1.11.04

Bury my heart



Back in 1988 I was quite friendly with a couple who were fascinated with the history of the Native Americans. At that time, I suppose my view of the Native Americans was that of most people brought up on a diet of Hollywood westerns in which the heroes were John Wayne and Gary Cooper. All that changed, though. This couple led the campaign to have the "Glasgow" Ghost Shirt returned to the Lakota Sioux. Through them, I became aware of the history of the Lakota, and even met a couple of their representatives who had travelled to Scotland to press for the shirt's return. The biggest impression, however, was made by the book they recommended I read: 'Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee', by Dee Brown. As a historian, I am very aware that history is written by the victors, and that the vanquished are often demonised. Brown's book, however, presents the case from the defeated people's point of view, and does so without bitterness or hatred. It is a deeply passionate recounting of the destruction of an entire culture, the virtual genocide of an entire people who defended themselves as best they could with the limited resources at their disposal. Brown tells us how the Native Americans, people who had initially welcomed the white settlers, were cheated and lied to as the 'whites' broke just about every treaty that had been made between the two peoples. It is essential reading for anyone who wishes to restore some balance to the history of the 'Wild West', and to see how these 'brave' pioneers escaped the repression and intolerance of the old Europe, only to practice it on the people that they dispossessed. The Native Americans lost their struggle back then, and they continue to pay the price today: they have higher infant mortality rates (15.3/000 as opposed to 8.7/000 for whites), shorter life expectancy, lower educational attainment and much lower earnings than the US average. On the eve of the most important election in US history, perhaps this is also something that people should be thinking on.

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