Friday, August 31, 2007

Great White Father

In an unexpected exchange with a fellow hiker at the park the other day, I discovered a surprising mythological remnant residing in the liberal lexicon embodied in my elderly acquaintance's worldview. Apparently warped by the whitebread bias of the Discovery Channel and Smithsonian magazine, he was struggling with his own prejudice openly expressed as an inability to surmount the desire that indigenous peoples remain noble primitives uncompromised by modern economies, technology, geopolitics, or their horrific histories.

In fact, he was lamenting that Native Americans were engaging in resource extraction on Indian reservations at a time when there is so little left of ancient forests and undeveloped landscapes. In venting his genuine frustrations, he actually said, "The Indians need to compromise."

Exploring further this psychic disturbance that had my companion so unsettled, it became clear that what he was articulating was the very mainstream position of save-the-earth campaigns focused on specific remnants of pristine real estate at the exclusion of considering the way of life that ravaged the rest. Clasping at a corollary dominant society argument that original peoples need to forget the past and move on in a more cooperative, assimilating attitude, he posited that the past is gone.

Realizing he honestly did not understand, I asked him if Jews should forget the holocaust. I asked him if the traumas suffered by American Indians -- including those of his generation who'd been torn from their families and shipped to Christian boot camps -- are not something that still affects them and their children. I asked him how we can possibly make amends and coexist if we neglect to come to terms with our tragic experience together on this continent.

In his novel Sharpest Sight, Louis Owens gently assails the Great White Father doctrine still prevalent in US relations with the indigenous nations of North America. Illuminating alternate realities proposed by our broad social dichotomy would seem to be a good starting point for those trying to get a grip on our collective psychic transition.


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