Cultural Bias Against Native Americans
“Red earth white lies” by Vine Deloria is by all accounts and standards is a ground breaking book which brings into light the troubling picture of cultural bias against the native American Indians, their origin and historic traditions. In his own words he emphasizes the need of dialog between western science and tribal people and says “corrective measures must be taken to eliminate scientific misconceptions about Indians, their culture and their past”.
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He goes on to say “there needs to be a way that Indian traditions can contribute to the understanding of scientific beliefs at enough specific points so that the Indian traditions will be taken seriously as valid bodies of knowledge”. Deloria himself being a native Indian scholar and research author truly feels the pain of the blame that the Western scientists and historians levy on the North American Indians for the disappearance and killing of millions of big and small fauna and several other crimes against nature.
This book is a result of serious effort by Vine Deloria to highlight the misconceptions prevailing in the western dominated scientific world but he can also be severely criticized for his extreme and sometimes superstitious or blind traditional beliefs. “Red Earth, White Lies” is a wonderfully provocative indictment of how historical sciences, such as anthropology, geology, and ecology frequently fail in practice. Nevertheless, perhaps without realizing it, Deloria relies on the very hallmarks of modern science; alternative hypotheses, critical analysis, and crucial evidence to make his case.
Here, unfortunately, is where “Red Earth White Lies” loses much of its power. While Deloria succeeds in casting doubt on many beliefs cherished by entrenched academics, he typically does not subject his own hypothesis to the same treatment. Even more unfortunate, Deloria himself employs some of the techniques he most violently condemns in academics. However Vine Deloria Jr. ‘s book is a very useful and merited challenge to a whole host of theories, especially the
Bering Strait land bridge, megafauna’s extinction “Overkill” and some other things in which U. S. racism, capitalist waste and ruthlessness towards the environment, and scientific narrowness are shown to be the underlying roots of these theories. However, his attacks on Stephen J. Gould are not reasonable at times and as a matter of fact; Gould and others have for years defended allopatric speciation, which would allow a species “gestation” in five to ten thousand years.
This type of narrow approach makes Deloria subject to exactly the type of criticism he so correctly levels at western scientists. Also, his knowledge of genetics and evolution seem to leave a lot to be desired, and he clearly does not expect the reader to be scientifically literate otherwise, he would not be able to make some of the peculiar remarks he makes about speciation. Anyone familiar with modern biology cannot be but amazed at how his work is little more than a reworking of Christian Fundamentalist creationism or vice versa.
Having said that, Deloria’s value as an anti-racist, as a defender of the worth and validity and richness of non-white, non-European sources of knowledge is more than worth the occasional bad science and anti-intellectualism. I would say that this is an essential reading for anyone learning about the native Indians and the material he covers, and for thinking about how racism and power can determine whose knowledge is myth and fantasy as much as it determines who is a rebel and or a freedom fighter.
Deloria lambasts Paul Martin and his supporters for their ridiculous theory or belief that prehistoric man wiped out the Pleistocene megafauna in North America and presumably everywhere else in the world. This can of course only be propagated by completely ignoring volumes of geological and paleontological evidence showing clearly that these creatures were destroyed in a natural cataclysm. Deloria reviews some of this evidence, as well as some of the evidence of Native American tradition, which described this catastrophe in some detail.
In fact, native traditions from all over the world, as Ignatius Donnelly and Immanuel Velikovsky observed, tell much of the same story. People like Paul Martin however, studiously ignore this material. It may be noted that the scholarly consensus is now moving decisively away from Martin and his “overkill” theory in favor of Deloria’s catastrophe. One of the most recent books on the topic,
The Cycle of Cosmic Catastrophes, provides a comprehensive overview of the latest scientific findings, such as he iridium layer at the termination of the Pleistocene, which speaks conclusively of a cataclysm. I wish that Deloria was alive to see such a positive development Now another conflicting and contradicting issue discussed in this book is how did the early human beings from Asia crossed over to North America through Siberia and Alaska and how they killed the entire megafauna, at least that what the historians and scholars say. Deloria takes an entirely different approach to this belief.
He uses a combination of Native American folklore and modern geological and climatological scholarship, his scenario of the prehistoric American peoples is a radical departure from the traditional picture we still find in many books nowadays. And despite all of its flaws, it still comes as a breath of fresh air for those of us who were restless or dissatisfied with the current ideas about the past we’d been raised on. How could a few thousand people with nothing more than stone weapons for example, wipe out a continent’s worth of large animals and how would that explain the mass extinctions of plant life?
Or for that matter, what would drive these original settlers across an icy wilderness and through a Canada still in the glacial grip of an ice age? How would they know that their promised land would be any better, or warmer? Deloria’s approach is not unique but largely ignored: interpreting America’s geological history by way of the folklore and myths passed down by Native American storytellers. Similar to how many South American myths may have come about by encoding simple astronomical knowledge, so too could major geological events or changes be passed down to future generations as folktales.
The last ice age, major volcanic activity, massive floods and the formations, draining or great lakes can all be gleaned out of Indian stories Deloria argues, and he cites a number of good examples. Perhaps the best of these is the notion that Native Americans wiped out the great beasts, including the saber tooth tigers. This was a mostly-unsubstantiated theory born in the 19th century, and has far more speculation behind it than solid evidence. The Indians themselves tell stories of the weather changing very quickly, bringing high winds and terrible cold that killed off the animals and plants.
This sounds more reasonable and Deloria also gives a running geological commentary to support this theory. Many scholars though still dismiss it, the same scholars who cannot offer a reasonable explanation for why ice ages start and end or as Deloria also points out in several places, stretch and twist the geological evidence to fit their theories until it almost snaps. Why? Perhaps because they can’t accept the evidence of rapid climactic change, even when the rocks are telling them this is exactly what happened.
Or perhaps, as Deloria also asserts, their refusal to accept such an idea is founded in racism. He cites a number of disturbing examples from the past two centuries to demonstrate how much of our modern paradigm of American prehistory was built on anti-Indian sentiments. Having discussed all of those points, let me point out as I did earlier that Vine Deloria’s methods or modus operandi are without any fault or so to say are flawless. It depends, for one thing on the accurate retelling of these stories over thousands of years though in his defense, this is not out of the realm of possibility.
Storytellers in central Asia, for example, tell stories and sing songs about Alexander the Great that match ancient accounts written down over two thousand years ago. Or if the Dagon tribe in Africa received their advanced knowledge of the star Sirius from outsiders as some claim, it was very likely from Egyptian scholars in Alexandria, thus also preserving knowledge over the stretch of two millennia. There is of course a vast gulf between two-thousand years and six to twelve thousand. By and large, Deloria has modern geological research on his side, though again the science occasionally shows some loop holes.
Many of the major floods he accounts to meteor strikes, which could have also been caused by terrestrial if catastrophic volcanic or other earthquake-producing activity. Yet his examples of the absurdity of some current theories are really very thought provoking and seem to be simple and startling, and his interpretations appear to be more logical and realistic. In the end, therefore I conclude that the purpose of the book as mentioned earlier was to eliminate the scientific misconceptions prevailing in the scientific world about the origin and culture of the American Indians, has largely been addressed.
Anyone after reading the book would be convinced that Vine Deloria has successfully pleaded his case and created serious doubts over the existing theories of evolution of human life in Americas and the origin of Native American Indians. Now after seven years of his death many theories put forward by him are being reviewed and even accepted. I believe that this book “Red earth white lies” is a mile stone in this regard.