"The experience of the American Indian is an itch in the national conscience difficult to scratch. We can say we abolished slavery, ignoring, of course, its social and psychological legacy for African Americans. We can say immigrants chose to immigrate, ignoring economic injustices they may suffer here or the political reasons that may have motivated them to leave their native countries. But how do we account for the irrefutable genocide and robbery of American Indians in American history? With our innate sense of entitlement and private property, how can we come to terms with the notion that the land on which we live might not rightfully be ours?
If we have dealt with the American Indian at all, it usually has been with two alternating stereotypes: the fallen nature god, whom we pity and whose artifacts we admire in museums when he is defeated; and the wagon-burner, who threatens territory and control when he is not defeated. Mostly, we choose to ignore the American Indian, and we adhere to the adage "The past is the past."
The new Penguin Library of American Indian History has published "The Shawnees and the War for America" by Colin G. Calloway and "The Cherokee Nation and the Trail of Tears" by Theda Perdue and Michael D. Green, the first two books in a proposed series that Calloway (also the series' general editor) claims "will present readers with stories that have long remained untold, distorted, or misunderstood" and "will do much to change how we think about American history." The authors in the series must endeavor then to interrogate not only so-called conventional narratives but also a mind-set intrinsic to American identity.
Calloway, in his introduction, indicates that he is not Shawnee and wisely, rather than trading in debates over privileged points of view regarding representation, identifies many of the sources — records kept by the British, French, Spaniards and Americans, along with recorded Indian orations — that have enabled him to "relate a crucial piece of American history [that] places the Shawnees center stage." Equally important, he undermines the notion that there is one Shawnee point of view: The Shawnees have been, and remain, a complicated, diverse people who, before European contact, integrated aspects of other indigenous cultures, a flexibility that helped them to adapt and resist European and American cultures.
The Shawnees probably originated in the Ohio Valley, though it is unclear since conflicts with other tribes pushed west by the colonists displaced them well before significant European settlement. Calloway recounts the 60 years when the Shawnees "stood in the front lines, waging a war of territorial resistance that ranged across the present-day states of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana and Missouri." Moving from place to place, often spread apart as a nation, sometimes factionalized, they nonetheless earned a reputation as fierce fighters, several times organizing confederacies with other tribes to resist invasion and ultimately claiming the biggest American Indian victory ever, in 1791, at the Battle of St. Clair (also known as the Battle of the Wabash) in which more than 600 American soldiers were killed, making Custer's defeat at Little Bighorn 85 years later look rather insignificant by comparison."
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Greg Sarris: 'The Shawnees and the War for America' by Colin G. Calloway and 'The Cherokee Nation and the Trail of Tears' by Theda Perdue and Michael D. Green
(The Los Angeles Times 7/8)