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Dakota Philosopher

Charles Eastman and American Indian Thought

David Martinez

Publication Year: 2009

Charles Eastman straddled two worlds in his life and writing. The author of Indian Boyhood was raised in the traditional way after the 1862 U.S.-Dakota War. His father later persuaded him to study Christianity and attend medical school. But when Eastman served as a government doctor during the Wounded Knee massacre, he became disillusioned about Americans' capacity to live up to their own ideals. While Eastman's contemporaries viewed him as "a great American and a true philosopher," Indian scholars have long dismissed Eastman's work as assimilationist. Now, for the first time, his philosophy as manifested in his writing is examined in detail. David Martinez explores Eastman's views on the U.S.-Dakota War, Dakota and Ojibwe relations, Dakota sacred history, and citizenship in the Progressive Era, claiming for him a long overdue place in America's intellectual pantheon.

Published by: Minnesota Historical Society Press


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xx

Being an Indian in the world is the loneliest kind of existence. At least, such is the case when one leaves behind the comfort and security of family and tribe for the wider world of modern societies, such as the metropolitan areas that now dominate the American landscape. Even before the Americans completed their colonization of the “frontier,” Indians often found themselves as the proverbial—certainly ironic— ...

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1. “The Greatest Sioux of the Century”

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pp. 3-24

In 1917, the American Indian Magazine, edited by Seneca intellectual Arthur C. Parker, said of Charles Alexander Eastman: “Dr. Eastman through all his books gives us a brand of philosophy that while critical is yet refreshing because it is so evidently true. As a great Sioux, history will write him down as a great American and a true philosopher.” What follows is a long overdue appreciation of Eastman as a “true philosopher”— or, more specifically, as a true Dakota philosopher. While Eastman’s...

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2. The Traditions of Their Fathers

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pp. 25-53

Thus also spoke Charles A. Eastman in the foreword to Red Hunters and the Animal People. With this publication, Eastman contributed to what would become a major genre in American Indian literature—traditional myths and legends retold in English for a wide audience. Zitkala-Sa (aka Gertrude Bonnin) made a slightly earlier contribution when she published Old Indian Legends in 1901, in which she asserts, “The old legends...

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3. From Enemies to Pan-Indian Allies

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pp. 55-82

One of the least understood aspects of Eastman’s writings is the consideration he gave to the Dakotas’ historic relations with the Ojibwe. In all but one of his books, Eastman makes references to the Dakotas’ traditional enemies in ways that reflect his growing awareness of pan-Indian affairs in turn-of-the-century American society. Eastman thus goes from recounting stories, both mythical and historical, about...

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4. “For the Honor of the Race and the Good of the Country”

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pp. 83-121

In the penultimate chapter of The Search for an American Indian Identity, after recounting what amounted to the epic story of the rise and decline of the Society of American Indians—the first Indian-run rights organization, its core membership consisting exclusively of Indians from communities across the continental United States—Hazel W. Hertzberg laments that the story of early twentieth-century Indian progressivism...

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5. Exile From Mnisota Makoce

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pp. 123-152

Once upon a time, at least in the eyes of a Dakota child, life in southern Minnesota was simply idyllic. In his 1902 autobiography, Indian Boyhood, Eastman very fondly recounts life as being filled with long days of plenty and contentment. Eastman writes, “When our people lived in Minnesota, a good part of their natural subsistence was furnished by the wild rice, which grew abundantly in all of that region. Around the...

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Epilogue: Return to Minnesota

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pp. 153-166

After reflecting on Eastman’s life and work for the past eight years, ever since I moved to Minneapolis in the summer of 2000 and culminating in the writing of this book, the real work of learning from Eastman’s legacy has only just begun. First, I had to get over my own inhibitions about embracing Eastman’s work, which entailed recognizing that I had more in common with him than I had realized. Then, I had to learn...


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pp. 167-178


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pp. 179-186

E-ISBN-13: 9780873517317
E-ISBN-10: 0873517318
Print-ISBN-13: 9780873516297
Print-ISBN-10: 087351629X

Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2009

Edition: 1

OCLC Number: 794927759
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Dakota Philosopher

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Subject Headings

  • Indians in literature.
  • American literature -- Indian authors.
  • Dakota Indians -- Social life and customs.
  • Eastman, Charles Alexander, 1858-1939.
  • Santee Indians -- Biography.
  • Dakota philosophy.
  • Dakota Indians -- Religion.
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