How can an Anglo offer
a perspective on American Indians?
It is presumptuous for non-Indians to speak as
experts about Indian matters. We can try only
to raise our awareness of Indian culture so as
to have a greater understanding and appreciation
for them as a people.
What are some of the
problems that you encountered in your research?
The first problem in talking about Indian people
is which Indian people? There were more
than five hundred tribes in North America when
the Europeans arrived. Each was an individual
nation, some as different as Britain is from
France in language and culture, others as
different as the British are from the Chinese.
Sign language came into being because Indians
never shared a common language. They needed
hand signs to trade with each other.
Indians are not a homogenous group. Few
generalizations apply from one tribe to the
other. The grave mistake that our ancestors
made was that they put all Indians into one
category, one class. The name of that class
Indian cultures were very complex in every way
that we now measure civilizations. In
government. In religion. In the arts. In
earth sciences. In many tribes, the success of
the Indian societies was superior to the
European societies who judged them.
What were some of the
When European white men first heard Indian
drumming and singing, for example, they
considered it non-musical, a form of savage
screaming. In fact, the music had an eastern
scale, not a western one. The fact that
Eurocentric musicians could not notate the
Indian songs was due to their deficiency,
not to lack of merit of the Indian composition.
In nearly every
aspect of Indian culture, the Europeans missed
the significances. They dismissed what they
could not understand. Any humanistic impulse
was sacrificed to greed—greed for land, greed
for gold or silver, and now for uranium or
non-Indian America still does not understand the
values of American Indian culture. We continue
to dishonor them, to call for their surrender
into our culture. Historically, our government
has perpetrated a genocide against American
Indians, and to this very day, we deny them
treaty rights and elemental justice that negates
our own Constitution and honor. If we study,
with an open mind and an open heart, the
treatment of Indians in our country, we will
weep tears of shame. As a nation, we do not
live up to our professed ideals. In many acts of
our government, American Indians are still
treated like prisoners of war, or even more
humiliating, as children.
What was your motivation for writing novels
with Native American characters?
did not set out to study or to remedy the errors
of the ugly history with regard to American
Indians. I was both blind and ignorant to their
In writing a
novel that engendered visionary experiences,
that is, content that presented itself apart
from my research or intelligence, my principal
character took me to Santa Fe and to a Pueblo
Indian traditional community. I didn’t ask
why. I followed the character and did the
research he required to function as a
multidimensional personality. His path led on
and on, for years and years through the writing
of four separate novels. He now beckons me to a
fifth. Along the path, I read more than fifty
books and traveled to the places the character
wanted to go.
consciousness was altered in the process. I
became a more intuitive person. I believe that
my attention, focus, and contemplation of the
American Indian world helped me become a better
you an Indian wannabe?
was not necessary (or desirable) to become an
Indian wannabe in my process. I can never be an
Indian. But I can learn. I can improve myself
through respect. I can honor what I respect.
And I can promote what I honor.
Don’t you run into hostility when you
research among Indians?
Sure. For very good reasons, Indians are
angry. Indians distrust wannabes and
non-Indians who want to study them. The record
of betrayal by white missionaries,
anthropologists, and writers is an outrage that
causes them to shun us with suspicion. I am
disappointed when my sincerity is questioned,
but I understand what causes the reaction. We
have not earned their trust. Time and time
again, our culture has failed to keep its word,
its promises. We are viewed as just the most
There is that conflict, but don’t Indians
also have problems among themselves?
there is turmoil at the tribal level. Who is
qualified to be a tribal member? What
percentage of Indian blood? Who rules the
tribe—traditional elders or tribal politicians?
In many tribes, economic control is given
precedence over preserving the language and
spiritual traditions. Most tribes are split
along these lines. In some places, violence is
common in the battle for tribal resources.
Full-blood, traditionally oriented Indians are
in the minority. Often they battle for cultural
preservation against those who have seized
political control of the tribal identity. It is
almost impossible for non-Indians to play
positive roles in this struggle.
Greed on the
reservations may be the ultimate killer of
tribal languages and sacred ceremonies that
contain unique knowledge important to
humankind. And when it is lost, it is lost
forever. Most of the understanding of reality
contained in the languages and traditions of the
five hundred original tribal nations has already
been lost. It is a great tragedy to human
evolution. Humankind cannot afford to lose the
few that may yet be saved.
Your books have a
strong ecological point of view. Can you talk
Indo-European culture based on Greek logic and
the objectification of nature is killing the
planet. Its warped reality requires an
intuitive balance for us to survive as a
species. We Indo-Europeans desperately need the
insights of the intuitive, land-based human
cultures. In destroying them, we cut ourselves
off from our Earth Mother who will, in the
fullness of time, reject our exploitation of air
and water and allow us to pass away.
Here’s a bumper
sticker: “Right Brain. Left Brain. Get it
about how the division of basic cultures
perceive reality. Rational Man vs. Intuitive
which represents the objectification of nature
as reality, is now the dominant culture of
planet Earth. The land-based intuitive peoples
of the planet are being forced into extinction.
Indians are a great treasure. We must honor
them, respect them, and seek justice for them if
we, too, are to survive.
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