Sound Bites

Those individuals who take it upon themselves to write Native American history, which generally translates into the history of Indian and white relations, with few exceptions do so consciously or unconsciously from an anthropological perspective and commitment that inevitably does violence to the biological perspective and commitment of traditional American Indians, and as a result renders them in caricature.  To use a biochemical analogy, it is as though one thought structure is fat soluble, the other, water soluble.  Ironically, in writing histories of colonization we are proceeding by way of ideological colonization.   (Calvin Martin, The American Indian and the Problem of History. New York: Oxford UP, 1987. 7.)

History is a shifting, problematic discourse, ostensibly about an aspect of the world, the past, that is produced by a group of present-minded workers (overwhelmingly in our culture salaried historians) who go about their work in mutually recognizable ways that are epistemologically, methodologically, ideologically and practically positioned and whose products, once in circulation, are subject to a series of uses and abuses that are logically infinite but which in actuality generally correspond to a range of power bases that exist at any given moment and which structure and distribute the meanings of histories along a dominant-marginal spectrum.  (Keith Jenkins, Re-Thinking History.  London: Routledge, 1991. 26.)

There is no such thing as an "unpositioned centre" (actually a contradiction in terms); no possibility of an unpositioned site.  The only choice is between a history that is aware of what it is doing and a history that is not . . . .  Thus, all history is theoretical and all theories are positioned and positioning . . . .  In the post-modern world, then, arguably the content and context of history should be a generous series of methodologically reflexive studies of the makings of histories of post-modernity itself.  (Keith Jenkins, Re-Thinking History.  London: Routledge, 1991. 70.)

Native American history is more than a mirror image of United States history; it is also a part of a shared past . . . The past is a complex story, made up of many interwoven lives and experiences.  American history without Indians is mythology--it never happened.  (Colin G. Calloway, First Peoples: A Documentary Survey of American Indian History.  Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s Press, 1999. 4-8.)

Native American films were a direct account of the very formation of the nation and a reflection of its basic values.  Seen in that context, the conflict with Native America as recreated by Hollywood was an enormous self-deception and a fundamental rewriting of history.  (Dan Georgakas, “Native Americans in Film.” The Political Companion to American Film.  Ed. Gary Crowdus. Lakeview Press, 1994. 295.)

Native Americans are not the true subject of most films in which they appear.  Their usual aesthetic function is to serve as an anonymous, irrational, but omnipresent force that perils the expansion of the United States and tests the individual bravery of the white heroes with whom the viewer is to identify.  Their function is best reflected in the long line of silent warriors who often stare down upon a prospective target from atop high bluffs.  These
silent and unrepenting foes are a kind of national nightmare, a reminder to the pioneers that they are not alone, that the continent is not virgin, and that each westward step might have to be paid in blood.  (Dan Georgakas, “Native Americans in Film.”  The Political Companion to American Film. Ed. Gary Crowdus. Lakeview Press, 1994. 295.)

The greatest problem confronting scholars in researching the history of Native Americans is that the written sources for that history derive largely from the non-Native side and are subject to the distortions, misconceptions, biases, and ignorance that are generally associated with history seen from an external cultural perspective.  (Wilcomb E. Washburn and Bruce G. Trigger, “Native Peoples in Euro-American Historiograph.,”  The Cambridge History of the Native Peoples of the Americas, Volume I, North America, Part 1.  Ed.  Bruce G. Trigger and Wilcomb E. Washburn.  Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1996. 61.)

The colonial power produced the subversiveness in its own interest.  (Stephen Greenblatt, Shakespearean Negotiations.  Berkeley: U of California P, 1988.  33.)

The rethinking of history and historiography . . . was prompted by a broad range of concerns which also motivated the post-structuralist endeavour.  Problems of the narrative or inscriptive nature of all knowledge, problems of legitimation and situatedness, the contingency of disciplinary boundaries, a sense of political crisis and the absence of consensus and shared narratives all lead to a questioning of history as the repository of truth.  (Claire Colebrook. New Literary Histories: New Historicism and Contemporary Criticism.  Manchester: Manchester UP, 1997. 1.)

