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  • The Legacy of Little Wolf:Rewriting and Rerighting Our Leaders Back into History
  • Leo Killsback (bio)

Racial prejudice naturally enters into the account of a man's life by enemy writers, while one is likely to favor his own race. I am conscious that many readers may think that I have idealized the Indian. Therefore I will confess now that we have too many weak and unprincipled men among us. When I speak of the Indian hero, I do not forget the mongrel in spirit, false to the ideals of his people. Our trustfulness has been our weakness, and when the vices of civilization were added to our own, we fell heavily.


While growing up in southeastern Montana, I rarely heard about the "old time" warriors of our people in the classroom, on television, or in any other form of media. When I encountered Indians in history, they were simple, one-dimensional creatures that arrived only to battle. Time is due for the stories of the old-time warriors, and it is time that our humanity is written back into history. [End Page 85]

I can remember learning at Northern Cheyenne Tribal School about the heroics of our warriors at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. But even in our own community, we were rarely, if ever, told of the personalities and deeds of our true leaders or of their virtues during times of despair. Rarely, at a ceremony, powwow, or community gathering, tribal members would recite or mention the deeds of our warriors and chiefs, but it was not until I became an adult that I learned how important these heroes were to our unique Indian identity. Their stories must be told again and again, so we can remember who and what we came from.

When I entered college, I learned about Lewis and Clark, the Corps of Discovery, and other heroes in American history who epitomized the American identity, especially white male American identity. Every once in a while, an Indian chief entered into the story in a clichéd manner: he led a "rebellion" and was eventually suppressed. The history I learned was biased; it was written and taught by those whose agenda was to propagate white dominance while stroking already-inflated egos. I knew that if I was to continue studying Indian history, my work would be cut out for me: my goal was to rewrite and reright ourselves back into history.1

Teaching and learning of Indian heroes—something that mainstream education has failed to do—can remind modern Indians, especially the younger generations, that they are a part of the honorable legacies of powerful and righteous people.2 Indians have been dis connected from their own history for too long, and this disconnection has contributed to persisting social struggles found in most Indian communities.3 By asserting the heroic legacies of the original people of this land, we can defy the propaganda-driven history that has written Indians out of their own history and land. There must also be Indian theoretical explanations and interpretations to tell Indian history, and this will lead us away from the imperial lens and give knowledge back to the people who continue to be negatively affected by unjustly written history.4

As an undergraduate, I read the works of Vine Deloria Jr., Elizabeth Cook-Lynn, and other Indian historians who challenged the purpose, reasoning, and consequences of one-sided history.5 As I continued to study my own people, I often met resistance from the ivory tower. I was a young Native man among non-Indian historians, and at times I felt as if I was playing with someone else's toys, even when I was studying my own people. The subject of Indians simply did not belong to me. My mere presence offended the "Indian experts," as Deloria called them.6 I was supposed to be the subject, the savage, the one seeking help. Mainstream historians still squirm at the thought of an Indian historian. In 1969 Deloria stated, "Traditionally we Indians have had a 'plight.' Our foremost plight is our transparency."7 This is true even in the twenty-first century because our histories and our...


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pp. 85-111
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