American Anthropologist Volume 98 issue 3 1996 [doi 10.1525%2Faa.1996.98.3.02a00280] John Mohawk -- Red Earth, White Lies- Native Americans and the Myth of Scientific Fact. Vine Deloria Jr.pdf

l ook Reviews Red Earth, White Lies: Native Americans and the Myth of Scientific Fact. Vine Deloria J r. New York: Scribner, 1995.286 pp. J OHN MOHAWK State University of New York at Buffalo Vine Deloria Jr.’s new book, Red Earth, White Lies: Native Americans and the Myth of Scientific Fact, is designed to make anthropologists feel uncom- fortable. Here he writes with the acid wit and energy we saw in earlier works such as Custer Died f or Your Sins (Macmilla
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  look eviews Red Earth White Lies: Native Americans and the Myth of Scientific Fact. Vine Deloria Jr. New York: Scribner, 1995.286 pp. JOHN OHAWK State University of New York at Buffalo Vine Deloria Jr ’s new book, Red Earth White Lies: Native Americans and the Myth of Scientific Fact is designed to make anthropologists feel uncom- fortable. Here he writes with the acid wit and energy we saw in earlier works such as Custer Died for our Sins (Macmillan, 1969 and God Is Red (Fulcrum, 1994 . His target is established anthropology and three of its theories: human migration across a Bering land bridge as the srcin of all Amerindian populations of the Americas; the extinction of many species of North America’s megafauna at the hands of paleehdians; and the accuracy of radiocarbon dating technology. With the style of a lawyer-he is, foremost, a social historian with a law degree-he launches a barrage of attacks at anthropologists who have promoted or abided these theories. Deloria’s concern is the theory embraced by an- thropology that, some 11,000 years ago, ancestors of contemporary American Indians crossed a land bridge which then connected Asia and Alaska and that they found a land with giant creatures who were unafraid of humans and therefore fell prey to skilled hunters. The Indians embarked on a slaughter of these animals, driving them to extinction. This version of prehistory, he says, is taught by anthropologists in universities as the unquestioned truth. Deloria argues the land bridge theory is far more problematic than the anthropology profession generally teaches, there is very little physi- cal evidence and extremely fuzzy logic to support the extinction of the megafauna at the hands of Paleolithic Indians, and radiocarbon dating is an imperfect sci- ence. He goes on to suggest that anthropologists should pay more attention to American Indian stories about what happened in the remote past for clues. Some readers will approach these arguments al- ready having agreed to disagree. Some will agree that scientific knowledge such as is proposed in the radio- carbon dating technology is hghly suspect, while oth- ers will defend it fervently. Some will find the argu- ments proposing land bridges in general and the Bering land bridge in particular to be pure speculation, while others will conclude that it remains the best theory to explain how some species apparently mi- grated from one continent to another. Deloria fires so many arrows that some of his arguments are certain to be singled out and subjected to excruciating interroga- tion. By inference, all of his arguments may be de- nounced as mendacious anthropology-bashing. Al- though this seems certain to happen in some instances, it would be extremely unfortunate if main- stream anthropology leaves it at that and does not ad- dress the points he makes at the core of his argument. When advocates of anthropology reply that De- loria’s characterizations of their profession as a nar- row-minded intellectual hierarchy are overstated, they should also concede that dissent is narrowly tolerated and often heartily punished within the established or der. They may argue that most of Deloria’s criticisms about the inaccuracies of radiocarbon testing have been corrected. Someone will point out that anthro- pology has on several occasions seriously considered much earlier dates for human occupation of North America, but these were rolled back when the proof was inconclusive or absent. In any case, it is clear that the argument around the dates of human occupation of the Americas is far from settled. Deloria presents some of the land bridge issues in a truly humorous vein (I found myself laughing aloud at moments) as he pictures ancient bisons gathered at the Asian shore of the Bering Strait waiting for the land bridge to open so they could migrate across for- midable mountain ranges and ice sheets to a new eco- logical niche opening up in Kansas and Nebraska, all the while meeting other species headed the opposite direction. No one has yet adequately explained how it could have happened in a way that gets these animals past all the obstacles. Evidence that there was a land bridge crossing by humans at that time is s yet incon- clusive, or at least inconclusive enough that other theories should be kept at hand. Deloria states, for example, that perhaps ancient people came to North America by water, and he points to an ancient Hopi tradition that supports this. While no evidence exists that ancient Amerindians arrived by boat, only a dog- matist would believe it impossible and only a dogma- tist would state that the Bering land bridge is a sure merican nthropologist 98(3):65 706. Copyright 1996 