Disneyland exists in order to hide that it is the "real" country, all of real America that is Disneyland . . . . Disneyland is presented as imaginary in order to make us believe that the rest is real.  (Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation. 1981.  Trans.  Sheila Faria Glaser. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1994. 12.)

Never daring in the first place, the [Hollywood movie] studies of the Fifties had retreated from any project hinting at controversy or social significance.  Hollywood films did not, however, lack political content; most reflected the conservative, chauvinistic doctrines that had triumphed with HUAC and McCarthy.  The studios took giant steps backward in the depiction of women, war, crime, and government practices; the poor, workers, blacks, and other minorities (except for Indians--depicted as savage targets for heroic white soldiers to massacre) disappeared from the screen.   (Larry Ceplair, “The Hollywood Blacklist.” The Political Companion to American Film.  Ed. Gary Crowdus. Lakeview Press, 1994. 198.)

Curiosity is natural to the soul of man, and interesting objects have a powerful influence on our affections.  Let these influencing powers actuate, by the permission or disposal of Providence, from selfish or social views, yet in time the mysterious will of Heaven is unfolded, and we behold our conduct, from whatsoever motives excited, operating to answer the important designs of heaven.  (John Filson, “The Adventures of Col. Daniel Boone.” The
Discovery, Settlement and Present State of Kentucke. 1784. 49.)

Thus we hold Kentucke, lately an howling wilderness, the habitation of savages and wild beasts, become a fruitful field; this region, so favourably distinguished by nature, now become the habitation of civilization, at a period unparalleled in history, in the midst of a raging war, and under all the disadvantages of emigration to a country so remote from the inhabited parts of the continent.  Here, where the hand of violence shed the blood of innocent; where the horrid yells of savages, and the groans of the distressed, founded in our ears, we now hear the praises and adorations of our Creator; where wretched wigwams stood, the miserable abodes of savages, we behold the foundations of cities laid, that, in all probability, will rival the glory of the greatest upon earth.  And we view Kentucke situated on the fertile banks of the great Ohio, rising from obscurity to shine with splendor, equal to any other of the stars of the American hemisphere.  (John Filson, “The Adventures of Col. Daniel Boone.” The Discovery, Settlement and Present State of Kentucke. 1784. 49-50.)

Successful land speculation meant finding the best lands first.  To find them you needed a farmer who knew land when he saw it, a woodsman who could find his way in the wilderness, a scout skillful enough to stay alive with death about him everywhere.  You needed somebody tough, brave, honest--and poor enough to risk his life for the chance of landed wealth.  Well, there was Daniel Boone.  (John Bakeless, Daniel Boone: Master of the Wilderness.  New York:  Morrow, 1939. 36.)

It was the figure of Daniel Boone, the solitary, Indian-like hunter of the deep woods, that became the most significant, most emotionally compelling myth-hero of the early republic.  The other myth figures are reflections or variations of this basic type.  In numerous popular narratives devoted to Boone’s career, the experience of America that first appears in the captivity and Indian war narratives is reduced to a paradigm . . . .  The figure and the myth-narrative that emerged from the early Boone literature became archetypal for the American literature which followed: an American hero is the lover of the spirit of the wilderness, and his acts of love and sacred affirmation are acts of violence against that spirit and her avatars.  (Richard Slotkin, Regeneration Through Violence: The Mythology of the American Frontier, 1600-1860. New York: HarperPerennial, 1973. 21-22.)

There is scarcely a major issue of policy in the United States that has not been involved in the relationships of Indians and whites.  Questions of universal citizenship and franchise; of land use and conservation; of the "melting pot" versus pluralism; of prejudice, discrimination, and segregation; of colonialism; of the separation of church and state; of private property and communal property; and of the extent and nature of government responsibility for education--to mention several basic issues--have all involved policy questions concerning Indians.  (George E. Simpson and J. Milton Yinger, The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. May 1957. vii.)

Copyright (c) 2001 by Keat Murray, Graduate student at Lehigh University.

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