Indian values were—I’m not talking about realities here, but stereotypes even—these were people who lived simply, lived off the land, and lived lives of deep spirituality. Also, hippies were seeking alternative ways of living. They were rejecting suburbia and white middle-class values, capitalism and they looked around the landscape and latched upon Indians—or their own ideas of what they assumed they were all about. In some cases the peyote movements brought some Indians and hippies together—a ‘long-hair convergence’—but some Natives were really willing to engage with them because they saw them as politically useful.

What made Indians realize they needed the help of whites?

Those Indians most politically active realized having allies was essential for several reasons. As you know, the Native American population in this country is small percentage-wise, so they simply didn’t have the political power to change things without any non-Indian allies. There was also the whole matter of educating Natives about political issues, so they also used non-Indians as conduits into the process of political change. They found people sympathetic to write about Indian issues to help give greater attention to them. They also found lawyers—of course Native American lawyers were involved as well—to get issues into the courts.
Comment:  For more on the subject, see Indians = Hippies and Rainbow Gatherings Based on Hopi Prophecy?

1 comment:

dmarks said...

"...and latched upon Indians—or their own ideas of what they assumed they were all about..."

The Hippie attitude toward Natives has some overlap with the attitude of the New Ager.

They were looking for Tolkien's Elves walking the Earth, and saw Natives and said "well, close enough'.