An Inflammable River
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?