Other formats

    Adobe Portable Document Format file (facsimile images)   TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 36, Number 18. 26th July 1973

Books — The Extinction Of The Indian — Touch the Earth: A Self-Portrait of Indian Existence:

page 16


The Extinction Of The Indian

Touch the Earth: A Self-Portrait of Indian Existence:

A few weeks ago an Indian Chief, speaking at a public ceremony welcoming Queen Elizabeth to Canada, pleaded that the broken treaties be honoured. A mounted policeman said when the Chief's microphone was disconnected "Well, that was a stroke of genius". Such has been the contempt of Europeans for the Indian's attempts to inform us of their plights. "Touch the Earth" is a record of such unheard pleas, and of the anger, anguish and dismay of a people vanquished with genocidal fervour.

In 1855 Chief Seattle, forced into surrendering the land of the Dwamish tribe of the Pacific Northwest, said:

"When the last Red man shall have perished, and the memory of my tribe shall have become a myth among the white man, these shores will swarm with the invisible dead of my tribe, and when your childrens' children think themselves alone in the field, the store, the shop, or in the silence of the pathless woods, they will not be alone... At night when the streets of your cities and villages are silent and you think them deserted, they will throng with the returning hosts that once filled them and still love this beautiful land. The White Man will never be alone."

While "Touch the Earth" does not claim to be a scholarly book, there are eleven pages of bibliography and notes. The 185 pages (including 54 of photographs taken in the early 1900s) are a testimony of the hatred, treachery and deceit the North American Indian has suffered from the time of the "Pilgrim Fathers" to the present day. The oratory and writing recorded here is competently translated and well documented by accurate chroniclers. These orators and writers relate in poetry and prose with indescribable eloquence the distress suffered in the onslaught of misanthropy and destructive materialism of European "civilisation."

"Touch the Earth" portrays forced confrontation with the invading European technology upon an oral-tradition, non literate but nevertheless highly intelligent culture with concepts of ethics and social responsibility in advance of those which Europeans so often imagined they possessed.

The Indian reverence for ecological conservation is evident throughout this book. They saw and were appalled at the destruction of the buffalo, bear, deer, the forests and the prairies and the streams. Tatanka Yotanka, or Sitting Bull, the famed Sioux warrior had this to say:

"I wish all to know that I do not propose to sell any part of my country, nor will I have the whites cutting our timber along the rivers, more especially the oak. I am particularly fond of the little groves of oak trees. I love to look at them, because they endure the wintry storm and the summer's heat, and — not unlike ourselves — seem to flourish by them."

"On June 17, 1744, the commissioners from Maryland and Virginia negotiated a treaty with the Indians of the Six Nations at Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The Indians were invited to send boys to William and Mary College. The next day they declined the offer as follows:"

"We know that you highly esteem the kind of learning taught in these Colleges, and that the Maintenance of our young Men, while with you, would be very expensive to you. We are convinced, that you mean to do us Good by your Proposal; and we thank you heartily. But you, who are wise must know that different Nations have different Conceptions of things and you will therefore not take it amiss, if our Ideals of this kind of Education happen not to be the same as yours. We have had some Experience of it. Several of our young People were formerly brought up at the Colleges of the Northern Provinces: they were instructed in all your Sciences, but, when they came back to us, they were bad Runners, ignorant of every means of living in the woods. . . neither fit for Hunter, Warrior, nor Counsellors, they were totally good for nothing.

We are, however, not the less oblig'd by your kind Offer, tho' we decline accepting it; and, to show our grateful sense of it, if the Gentlemen of Virginia will send us a Dozen of their Sons, we will take Care of their Education, instruct them in all we know, and make Men of them.

Image of a Native American with a pipe

It is perhaps stating the obvious but it is far from difficult to find parallels between the Indian experience of Europeans, and that of the Maori.

This review of an intensely moving chronicle of North American Indians and their writing was not induced by a free copy sent for the purpose of cheap publicity. After having bought and read it, I was compelled to accord it the attention it deserves. It is available from Printed Matter Books, Plimmer Steps. Wellington.