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A Voice in the Wilderness

As nightfall does not come at once, neither does oppression. In both instances, there's a twilight where everything remains seemingly unchanged, and it is in such twilight that we must be aware of change in the air, however slight, lest we become unwitting victims of the darkness. -- William O. Douglas

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee - by Dee Brown - my review

This book succinctly summarizes the plight of Americas' indigenous people. I found myself reading the history feeling as though I was pushed off a cliff. This sustained free-fall just never seemed to get better. This is not a 'feel good' book; it echos themes of betrayal, bigotry and avarice as Native Americans steadily were broken down and extinguished and their way of life was encroached upon - displaced by a budding nation's fantasy quest to fulfill its Euro-centric ideology of Manifest Destiny. The ideology that fueled justification for explosive westward territorial expansion to the Pacific coast.

The book is laid out as a chronicle and references interesting events in a time line which gives a sense of contextual reality as the tragic history which, if it were not true, would read like some fantastic tale of genocide. Unfortunately, the reality is weighted with historical evidence and this book serves as a telling synopsis of how Human Beings are capable of destroying entire cultures when greed and ambition are served by religious and social conventions bent to serve selfish gains.

My emotions raged from surprise to rage and, hopelessness to profound despair. Dee Brown, the librarian-turned-author has delivered a timeless piece of work which challenges any thinking person to question how history is being taught.

The book touches me on so many levels - things I can neither divulge in this writing and things I cannot even begin to explain. Nonetheless, it forces me to reckon with who I am as a member of Humanity and it compels me to carry a deeper understanding for what it means to be alive.

My ethnicity is that of a 'mestizo' (Sp) - mixed blood person's - heritage. I carry the mongrel mix of my European and middle eastern roots and my DNA also belies the heritage of America's native people. Consequently, the angst I feel is one which tugs at bittersweet sense of right and wrong, of destiny and direction; my ancestors walked this earth both as conquerors and as conquered.

What the book does for me is it re-acquaints me with how the world is never simply black and white. My sense of social justice and moreover the deep understanding that every Human Being has an intrinsic value are clouded with shades of gray. What disturbs me most however is how wholesale destruction of a people can be carried out by what I can only describe as God-fearing, decent Human Beings driven by wanton, self-serving interests. Even more appalling is just how far we, as a species are willing to go in order to justify avarice.

I highly recommend this book - not because of the repulsiveness of violence - but, because it serves as a touchstone for our collective consciousness. In a world where atrocities seem the rule rather than an exception to the Human experience, I believe this book serves our better interests because it acts as a mirror upon which we can reflect. Its sharp focus serves to dull the lines of distinction that we love to invoke in our need to set ourselves apart from our fellow Human Beings.

Such reflection leads to contemplation and cognition which, far and away, is far better than rationalization of the variety where we can diminish the value of anyone who happens to be different. The truest danger we all are at risk for is mistakenly believing that our differences are so great that the only explanation which will suffice is to deem one another inferior and thus not worthy of the full measure of respect that we all deserve - simply because we are members of the Human species.

One thread that I found particularly fascinating was the level of eloquence all of the chiefs quoted in their communication. If anything, it sheds light on a highly intelligent, cultured and elegant in their dialogue - quite different from the invocations of noble savages of James Fenimore Cooper or the bigoted rants of 'civilized' European descendants and Hollywood archetypes so prevalent in the movies of my childhood. These people weren't 'John Wayne' Indians.

Do yourself a favor and read what they had to say. Their words are brilliant and thoughtful.

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