Synopses & Reviews
The problem of history for North American Indians is that historical consciousness has traditionally been irrelevant to them, perhaps even dangerous. Time, with its attendant experiences, realities, and knowledge, was not linear, progressive, and novel. Their vision of themselves in relation to the cosmos was very different from the anthropocentric perspective that came to dominate Western thinking. Each of the eighteen authors herein wrestles with the phenomenon that in writing about Indians and whites in concert scholars are perforce trying to mesh two very different structures and systems of reality and knowledge--two fundamentally different cosmologies--which in fact do not really fit together. In essays written especially for this volume, each scholar confronts the problem from his or her distinct experience as historian, anthropologist, professional writer, Native or non-Native American. This in not a book about methodology; it probes far deeper than that. It questions whether formal Western history has the philosophical power and imagination to enable scholars to write about life and world societies who were conceived in history, who did not willingly launch themselves out onto an historical trajectory, and who performed in the Western vision and errand of history only through coercion. Here, then, is a study of the "metaphysics" of writing Indian-white history.
North American Indians have traditionally held conceptions of history, time and the universe that are vastly different from those of European civilizations. How, then, can Western historians begin to write accurately and without bias about societies who shunned "history" and who performed in our Western vision and errand of history only through coercion? Here, eighteen prominent authors wrestle with the phenomenon that in writing about Indian-white relations they are perforce trying to mesh two fundamentally different world-views. In pieces written expressly for this volume, the contributors--who include a cross-section of historians, anthropologists, professional writers, and native Americans--cover such diverse topics as cultural pluralism and ethnocentrism, native American dancing and ritual, the experiences of native American women, and attitudes toward the environment. In considering the deep and chronic issues of Indian-white relations, these controversial essays look anew at Indian cultural ideals and restore them to their proper place in American history.