Re: Native Americans and Tribal History

Richard Spear (rspear@PRIMENET.COM)
Sat, 26 Aug 1995 08:37:55 -0800

On 26 Aug 95 at 1:25, (Pat Tucker) wrote:

> >My concern is for historical truth and knowledge, not marxist doctrine
> applied to Native American peoples and disguised as "academic philosophy".

I suggest that Johnson would agree that his remarks are hardly
Marxist. It does not appear "Marxist" to me. BTW, calling Johnson's
contributions "academic philosophy" is probably the greatest cut of
all ... he has consistently taken positions in opposition to academic

> You deny the problems of reconstructing culture and ethnohistory of
> particular groups caused by space-time systematics. To define "Indianess"
> for any aboriginal group must take into account the history of that
> particular group and its relationship to white contact and its effects on the
> evolution or devolution of the group's culture.

This isn't denied. The point was just *who* should do this? Should
not a People's history and culture be in their own hands?

> The historical record for any native group (living or extinct) is frought
> with inaccuracies and distortion of events, actions and content that become
> entered into the written record as fact.
[long Positivist/Modernist agrument deleted ...]

I'm a Positivist/Modernist (and Marxist) too, so I share your desire to
"understand" and your vision of "truth" ... but not everyone thinks
that what scientists do reveals any reality but their own. Other
cultures in particular have alternative world views that allow for
the alteration of past, present and future and trying to present
their history "scientifically" will only offend or amuse them.

> The bottom line is that we must recogzine the problems caused by space and
> time on history and culture and devise methods to sift through primary
> documents and sources to reconstruct the history and culture of a Native
> American group and chart its evolution or devolution to be able to specify
> what it means for example to be an "Odawa" or "Wyandot". Being of Indian
> blood is not the sole criterion, nor for that matter a criterion, to speak of
> historical truth and knowledge.

The above paragraph (at least the last sentence) seems to make
Johnson's point for him. A culture can redefine the relationships as
it wishes (in certain circumstances) and the "historical record" and
(as you say) blood groupings would have little impact on who is or
isn't defined as a member the group. Who's analysis is right ...
Cavalli-Svorza's or the culture's? What is reality ... the culture's
or the Materialist's?

I'm not going to speak for Johnson. I think he is saying that the
work of determining a culture's past should be left to (or involve
heavily) them. I've got no argument with that.