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C h a p t e r V Preserving the “Indian” The Reassessment of the Native American Image The twentieth century’s realization of the importance of Indian art stood not only as a symbol of Native American resiliency but also as a warning sign that the theoretical underpinnings of the vanishing policy were mere assumptions rather than unvarnished truths. The non-Indian discovery and adoption of Native American art served to bring to the surface a glaring inconsistency in white attitudes toward Indians, which had been buried under the idealism of the assimilation theory. Whites could admire the image of the Indian as an artist yet detest the Indian as a savage. The truth was that Native American cultures could indeed produce something of value. Thus Native Americans were neither backward nor doomed because of some inherent deficiency in their race or in their societies. Whites began to realize that the real culprits in the demise of Native Americans were not progress, civilization, modernity, or natural law. They themselves were at fault. The inconsistencies in white attitudes toward Native Americans had been a part of Euro-Americans’ mentality since they arrived in the New World. In American literature and folklore, Indians could be portrayed as mindless and bloodthirsty savages waylaying peaceful wagon trains, toasting pioneers over open fires, dashing white babies against trees, raping beautiful white women, pillaging outlying farmhouses, and ambushing gallant soldiers, oblivious to morality or higher civilized values. Indians could also be depicted as helpmates of the frontiersman and founding father, magnanimously demonstrating to these hardy pioneers the proper way to survive in a harsh climate. Whites *final holm pages 5/18/05 4:29 PM Page 111 could both admire and detest the Indian of literature and folklore and see little inconsistency in their attitudes. The same love-hate view of Indians carried over into very real situations . White missionaries expressed deep concern for the welfare of Native Americans, yet the very nature of their calling demanded that they adopt a contemptuous view of the manner in which Native Americans lived and worshipped. Images of Indians were both negative and positive, and policies often reflected the most familiar imagery dealing with Indian life in any particular period of time.1 During the late nineteenth century, the negative view of Native Americans seemed to overshadow the more positive myths. The major difference between the early nineteenth-century negative attitudes and those of the second half of the century was that “science,” in the theoretical assumption that cultures “naturally” evolved toward modernity, validated the notion that Indians remained savages in need of the uplifting influences of white society. The movement to assimilate Native Americans worked toward the elimination of Native American peoplehood by creating “civilized” persons capable of conforming to the social mores of “mainstream” America. Introducing private property would create an individual, as opposed to a collective, relationship with land; replacing a Native language with English would destroy the ability to pass along sacred history, sound the death knell for tribal ceremonies , and undermine the connection between human beings and the landscape. In the s and early years of the twentieth century, however, white views of Native Americans began to conflict with one another. Even at the Lake Mohonk conferences, where assimilationist theory was the norm, the image of the romantic, noble Indian was often cited to counteract the belief that the Indian was a savage, pagan, and backward human being incapable of salvation or higher morality. In , for example, Joseph Anderson received an ovation from the Lake Mohonk members for his description of Native languages as being “stately and classical” and carrying “the stamp of intellect.” His suggestion to establish an institute for “Aboriginal Research” named for the conference founder, Albert Smiley, was equally well received.2 Despite his rhetoric and the ovation he received, Anderson’s remarks were not taken all that seriously, because the conference then turned its attention to a discussion about how to force Indians to cast aside the old — The Great Confusion in Indian Affairs — — 112 — *final holm pages 5/18/05 4:29 PM Page 112 ways, learn English, become Christians, and work the land as farmers and ranchers. The ambivalence and inconsistency of the situation were not understood until after the turn of the century, when the old Christian reformers were placed in a quandary from which they could not extract themselves. Between  and the mid-s, just when it seemed probable that whites would forget about Indians...


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