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September 08, 2008



Thank you for your comment, Tullan.

It seems that this complex set of attitudes about American Indians was/is not uncommon!

I guess it's a part of the human experience that events (famine, drought, ecological collapse, persecution, etc.) often cause one group of people to displace (or downright eliminate) another. People in these circumstances are thinking mostly of their own survival.
Idealizing the displaced on the one hand and denigrating them on the other are two ways of putting them neatly away, out of the realm of actual, concrete human interactions, so that we don't have to deal with them as we might with someone who is part of our own sphere, and so that we can lessen our own feelings of guilt.
Of course, it's easier to idealize them once they're all but gone, or at least defenseless.

They were savages first, and noble savages only later.

It would be interesting to learn about what, if any, interactions Thoreau may have had with Native people.


Dear Blogger,
Thank you for this most recent (long-overdue) post.

It puts me in mind of Henry David Thoreau - probably because I have just finished David M. Robinson's excellent "Natural Life: Thoreau's Worldly Transcendentalism" (Cornell U. Press, 2004).

Many of us probably have "warm fuzzy" feelings about Thoreau - whether we admire his refusal to pay taxes in a slave antion, or credit him as the father of "ecology." However, like the relationship of the anthropologist you describe as regards the indigenous people and her own ancestors, so Thoreau's intentions can be questioned, or at least seen as complex.

Despite the fact that he was a champion of "the Wild," and admired Native people, he was also, typical of his time, in favor of American expansion. Robinson writes: "Even though Thoreau's deep interest in and sympathy with the culture of the American Indians is a matter of record, his implicit endorsement of the ideology of 'manifest destiny'...indicates the limits of his critical awareness of the oppressive and destructive nature of America's western imperialism."

The destruction of Native cultures was criminal; the existence of the U.S. brought us Thoreau, a great thinker, writer, and man of science.

Thanks to the blogger, for another thought-provoking essay.

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