All the Indians Are Dead.


Photo: from Cindy Ott's article "Crossing Cultural Fences: The Intersecting Material World of American Indians and Euro-Americans." The Western Historical Quarterly 39.4 (Winter 2008).

My 8-year old daughter is eating beets and carrots for lunch. Her 7-year old friend from next door watches. He doesn't like beets. I tell my daughter: you're going to help me cook tonight. We're making Indian food.


CHILD FROM NEXT DOOR: Back then, when the Indians were alive, they didn't have things like carrots and beets . . .

ME: Back then?

CHILD FROM NEXT DOOR: Yeah, when the Indians were alive.

ME: Ohhh, you mean American Indians. Oh, no, no. Tonight we're cooking Indian food like the kind that's made in India the country. The country in Asia. . . Also, American Indians are still living--there are Indians still alive.

CHILD: No there aren't.

ME: Yes there are.

CHILD: No! There arr-en-nt!

ME: Yes. There are.

CHILD: No there aren't. They're all dead.

ME: Nope. There are American Indians all around us. There are Indian doctors, Indian farmers, Indian mothers and fathers, Indian plumbers, Indian teachers.

CHILD: But I can't see them.

ME: Yes you can.

CHILD: They don't look like Indians.

ME: Some Indians look like you [White, blue-eyed, brown hair], some look like me [dark brown and dark brown hair], some look like [daughter, light brown and dark brown hair]. Some are old, some are young. . .

CHILD: Oh, I guess you're right because one time I saw one. . . One day, my grandmother. At my grandmother's. My grandmother has a house in [X-state] and one time I saw a boy there riding a horse, so he must have been an Indian.

ME: Lots of different kinds of people ride horses: White people ride horses, brown people ride horses, and yes, some Indian people ride horses. In fact, American Indians didn't really have or use horses until they were introduced to them about 500 years ago. Just about 500 years ago the Spanish invaded this continent and they used horses to help them carry their food, weapons, and people from their ships to the land and all around the land. And, you know what else?

CHILD: What?!

ME: You see all of this land that the houses on our block stand on?

CHILD: Yeah.

ME: . . . and all of the land around the houses?


ME: . . . and the town and all of the land around the town?

CHILD: Yeah.

ME: . . . not too long ago, the land that these houses now stand on and all of the town land and all the land around the town was shared by, or some might say it belonged to all different kinds of Indian people---"

DAUGHTER: That was until the White people came and took it.

CHILD: What?

DAUGHTER: Yeah, a long time ago . . . Back then. Um, it was like it was in Africa. Africa was one large place. Then the White people came and they took . . . It was like this house. They took this part here [kitchen] and then they cut it up and then over there [runs to dining room] and cut it up and that part [living room] and cut it up. They took it all and cut it up and they said 'This is one country and this is another country.' Before, there were no countries. Everybody had all the space."

CHILD: "Huh. I thought all the Indians were dead."


that was possibly one of the greatest things ever. i hope your daughter actually said that... you should be INSANELY proud. :)

Interesting conversation! You go, Mambí Maestra, for teaching a seven-year-old to already be critical of categories like "America" and "Indian."

Now if only the script could continue from "fly-on-the-wall" perspective with the child's parents. "That's good of Mambí Maestra to teach you those things. We should learn more about it at the library." But then if the child said, "Yeah, but she and her daughter said that white people did it,"... what then? Or maybe the child's walking along with dad or a teacher one day and says, "This used to be Indian land before we stole it."

A real crossroads of subject formation, that.

The hegemonic route at this crossroads would be to go from this junction straight toward the great western tradition of reducing analysis to the lowest and most easily depoliticized level of abstraction: individual responsibility. At the end of that road is the thriving metropolis of TheyMustBeCrazyIfTheyThinkI'mLeaving and its twin city, TheyNeedtoGetOverIt. (I've seen this place, and there are great monuments to Walt Whitman and John Wayne there.) The counterhegemonic route from that junction documents, via breadcrumbs dropped along the way, incident after incident of maltreatment of Native American peoples by Americans (making sure to include reference to the Buffalo soldiers and turncoat American Indians), points out the beauty and richness of "pre-Contact," "authentic" "Native American" cultures, ultimately arriving somewhere in between the cities of IFeelTheirPainBecauseAfterAllI'mOneSixteenthIrish and TheyNeedtoGetOverIt, with its thriving casino business and "Dances With Wolves" playing on continuous loop.

And then there's the less traveled road that ends up-- who knows where?

You started him on a path...

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This page contains a single entry by Mambí Maestra published on August 18, 2009 10:38 AM.

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