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Excerpt from On The Rez by Ian Frazier, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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On The Rez

by Ian Frazier

On The Rez by Ian Frazier X
On The Rez by Ian Frazier
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  • First Published:
    Dec 1999, 311 pages

    May 2001, 320 pages


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Indian people today sometimes talk about the need to guard their culture carefully, so that it won't be stolen from them. But what is best (and worst) about any culture can be as contagious as a cold germ; the least contact passes it on. In colonial times, Indians were known for their disregard of titles and for a deep egalitarianism that made them not necessarily defer even to the leading men of their tribes. The route this trait took as it passed from Indian to white was invisible. Probably, contagion occurred during official gatherings, as when an exalted person arrived at a frontier place from the governor's palace or across the sea. The Indians spoke to the exalted person directly, equals addressing an equal, with no bowing or scraping or bending of the knee. Then, when their white neighbors got up to speak, perhaps ordinary self- consciousness made it hard to act any differently - to do the full routine of obeisance customary back in England - with the Indians looking on. Or maybe it was even simpler, a demonstration of the principle that informal behavior tends to drive out formal, given time. However the transfer happened, in a few generations it was complete; the American character had become thoroughly Indian in its outspokenness and all-around skepticism on the subject of who was and was not great.

We often hear that Indians traditionally believed in the Great Circle of Being, the connectedness of all creation, and the sacredness of every blade of grass. That the example of individual freedom among the Indians of the Americas inspired writers from Thomas More to Locke to Shakespeare to Voltaire is seldom mentioned these days. (None of those writers, for their part, seem to have heard of the Great Circle of Being.) The Indians' love of independence and freedom has dwindled in description in recent years to the lone adjective "proud." Any time the Apache, for example, or the Comanche, or a noted Indian leader is described, that adjective is likely to be someplace close by. We are told that the Comanche or the Apache were or are "a proud people," and we get used to hearing it, and we forget what it means: centuries of resistance to authority, intractability and independent-mindedness have won them only that brief epithet. The excitement of new discoveries in the Americas fired all sorts of fantasies about Indians in the minds of Europeans, and Indians remain the objects of fantasy today. The current fantasy might be summed up: American Indians were a proud people who believed in the Great Circle of Being and were cruelly destroyed.

Copyright © 2000 by Ian Frazier

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