American Anthropological Association   OOK REVIEWS 65 thing, given the state of our knowledge about ancient peoples and how or why they moved from one place to another. Whether by land or by sea, it is agreed by every- one who is serious about the topic that big game hunt- ers were on the North American landscape some 11,000 years ago, in time to be named as suspects in the mysterious extinction of a significantly long list of large animals, including some of the largest and fierc- est fur-bearing predators on record. Anthropologists have theorized that these animals had no defenses (such as fright) against invading hunters, who, wield- ing stone and wooden tools, were able to slaughter these animals at will. Even children engaged in this deluge of bloodletting until there were no big game animals left and predators such as the saber-toothed tiger starved to extinction. A good defense attorney, defending his Indian client against the accusation that his ancestors were unecological slaughterers on a scale not equaled until Euro-American invaders slaughtered the buffalo in the 19th century, Deloria wants to know why the saber-toothed tiger did not simply dine on smaller animals that escaped extinc- tion. When Europeans arrived, there were (conserva- tively) 60 million American bison, and millions each of elk, caribou, deer, and so forth. Perhaps some future anthropologist was time-machined back to their era where she or he persuaded the giant carnivores not to eat deer and elk because to do so would render a perfectly good anthropological theory problematic, and these species of predators all starved to death in support of a good cause. Deloria also asks where the murder weapon is, where the piled heaps of bodies bearing knife marks are, where this evidence that would connect the al- leged perpetrator to the scene of the crime is. No American Indian would deny his ancestors were great hunters, but even the most autochthonocentric of us would have trouble with the picture of teenagers (or adults, for that matter) wandering into a herd of mam- moths and slaughtering them one after the other with spears until they stood surrounded in a mountain of carcasses. It is more likely that when anyone saw one of those creatures he or she was more interested in getting out of its way than in killing it, and it is much more likely that climate changes or some kind of bio- logical chain reaction set the stage for the extinctions. Deloria speculates that perhaps an ice comet struck the earth, somehow rendering a number of species ex- tinct. Clearly more work is needed, but anthropolo- gists could start by restraining themselves rom glee- fully pointing to the ecological foibles of the Indians and using as an example what may be the most laugh- able tenet in all of surviving anthropological theory. Vine Deloria Jr. is (obviously) not an anthropolo- gist and feels no need to offer nine kowtows to the profession's established order. His book will be widely read among Indians and others who are already alien- ated from the arrogant certainty with which some an- thropological theories are argued. His book is not an attempt to deconstruct anthropology in the same way the field of cultural studies has deconstructed British sociology in recent years, but his is distinctly a call for reevaluation and reflection. Deloria does not actually accuse anthropology of being Eurocentric, but his book rings with this as a subtext and the record cer- tainly supports the accusation to a degree. Many indi- vidual anthropologists are guilty to a lesser degree than the whole, most have distanced themselves from the errors of the past, and the general trend is toward a less authoritarian discipline where, indeed, many are working actively toward change. Deloria's book is cer- tainly a nudge in that direction, and an entertaining read as well. Black Elk s Religion: he Sun Dance and Lakotu Catholi- cism Clyde Holler. Syracuse: University of Syracuse Press, 1995.246 pp. WILLIAM . POWERS Rutgers University Appearing at the end of the millennium, the sud- den rash of books on Black Elk, the subject of John G. Neihardt's Black Elk Speaks (William Morrow, 1932), suggests a kind of rush to declare a prophet is born, albeit posthumously. The author of Black Elk s Religion, Clyde Holler, holds a Ph.D. in religion and has previously published on Black Elk ( Lakota Religion and Tragedy: The The- ology of Black Elk Speaks, Journal of the American Academy of Religion, 1984; and Black Elk's Relation- ship to Christianity, American ndian Quarterly, 1984). These essays were published in the same year Vine Deloria Jr. edited his tribute to John G. Neihardt, A Sender o Womls Essays in Memory of John G. Neihurdt (Howe Brothers), declaring Black Elk Speaks an American Indian bible. Also in 1984, Ray mond J. DeMallie edited The Sixth Grandfather: Black Elk s Teachings Given to John G. Neihurdt (Univer- sity of Nebraska Press), an analysis of Neihardt's srci- nal interviews, much better than the srcinal. Following in rapid succession are Paul Stein- metz's Pipe, Bible and Peyote among the Oglala Lak- otu (University of Tennessee Press, 1990); Julian Rice's Black Elk s Story: Distinguishing ts Lakotu Purpose (University of New Mexico Press, 1991); Mi- chael F. Steltencamp's Black Elk: Holy Man of the Oglala (University of Oklahoma Press, 1993); and
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