Clash of European and Native cultures: In the Hands of the Great Spirit

This quote from Jake Page's book In the Hands of the Great Spirit agrees with the thesis of Kiernan in Blood and Soil, that in the European eyes, farming was civilized, hunting and gathering was savage. Of course, as the Europeans encroached on Native american farms, they forced them to resort to hunting and gathering, causing an ever condemning feedback loop. As Page notes, there were other cultural issues on the Indian side, especially gender roles. Another difficulty white Americans had was the communal methods of the Indians which morphed into accusations of Soviet communism after WW1.
Meanwhile, the Indian policy favored by George Washington was that of Henry Knox, his secretary of war. Knox called for making treaties with the tribes that would result in opening the lands of the Northwest to settlers, but the treaties were to be made fairly and squarely – “honorably,” to use the contemporary word. Expansion with honor. This can be made to sound utterly cynical, especially since Washington himself had been a considerable speculator in the lands in question. It was championed by Thomas Jefferson, also in Washington’s cabinet, who wrote both the line about merciless savages in the Declaration and, later, “I believe the Indian to be in body and mind equal to the white man.” These evidently irreconcilable views were shared by most of the Founding Fathers and they were reconciled through the concept held by many at the time that so long as Indians remained “hunters” they could not coexist with yeomen farmers. Even this seems cynical, or at least deliberately disingenuous, given the well-known fact (in those days) that virtually all the Indians east of the Mississippi River (and many to the west of it) were villagers engaged in farming. But one’s way of life was categorized by what the men did, not women. Indian women did the farming. Men hunted (or fought). Until the men settled down to till the earth on normal-sized plots of ground, they were still hunters – savages, uncivilized. Washington, Jefferson, and the others had every confidence that Indian men could be civilized, turned into yeomen, and then they would simply not need so much territory and would happily cede it to the United States… However, as historian Michael Green has pointed out, forcing Indian men to to be tillers of the soil was not merely a humiliation of proud men whose culture called on them to hunt and make war; it went against the entire spiritual plan of the universe. It was women who were in tune with the spiritual world of plants, not men, Changing these gender roles was an outright defiance of the spirit world and a recipe for catastrophe. Not surprisingly, few tribes bought into the new scheme. (230)
See other posts on Native americans, history, and book reports.


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