Sunday, January 23, 2011

Vine Deloria Jr. - Native American Radical

LAST TIME:  W.E.B. Du Bois - Black Activist Radical

Sioux author, scholar and activist Vine Deloria Jr. is the fifth of five individuals profiled in Radicals in Their Own Time: Four Hundred Years of Struggle for Liberty and Equal Justice in America.

Deloria, whose views on government naturally came through his own tribal traditions, antagonized the establishment while shaking mainstream America out of its complacency with his provocative works exposing the American government’s systematic centuries-long oppression of Indian tribes. Beginning with Custer Died for Your Sins, his devastating 1969 critique of the United States Government and passionate call-to-action to a new generation of Native Americans, Deloria was a central figure in providing a unifying intellectual, political voice to Indians past, present and future in their battles for self-determination and reclaiming tribal heritage.

Deloria was blunt in his assessment of Christian orthodoxy’s deleterious effects throughout history: “From pope to pauper, Protestant to Catholic, Constantinople to the United States, the record is filled with atrocities, misunderstandings, persecutions, genocides, and oppressions so numerous as to bring fear into the hearts and minds of non-Christian peoples. Deloria was caustic in his criticism of America and other Western nations’ use of Christian orthodoxy to justify its expansionist goals: “At one time or another slavery, poverty, and treachery were all justified by Christianity as politically moral institutions of the state.” These harsh assessments offended a mainstream American establishment thoroughly suffused with Christian dogma.

In sum, Deloria spent his lifetime exposing the practices of a U.S. government that systematically reneged on its solemn promises to leave alone – to tolerate – Indian tribes with their native lands and traditions, and pointed the way forward for how that government should make amends for its egregious breaches of faith. As for his impact, Indian Law scholar Charles Wilkinson comments, “If you mark down the great figures of the American West in recent times, [Deloria] belongs there because of his role in reshaping Indian country…. I think in the last 100 years, he's been the most important person in Indian affairs, period.”