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Stereotype of the Month Entry
(12/11/07)


Magua Another Stereotype of the Month entry:

Cannot ignore brutality of past

Native Americans have much to be thankful for. Foremost, that they no longer live in brutally, misogynistic societies where women were treated as chattel. It was customary for an adulterous Paiute women to have her nose cut off for the offense. If she survived, her permanent disfigurement would lead to a life of ostracism and shame. The Pawnee practiced human sacrifice into the 1800s with women almost always being the victims. The youngest of twin girls would be left to die by Seminole families for fear that if allowed to live, she would take strength away from the father.

All tribes practiced kidnapping during raids, with some victims often living as virtual slaves for years before being formally accepted in the tribe. Torture was universally accepted among most tribes, with victims suffering for hours at the delight of their captors. Young children would be encouraged to participate, taking an active role in the torture. Cannibalism was practiced by some Great Lakes tribes.

These are but a few examples of a culture so far removed from our own that it is almost incomprehensible to modern people. Hundreds of tribes spoke different languages, lived in diverse geographical locations and had different customs and religious beliefs. Many of these were brutal to the extreme. These practices should not be used to justify the horror of European, and later U.S., treatment toward Native Americans, but they cannot be ignored either. What is needed is balance, not ignorance that leads to silly letters by people like James Smith.

Oh, and just a few more things (the list is immeasurable) equality under the law, representative government, indoor plumbing and just for added emphasis, the French Impressionists. For the record, I have visited reservations. Just recently, at a reservation, a delightful young lady made away with $100 of mine at a blackjack table in Detroit.

Tom McGrath
Battle Creek

Rob's reply
>> Native Americans have much to be thankful for. Foremost, that they no longer live in brutally, misogynistic societies where women were treated as chattel. <<

Ridiculous. Most women were respected members of their tribes. Many tribes were matriarchal, which means women were the ultimate authorities.

But brutal and misogynistic certainly describes Western attitudes toward women through the mid-20th century, if not longer. Women still have trouble today getting relief from the men who beat and rape them.

>> It was customary for an adulterous Paiute women to have her nose cut off for the offense. If she survived, her permanent disfigurement would lead to a life of ostracism and shame. <<

Adulterous women have been subject to ostracism and shame throughout the history of Western civilization. And Americans have done much worse to offenders for much lesser "crimes." They've executed people for everything from horse theft to fraternizing with the wrong race to being a witch.

>> The Pawnee practiced human sacrifice into the 1800s with women almost always being the victims. The youngest of twin girls would be left to die by Seminole families for fear that if allowed to live, she would take strength away from the father. <<

I don't know about the Pawnee practice, but the Aztecs sincerely believed in the religious necessity of human sacrifice. Even the victims believed in it. See Were the Aztecs Murdering "Animals"? for details.

Leaving an infant to die is roughly the same as aborting it. You sincerely believe you're doing the best thing for everyone involved. Whether it's rational or not doesn't matter because it's an article of faith.

So where does that leave us? Two tribes killed people for reasons we wouldn't accept today. Meanwhile, hundreds of tribes didn't.

>> All tribes practiced kidnapping during raids <<

Ridiculous. Needless to say, there's no evidence of that.

Many tribes didn't even conduct raids, since they lived in peaceful isolation. For more on the subject, see Warlike Indian Cultures.

>> with some victims often living as virtual slaves for years before being formally accepted in the tribe. <<

As opposed to the Western practice of slavery, which was almost universal until the 19th century. In Western countries, slaves didn't have the option of being formally accepted into society. They were property more or less permanently.

Slavery was an economic and political system practiced throughout the West from ancient Greece to mid-19th century America. I don't know, but I suspect it was more widespread among Western nations than among Indian nations. I suspect Indian slaves had more rights and opportunities and were less cruelly treated.

>> Torture was universally accepted among most tribes <<

Ridiculous. Needless to say, there's no evidence of that. And being "universally accepted" among "most tribes" is a contradiction in terms. If some tribes didn't torture people, it wasn't universally accepted.

Meanwhile, what was the torture rate for prisoners of war and other prisoners in European societies? I don't know, but there's a reason we associate dungeons with torture. If it wasn't commonplace, it was far from unknown.

Of course, Indians no longer torture anybody. But the Bush administration still advocates torture for our alleged enemies. See Bush Administration Sanctions Torture for details.

>> Cannibalism was practiced by some Great Lakes tribes. <<

Ridiculous. Needless to say, there's no evidence of that. And even if they did, that's a couple of tribes out of a thousand.

For more on the subject, see Indians as Cannibals.

>> These are but a few examples of a culture so far removed from our own that it is almost incomprehensible to modern people. <<

Unlike our society, which burned people at the stake or had them drawn and quartered. Which conducted wars and crusades that lasted decades if not centuries. Which enslaved not just a few captives of raids but an entire race (Africans). Yeah, that's totally comprehensible.

>> Many of these were brutal to the extreme. <<

Ridiculous. Needless to say, there's no evidence of that. And as I've explained, Western society was at least as brutal, if not much more so.

>> What is needed is balance, not ignorance that leads to silly letters by people like James Smith. <<

Or silly letters like this one.

>> Oh, and just a few more things (the list is immeasurable) equality under the law <<

Yes, America more or less achieved equality a whopping 40 years ago with the passage of the Civil Rights Act. But for most of our history, women, blacks, and others didn't have equality under the law. Meanwhile, Indian tribes were generally egalitarianómuch more so than stratified, class-based Euro-American societies.

>> representative government <<

The Haudenosaunee had a form of representative government before most Western countries did. Most tribes didn't need representative government because everyone could participate directly in their own governance.

>> indoor plumbing <<

The Aztecs had indoor plumbing long before most Europeans did. Most tribes didn't need indoor plumbing because they didn't live in cities mired in sewage, vermin, and disease. They didn't lose a third of their people to a continent-wide plague because they wallowed in their own filth.

>> just for added emphasis, the French Impressionists <<

Indians had their own art forms millennia before the French Impressionists. And the only reason we think Impressionism is "great" is because we're culturally biased toward that view. There's no objective evidence that one kind of art is better than another.

McGrath's whole essay misses a key point. He's comparing Indians from hundreds of years ago with today's Western societies. In other words, apples and oranges.

Hello? If Europeans hadn't destroyed Indian cultures, these cultures would've evolved. In 500 years they would've had all the benefits of modern life, just as they do now.

Related links
This ain't no party:  a Columbus Day rant
The myth of Western superiority
Multicultural origins of civilization


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