Review of Red Earth, White Lies by Vine Deloria (science/phil.)

Steve Brock (
13 Nov 1995 21:04:03 GMT

FACT by Vine Deloria. Scribner, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, N.Y.,
NY 10020, (800) 223-2336, (212) 698-7007 FAX. Index, bibliography,
notes. 286 pp., $23.00 cloth. 0-684-80700-9

Reviewed by Steve Brock

At one time, Vine Deloria, professor of history, law,
religious studies, and political science at the University of
Colorado, Boulder, placed great importance on the ability of
science to explain history and the natural world. The more science
he learned, however, the more it came in conflict with his common
sense and the oral traditions taught by his Sioux elders.
In "Red Earth, White Lies," Deloria argues that these
differences in perspective, especially the Bearing migration theory
and allegations that Indians have been responsible for the
extinction of the mammoth and other mega-herbivores (called the
"Pleistocene overkill" hypothesis), stem from the
institutionalization of knowledge in an academic setting.
This framework of interpretation, he says, fails to give
credence to facts that challenge prevailing paradigms. Science
celebrates the ability of meteorologists to seed clouds to make
rain, for example, but discounts the ability of a Sioux medicine
man to alter all aspects of the weather.
The book, the first of a three-volume series comparing science
and traditional beliefs, makes several good points, but Deloria's
shotgun, all-or-nothing approach and strident advocacy leave him
open to charges of fundamentalism, indiscriminate indictment, and,
worst of all, not being taken seriously, at a time when the need
for an examination of the truths expressed by Indian elders has
never been greater.
One of the great thinkers of our time, Deloria never fails to
provoke us as he ponders. Grade: B.