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From owner-TAINO-L@MAELSTROM.STJOHNS.EDU Thu May 9 00:00:08 2002
Date: Thu, 9 May 2002 00:38:39 -0500
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Date: Wed, 8 May 2002 07:49:20 -0400
From: Ramon Rivera <Cultural-Affairs@TAINO-TRIBE.ORG>
Subject: The Crucible of American Indian Identity

The Crucible of American Indian Identity: Native Tradition versus Colonial Imposition in Postconquest North America

By Ward Churchill, 8 May 2002

Among the most vexed and divisive issues afflicting Native North America at the dawn of the twenty-first century are the questions of who it is who has a legitimate right to say he or she is American Indian, and by what criteria/whose definition this may or may not be true. Such queries, and the answers to them, hold an obvious and deeply important bearing, not only upon the personal sense of identity inhering in millions of individuals scattered throughout the continent, but in terms of the degree to which some form of genuine self-determination can be exercised by the more than four hundred nations indigenous to it in coming years.

Native people, by contrast, were legally understood to own property-mainly land, and minerals within that land-coveted by whites. It followed then (and still does) that any and all manner of reductions in the number of Indians at large in North America corresponded directly to diminishment of the cloud surrounding the dominant society's claims of clear title to/jurisdictional rights over its purported landbase. Hence, any racial admixture at all, especially with blacks, was often deemed sufficient to warrant individuals, and sometimes groups, being legally classified as a nm-Indians, regardless of their actual standing in indigenous society. On this basis, most noticeably in the South, but elsewhere as well, the native societies themselves were proclaimed to be extinct, their entire membership being simply (redefined as belonging to such catch-all categories of presumed racial inferiority as mulatto or colored. While the intermingling of natives with blacks was invariably cast in a negative light, the mixing of Indian with white stock came to be viewed more favorably. As Thomas Jefferson, America's most admired>. . .slaveholding philosopher of freedom, observed in 1803, a calculated policy of subsuming native genetics within a much larger white gene pool might serve as an alternative to outright extermination as an answer to what he termed the Indian Question.

In truth, the ultimate point of rest and happiness for them is to let our settlements and theirs meet and blend together, to intermix, and become one people. Incorporating themselves with us as citizens of the United States, this is what the natural progress of things will, of course, bring on, and it will be better to promote than retard it.

Completely oblivious to the reality of North America's abundant indigenous agriculture, and to the fact that whites had learned to cultivate corn and other crops from Indians rather than the other way round, Jefferson actually urged a delegation of Munsee, Lenni Lenape, and Mohican leaders to adopt a farming way of life when they visited him in 1808. You will become one people with us, he went on to tell the astonished Indians, Your blood will mix with ours, and will spread with ours across this great land.

The sentiments underlying Jefferson's humanitarian strategy were framed less pleasantly—but with remarkable clarity—by J.C. Nott, a racial theorist whose views were endorsed by Morton and other prominent scientists of the day. With reference to the idea that at least five southern tribes—Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek and Seminole—had been civilized in their own right before being forcibly evicted from their homelands during the 1830s, he offered the following observation: It has been falsely asserted that the Choctaw and Cherokee Indians have made great progress in civilization. I assert positively, after the most ample investigation of the facts, that the pure blooded Indians are everywhere unchanged in their habits. Many white persons, settling among the above tribes, have intermarried with them; and all such trumpeted progress exists among these whites and their mixed breeds alone. The pure-blooded savage still skulks untamed through the forest, or gallops athwart the prairie. Can any one call the name of a single pure Indian of the Barbarous tribes who—except in death, like a wild cat—has done anything worthy of remembrance (emphasis original)?

It followed, according to the noted phrenologist, Charles Caldwell, that the only efficient scheme to civilize the Indians is to cross the breed. Attempt any other and you [will have no alternative] but to extinguish the race (emphasis original). Such views, posing the alternative of genetic/cultural absorption to literal extirpation, were avidly embraced by no less than Lewis Henry Morgan, the founding giant of American anthropology. Indeed, Morgan was of the express opinion that the former option was preferable to the latter mainly because a blending of minute quantities of Indian blood into that of the white mainstream would serve to toughen our race even while it painlessly eradicated the indigenous population as such.

All told, by 1860 or shortly thereafter, Euro-American academicians had forged the full range of conceptual tools necessary for their government to use the traditionally inclusive structures of native societies in a manner which would facilitate their rapid division, fragmentation and—so it was thought at the time—ultimate dissipation in toto. Slowly but steadily, a national consensus was emerging to the effect that this represented the most appropriate solution to what by then had been transfigured into the Indian Problem within the popular discourse. What remained necessary was for these tools to be applied systematically, through the implementation of a comprehensive and coherent policy (or set of policies). And, to this end, experimentation had long since begun.