- Dakota Philosopher: Charles Eastman and American Indian Thought
David Martinez has researched the life of Charles Eastman (Ohiyesa), Minnesota-born Dakota scholar and physician, and has written a book that braids traditional Dakota philosophy, pan-Indian political survival, and the life experience of an individual Native man across the backdrop of Dakota and U.S. history. Of additional interest to the reader is the theme of Martinez’s own development as a young Indigenous scholar and teacher, articulated throughout the book with candor and sincerity.
We Ojibwe, in speaking well of someone who has worked hard and used his own success and blessings to the benefit of his family, community, and tribe, say, “He always remembers where he came from. He never forgets his people.” In this book David Martinez, a Pima, says the same of Dr. Eastman, who during his lifetime experienced the loss of home and family as well as historical trauma at first hand. Martinez has connected Eastman’s early life and the tribal education he received by way of the oral tradition to his philosophical, academic, and social development. The Charles Eastman of this book is a heroic figure and a Renaissance man, a servant-leader conscious of his place in the world.
Charles Eastman, Native scholar and Indian rights champion, was born in Redwood Falls, Minnesota, in 1858 and left at the age of four as one of the survivor refugees of the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862. The traditional tribal education he received before his formal schooling (at the Flandreau and Santee Indian Schools, then at Beloit, Knox, and Dartmouth colleges and Boston University) became his philosophical foundation: schooling based upon federal assimilation policies was filtered through that early formative education. Eastman worked at the Pine Ridge Agency, Crow Creek Reservation, the YMCA, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, served as a lobbyist for the Dakota, and was a consultant to presidents Roosevelt and Coolidge. He began writing his memoirs as a series of sketches in 1893, when he returned to Minnesota after caring for the injured and traumatized of the Wounded Knee Massacre. His series of literary sketches became his first published autobiography, Indian Boyhood. He published ten more [End Page 267] books and spent the last decades of his life as a lecturer as well as a consultant to the BIA.
The book is organized into a series of conceptual chapters laced with Eastman’s biographical story. Martinez’s references to historical action and writings consistently include the foundation and development of Eastman’s epistemology as a Native individual as well as a member of family, community, tribe, and pan-Indian nation. Because of the extent of Eastman’s travels and the number of employment and consultant locations, the reader’s experience would have been enhanced by the inclusion of a timeline as well as a map; a selection of the many available photographs also would have complemented the presentation. Martinez begins with an exploration of Eastman’s development as an Indigenous philosopher and then examines Dakota sacred history and oral tradition as the foundation of that development. The following chapters explore the evolutionary changes in the relationship between the Dakota and Ojibwe in Minnesota that led to Eastman’s political philosophy of pan-Indianism and a progressive Indian agenda. The last chapter returns to Eastman’s early years: the banishment of the Dakota from Minnesota after the 1862 U.S.-Dakota War. Lastly, the epilogue, titled “Return to Minnesota: Eastman’s Legacy,” is written by this young scholar of the twenty-first century in a fashion that is so Indianishly honest that I recommend the reader read it first, before beginning the book, as well as again at the end.
Martinez competently ties biographical and historical research to Eastman’s worldview, mission, and actions as a scholar, physician, and activist over a half-century of the “assimilation period,” the federal Indian policies between the 1880s and his passing in 1939. Linking Dakota intellectual tradition to Dakota childrearing practices during Eastman’s early years...