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The Real Sun Dance

The Native American Wars Can Be Instructive These Days

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, January 16, 2002.

In Boulder, an agreement has nearly been reached with fourteen Native American tribes to allow -in perpetuity - access for tribal ceremonies on Boulder land.  This was prompted a while back when the David Skaggs building was put up on Broadway and stone arrangements were found that arguably could have been of religious significance to Indians.  We say arguably, because there had been a decided lack of interest in the area by tribes for some years and no previous claims of religious significance.  The Native American Community has been impressed with the pro-active stance of the Boulder City Government, and so am I, and if things are discovered in the future, temporary shelters for ceremonies can be set up and Indian culture will be respected.  

This was amazingly politically correct in the good sense: avoidance of conflict by civil behavior and decency towards the religious beliefs of others.  We could have used more of that in centuries past, and it is hard to argue with it now.

But there are factual problems.  I doubt the fourteen tribal groups could agree on lunch or what the significance to nomads might be of a circle of stones.  Most Americans have very inaccurate concepts of the cultures of American plain's Indians.  They had not existed as coherent units for millennia, and they changed and interbred often, simply melding their oral histories.  It is easy, listening to their stories, to forget that they had had the horse in Colorado only since the mid 1700s in any meaningful numbers to affect their lives.  It is highly unlikely that the Sioux ever saw the Black Hills until those same years, all blather about them being sacred in their hearts forever to the contrary.  It's annoying to hear current day Native Americans whine about desecrations of their supposedly sacred items when Indians routinely desecrated the corpses of their enemies and did not consider it wrong to kill women and children.  A necklace of children's' hands was something of which to be proud, for to obtain such - the most defended treasure of a tribe - the warrior must be very adept and brave indeed.  

Most people do not realize that the famous Seminole Tribe of Florida, which routinely handed the US military its butt on a platter, was not an Indian tribe at all, but a composite of the Tallahassees and escaped slaves.  There were many such tribes, because race meant nothing to them beyond curiosity.  Many white settlers cheerfully joined Indian tribes, and it was so common that Benjamin Franklin commented on it, and that none of them, to his knowledge, ever wanted to return.  John Walker in utero.  

Because of the Al-Qaeda War, the very issues represented by this very local initiative cast, or should cast, long shadows.  It is not inaccurate to say the cultural values of tribal, often Arab, and nearly always Islamic minds are at war with the United States and western civilization.  They resent our cultural encroachment.  They resent that compatibility with us will demand that the patriarchal oligarchies must fade.  They resent that the alpha male criteria has changed in ways with which they cannot - or choose to not - compete.  They resent, or may not be aware, that the only way they can militarily defeat us is to become more like us as a civilization, and destroy their own culture from within.  This is all similar to the Native American conflicts.  For that matter, it is the same problem the Confederacy had.

The looming anti-guerilla conflicts around the world recast the American military and civilization in very different molds from that of the wars of the twentieth century from Balkan One to Cold.  We are again fighting frontier wars, undeclared, against aboriginals.  We do so for many of the same reasons that we built the Powder River forts in Wyoming after the Civil War: to protect commerce, settlement, and prevent bloodshed between the tribes.  The Army then was, in the main, incompetent, under-funded, untrained, and amazingly fortunate that the Indians were even worse at fighting wars.  We lost the Powder River Bozeman Trail War to Red Cloud, and the forts were burned.  It was not important; as a civilization we had already won.

That is not the case today.  The military is impressive, well funded, and motivated.  The anti-Occidents are strapped by the same problems that Tecumseh, Osceola, and Metacom faced.  They cannot unite against an enemy without surrendering local control.  They cannot operate economically in the world without surrendering that same campfire control.  They cannot afford to police their own when virtually half of their people - the female half - wants desperately to have the same status as the men and to have lives of some freedom of action, and so they cannot entirely be trusted and must be held back.  This is cultural Darwinism at work, and Islam loses if it does not change.  On the other side, they have the bomb and billions of people.  But not much else.

It strikes me as sad that a culture is reduced to claiming mighty significance to stone-age stone circles or even early hippy wannabe campsites, since there is no real way to tell after a quarter century.  They have no literature, there is no way to verify if their music is ancient or their stories true or even their own.  But it takes small effort to honor it for them.  These are failed civilizations that could neither protect nor define themselves nor adapt.  

I believe in Afghanistan and around the world we are seeing, in oversimplified but true terms, the last gasps of the patriarchal campfires that only two hundred years ago dotted the hills before the Flatirons and fifty years ago withered before black and white television sets as the family ate dinner watching tales of idiot fathers and their families played out to a laugh track.  To me, the stone circles are of no more significant than a trash dump of TV dinner trays, just more ecologically friendly.  This is Dark Cloud.