Reimagining Indians: Native Americans through Anglo Eyes, 1880-1940

Reimagining Indians: Native Americans through Anglo Eyes, 1880-1940

Reimagining Indians: Native Americans through Anglo Eyes, 1880-1940

Reimagining Indians: Native Americans through Anglo Eyes, 1880-1940

Synopsis

Reimagining Indians investigates a group of Anglo-American writers whose books about Native Americans helped reshape Americans' understanding of Indian peoples at the turn of the twentieth century. Hailing from the Eastern United States, these men and women traveled to the American West and discovered "exotics" in their midst. Drawn to Indian cultures as alternatives to what they found distasteful about modern American culture, these writers produced a body of work that celebrates Indian cultures, religions, artistry, and simple humanity. Although these writers were not academically trained ethnographers, their books represent popular versions of ethnography. In revealing their own doubts about the superiority of European-American culture, they sought to provide a favorable climate for Indian cultural survival in a world indisputably dominated by non-Indians. They also encouraged notions of cultural relativism, pluralism, and tolerance in American thought. For the historian and general reader alike, this volume speaks to broad themes of American cultural history, Native American history, and the history of the American West.

Excerpt

A few years ago, I attended a slide-illustrated lecture on "Blackfeet Sacred Geography" presented by a member of the Blackfeet tribe. As lights lowered in the room and views of magnificent Montana and Alberta landscapes lit up the screen, Curly Bear Wagner described the events that made these places sacred. He explained where and how the Beaver Bundle came to the Blackfeet. He talked about Scarface and the Sun Dance. While Wagner displayed pictures of the sacred places, seemingly unchanged over the years, and related his peoples' connection to them, my mind drifted to Walter McClintock who, exactly one hundred years before Wagner's lecture, walked into a Blackfeet camp and found his life's calling.

McClintock was one of those turn-of-the-century types who concluded the Blackfeet, and other Indians, could not survive in the twentieth century. So, he set about filling notebooks with Indian stories, legends, and descriptions of ceremonies. He spent several years photographing the Blackfeet of Montana and Canada in various poses. in time, McClintock put together his own lantern-slide-illustrated lectures and went on the road, regaling audiences with stories of how the Blackfeet acquired the Beaver Bundle and tales of Scarface and the Sun Dance. He believed that without such efforts as his, all traces of Blackfeet culture would disappear forever.

Now, at the cusp of the twenty-first century, the Blackfeet are still here. They produce their own lectures and send their own representatives to explain who they are and how they came to be. Now we know that McClintock's prophecy, shared by so many of his generation, proved wrong, and that culture is not nearly so fragile or brittle an entity as once believed. Blackfeet culture survives in living, vital, and sometimes altered forms from those McClintock chronicled, because Blackfeet survive. the same holds true for other Native Americans. Credit for the perpetuation of Indian cultures goes to those tribal members who served as storehouses of memory and traditions and to families who, according to one historian, "continued to insulate individual Indians from alien cultures and provide a source of history and identity." For many years, in . . .

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