The white man was the first guest at the Indian’s table, if uninvited. What white people say about American Indians is therefore more important than what anyone else says. If Indians must consider anyone outside our own tribes, it should be the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant. This is the one people with whom we have to do. The others make only a dark, dreadful drone of discontent, a hackneyed hounding from an international consortium of degenerate racists. Today we would honor the strength of the great ‘pale-face’ who first shared our fare.
The English also shared their thoughts about Indians from the beginning. These historical impressions have not changed, even three centuries later. The WASP defined the Indian image—like a historical ‘Kodak moment.’ This image affects the way the Indian relates to the white man even today.
Indians can think positively even about tragedy. Here is a wonderfully stylized “Chickasaw Removal” jacket, woven and designed by Margaret Roach Wheeler (Chickasaw), commemorating the great walk from the Southern woodlands to Oklahoma, in the 1830’s. The Indian spirit is still strong, in all ways.
The Indian let the white man set the table manners. The Englishman was apparently unwilling or unable to accommodate any other. The Indian hero, gracious as he always was to visitors, if uninvited, indulged the white man. The Indian spirit was grand. It could afford the foreigner’s neurosis.
But consider the English reaction to this Indian behavior. The Englishman’s soul was divided asunder.
Cadwallader Colden, a Scot (born in Ireland) was a “British” governor in New York in the 1760’s. In the colonies since the 1710, the physician Colden made reports to leaders of the entire English province. He wrote to Governor William Burnet, later publishing reports of 1727 and 1747. The reports were called The History of the Five Indian Nations Depending on the Province of New York in America. He addresses the five nations the French had previously identified: the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca nations—essentially, the Iroquois Confederation.
Colden reveals the fundamental, classic double mind with which the civilized, English Christian regarded the Indian. The Indian was both superior and inferior—equal to the most noble of the world, and yet crippled by vice.
“The Five Nations are a poor Barbarous People, under the darkest Ignorance, and yet a bright and noble Genius shines thro’ these black Clouds. None of the greatest Roman Hero’s have discovered a greater Love to their Country, or a greater Contempt of Death than these Barbarians have done, when Life and Liberty came in Competition. Indeed, I think our Indians have out-done the Romans in this particular.”
Then Colden singles out the vice of “revenge” as the Indian’s dominant crippling disposition, and chides the English Christian for failing to change it.
“These Infidels…are become worse than they were before they knew us. Instead of Virtues we have only taught them Vices, that they were entirely free of before that time.”
Colden renders further, detailed accounts of Indians and comments:
“These Stories may seem incredible to many, but will not appear to be Improbable to those who know how extremely Revengeful the Indians naturally are. That they every day undertake the greatest Fatigues, the longest Journeys, and the greatest Dangers, to gratifie that Devouring Passion, which seems to gnaw at their Souls, and gives them no ease until it is satisfied. All Barbarous Nations have been observed to be Revengful and Cruel, and certain Consequences of an unbounded Revenge, as the Curbing of these Passions is the happy effect of being Civilized.”
This Colden says, as the English brutalized their own in the name of their inglorious system of law—for the early likes of which Shakespeare fancied the killing of all lawyers! Thus saith the Butcher, in King Henry the Sixth (Second Part, IV, ii).
But Colden can’t concede such noble law to Indians. “Justice” in the Indian has to be “revenge.” Law is vice.
So the Englishman sees himself in the Indian, if acknowledging only the half.
The Englishman met his match in the Indian. It was ironic, but fortuitous. No other guest would rightly have sat at the Indian’s table. The Englishman alone was worthy. If the noble savage is forever in “darkest Ignorance,” it is well that he share it with other nobles. The white man is equally proud, strong, and blind to himself, whose philosophical objectivity never exempts him from the same error he espies in others.
The Indian intuitively recognized that from the beginning. Strength knows strength. The Englishman just seemed a bit more wordy when it came to articulating his own, (a ‘legal’ trait which has finally weakened him somewhat).
But we rightfully presume his thanks. And he’s still a great sportster, even right after dinner.