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February 23, 2008


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Great post. I haven't read Lear's book but will soon get it.

Lear's assessment that Plenty Coup was “facing up to reality” strikes me as strange and bitterly ironic. It is natural that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend," but what kind of "friend" did the US government turn out to be for the Sioux or any Indian peoples? The US government was equal in its treatment of Indians--the four hundred treaties it broke hurt all Indians. The Termination Policy of the fifties didn't target any single group of Indians or help any single group. It hurt them all.

I just read a strange mini-biography of the Life of Tipi Sapa, also a Sioux. Tipi Sapa adopted the name Philip Deloria; his grandson, Vine Deloria, Jr., would write Custer Died for Your Sins--An Indian Manifesto. The biography was written by Joseph Bennett, a high-ranking Mason. Bennett waxes on and on about the honor Tipi Sapa brought to Episcopalian Christianity by converting himself and then thousands of other Sioux to the religion of the dominant culture. He unashamedly comments on the price Tipi Sapa paid to convert--he had to cut his hair, change his name, change his clothes, and change his religion, and use English as his dominant language. All in all, an excellent example of dericination.

So Lean says that Plenty Coup was smart to align himself with the dominant culture. Short-sighted intelligence if you ask me.


Ronald Sundstrom

Thanks. Lear's book is very much worth reading. The idea of "radical hope" is applicable beyond the context of the story of the Crow and the Sioux. In Charles Taylor's review in the New York Review of Books, he applies the idea of "conceptual collapse" to larger society: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/20110

What happens when our world changes so radically that our concepts no longer make sense? The virtues that we use as guideposts no longer make sense and acting according to them may actually be destructive or exacerbate our problems. E.g., if the atmosphere get radically worse, or availability of clean, potable dramatically decreases for a significant portion of people in the U.S., how will we use our guiding concepts--such as individual rights--in such a situation. Perhaps "rights," or at least "property rights," in this context will no longer make sense or undergo an emergency sense of meaning.

As for Plenty Coups, Lear doesn't take a rigidly conservationist (conservative?) line on cultural retention. Lear makes the point that Plenty Coup helped his people live in and adapt to a new world. They were then able to save and reconstruct parts of their traditional cultural, and adapt all of them to the new world they lived in.

Because of Plenty Coups' leadership, some of the degradations suffered by other tribes, such as being forced to walk the trail of tears, or out-right dispossession of all their lands, didn't happen to the Crow. They retained a good portion of the lands they were granted by the U.S. government. So, in defense of Lear, one could argue that the U.S.'s actions were brutal and exploitative, but weren't "capricious." Thus, Plenty Coups didn't just get lucky, he understood and successfully navigated the demands of a conquering U.S. government. Lear uses Plenty Coups' lack of support for the "Ghost Dance" as evidence of Plenty Coups' ability to understand and work with this new reality. Unlike Plenty Coups, Sitting Bull promoted the Ghost Dance,the dancing of which was part of the provocation that led to the massacre at Wounded Knee.


For what it's worth, Plenty Coups was a Crow and thus a lifelong enemy of the Sioux, not one of their chiefs. In fact it was partly in response to their traditional enmity that the Crow allied themselves with the United States. This is why the Crow fared marginally better in terms of traditional land. Easy enough juxtaposition to make though.

While I enjoyed the book enormously and found most of it both pleasant to read and very well argued, I found Lear's distinction between rational engagement for survival and "collaboration" a bit blurry. If Quisling in Norway or the Vichy administration in France had claimed to be led by a dream, would we excuse them? How would their position be significantly different if they they truly thought they were facing the extinction of their culture and society as they knew? Anybody else have any thoughts?But I was actually wondering if anybody else has any thoughts on this?


Oh, and the other thing that occurred to me was that Plenty Coups assertion that after a certain point "nothing happened" actually seems to work against Lear's own analysis. Because the comment was made after the transition from one set of societal expectations to another (i.e. the supplanting of one type of Crow subject [the nomadic warrior] with another [the sedentary farmer]) the "nothing" in the statement would seem to imply that the new way of life is precisely NOT existentially equivalent. I.e. Plenty Coups does not say, "Our old world ended and we were uncertain what was to come but then this new life happened and it is our way forward." The new, adapted life learned using the chickadee's advice is summed up as "nothing."
Or did I misread?

Puma Shoes

Yes, I agree to this blog that the parent should educate their kids at the early stage of their life. So that they can easily adapt themselves when they are ready to go to school. It must be not the high end one, but at least a kid can do anything to it to learn basics.

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