“Indians are like the weather. ” With his opening words Vine Deloria Jr. sets up the basis for the rest of his witty yet substantial manifesto, Custer Died for Your Sins. The book, which describes the struggles and misrepresentation of the American Indian people in 1960s American culture, is written in a style that changes from ironic and humorous satire to serious notions, then back again.
Through energetic dialogue that engages the reader in a clever and articulate presentation, Deloria advocates the dismissal of old stereotypes and shows a viewpoint that allows the general public to gain a deeper understanding of what it is to be an American Indian. In the first chapter of his manifesto, called Indians Today: The Real and Unreal, Deloria outlines the truths and purposeful deceptions on how American Indians were perceived by the white society in the 1960s.
One of the most prevalent deceptions that the white people often abused was the notion that they had an Indian ancestor, most commonly an Indian grandmother of royal descent. Deloria explains that this false lineage may be due to a variety of reasons, but is likely an extension of the fact that white people believe that Indians are so easy to understand. Jokingly, he describes that he “once did a projection backward and discovered that evidently most tribes were entirely female for the first three hundred years of white occupation. The author explores a serious topic of the underestimation of his people through ironic humor. It is this aspect of Deloria’s writing that makes it so unique and captivating at the same time. He is able to deal with serious issues and keep the reader interested. Overall, he expressed that his people suffer from this stereotyping and lack of true understanding because white people tend to believe they already understand Native Americans, labeling them as Indians, the lost tribe of Israelites and as wild animals, without taking the time to gain an understanding through true interaction.
One of the most profound viewpoints that the author expresses in this chapter, however, is his rejection of the so called friends of American Indians as well as those who view them only as savages and/or a primitive civilization. His writing outlines how the people that have misconceived notions of helping their fellow “man” through religion or study have the very same problem of lack of understanding. He writes very simply that, “What we need is a cultural leave-us-alone agreement in spirit and fact. The precision of this statement is another attribute about Deloria’s writing that makes is so compelling. Whether you agree with the statement or not, it very clearly defines his view on the subject. He believes that the very idea of trying to solve the problem is the problem to begin with. Native Americans do not need to absorb into what white America thinks of as modern society, they need to be left alone. He calls for “fewer and fewer experts on Indians. ” The first chapter serves as a basis for the rest.
Chapter two, like the rest, take up individual examples of ideas expressed in the beginning of the manifesto. Titled, Laws and Treaties, it deals with the disregard of many agreements between the United States government and native peoples. Deloria does not simply outline the problem but uses unique examples to stress his points. He calls out the hypocrisies of the government by comparing their philosophies with their actions. “The message was that America had to keep her commitments is southeast Asia or the world would lose faith in the promises of our country.
Some years back Richard Nixon warned the American people that Russia was bad because she had not kept any treaty or agreement signed with her. You can trust the Communists, the saying went, to be Communists. ” Using the leaders of our nation own words, he shows how the government contradicts itself when it has not kept a single of the over four hundred treaties it signed with the Native Americans. Writing, “It would take Russia another century to make and break as many treaties as the United States has already violated,” Deloria uses common knowledge with an ironic touch to get his point across to the average American.
Deloria continues his argument against the ill effects of the “friends” of Native Americans in the next four chapters, The Disastrous Policy of Termination, Anthropologists and Other Friends, Missionaries and the Religious Vacuum, and Government Agencies. Each of these chapters covers the different organizations and groups that have tried to help Native Americans but have only extended their prejudice as a result. Whether it was trying to eliminate Indian tribes in an attempt to assimilate, study in an attempt to understand, conversion is an attempt to save, or organization in n attempt to manage, Deloria states that attempts to “help” his people were failures from the get go. Through his unique and, in these sections, somewhat aggressive style, he makes an example out of all the people he believes to have their own self-interests at heart when “helping” the American Indians. At times, this aggression can come out one-sided, but still advocates his viewpoints very effectively. One of the most interesting chapters in his manifesto is the chapter entitled Indian Humor. This chapter greatly shows off some of Deloria’s one of a kind writing style as well as his unique outlook on political and social issues.
He describes how humor can create bonds between two groups, whether it is between Indians or Indians and white men. Pointing out the example of using commonalities to unite Native American tribes after the white man’s arrival, Deloria emphasizes satire is an important part of resolving conflicts. He expresses that humor is an alternative for direct confrontation since it did not destroy the ego or lower self-esteem. Problems could be dealt with without any personal disputes. This ideology allows the reader to understand the author’s intentions throughout his entire manifesto.
Deloria constantly uses irony, humor and amusing notions to clarify his point. In this way, he does not openly offend his main audience, the common American. Still, he points out issues he feels need to be seriously addressed and keeps the reader engaged. He writes that, “When a people can laugh at themselves and laugh at others and hold all aspects of life together without letting anybody drive them to extremes, then it seems to me that that people can survive. ” The rest of the chapters in the novel are relatively dated, referring to different ways to improve the American Indian condition and its relation to whites in the 1960s.
These chapters take on a more serious tone but generally still use the same techniques to illustrate Deloria’s ideas. Throughout his manifesto, the author does an excellent job of supporting his viewpoints, bringing up factual examples and quotes in a, lack for a better word, hilarious manner. Some of his ideas may seem a bit one-sided to some people, but all the same are well supported and are valid areas of interest when it comes to the Native American and white relationship. The major trength of this book is that it is extremely well-written. Since it is a pleasure to read, it helps Deloria get his ideas out to the American public and his own people in an entertaining way. Although he uses humor to drive many of his points, Deloria ends on a serious note. He writes that, “Hopefully, enough Indian people will take the time to reflect of their situation, on the things going on around them in both the cities and on the reservations, and will choose the proper points of leverage by which Indian renewal can be fully realized. ”