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An Inflammable River

September 17, 2010

In Chapter 19 of A People’s History of the United States (which I recently finished reading), Howard Zinn discusses the women’s movement, prison reform movement, and activism of American Indians in the late-60s and early 70s. At one point, Zinn provides a quotation from the Akwesasne Notes, a newspaper run by members of the Mohawk nation. In the quote, Vine Deloria, Jr. dismisses claims of white superiority with biting sarcasm:

Every now and then I am impressed with the thinking of the non-Indian. I was in Cleveland last year and got to talking with a non-Indian about American history. He said that he was really sorry about what had happened to Indians, but that there was a good reason for it. The continent had to be developed and he felt that Indians had stood in the way, and thus had had to be removed. “After all,” he remarked, “what did you do with the land when you had it?” I didn’t understand him until later when I discovered that the Cuyahoga River running through Cleveland is inflammable. So many combustible pollutants are dumped into the river that the inhabitants have to take special precautions during the summer to avoid setting it on fire. After reviewing the argument of my non-Indian friend I decided that he was probably correct. Whites had made better use of the land. How many Indians could have thought of creating an inflammable river?

For that matter, how many Indians could have spilled more than 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico?

4 Comments leave one →
  1. catullus permalink
    September 21, 2010 9:52 am

    But you don’t understand. The Indians aren’t capable of formulating the proper technological response to chemical dumping and oil spills. They’re only good at making sure such doesn’t happen in the first place. Where’s the fun in that?

  2. September 21, 2010 8:38 pm

    How many Indians died every year from hunger, sickness, and famine?

    People often forget that life on the plains wasn’t exactly a picnic.

  3. catullus permalink
    September 22, 2010 9:03 am

    Is it the terrain, I wonder? I’ve spent a lot of time on the plains of the Iberian meseta and immediately one sees a tough unrefined world given to exactly what ailed the natives of our plains.

  4. innocentsmithjournal permalink*
    September 22, 2010 9:05 pm

    zombiehero, surely it is possible to critique Western technological progress without romanticizing life on the plains. No?

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