Sunday, December 17, 2006

"Big Soldier" and the Contrast of Indian and Euro-american Language and Spiritual Culture

"Everything about you is in chains, and you are slaves yourselves."

In 1822, the United States invited a delegation of the Osage people to visit Washington, D.C., the government sought to woo and impress these people from the where the Ozarks meet the Plains with the "glory" and "progress" of white man’s civilization. Akidatonka (or “Big Soldier” as it was mis-translated into English )* gave this statement containing the well- thought- out reasons for his resistance to the official wooing and pressure to assimilate- to the Indian Agent who interviewed him when he returned to his homelands. His words were recorded for posterity by that same Indian agent and are hailed as a perfect example of timeless Indian resistance to assimilation into the Western ideology. Famous indian scholar and author, Vine Deloria , Jr., refers to this response as "the best thing any Indian ever said."

I see and admire your manner of living, your good warm houses, your extensive corn-fields, your gardens, your cows, oxen, work-horses, wagons, and a thousand machines that I know not the use of; I see that you are able to clothe yourselves, even from weeds and grass. In short, you can do almost what you choose. You whites possess the power of [subduing] almost every animal [to your] use. You are surrounded by slaves. Everything about you is in chains, and you are slaves yourselves. I fear if I should exchange my pursuits for yours, i too should become a slave. Talk to my sons; perhaps they may be persuaded to adopt your fashions, or at least recommend them to their sons; but for myself, I was born free, was raised free, and wish to die free. . . I am perfectly contented with my condition.

Story cited in Spirit and Resistence: Political Theology and American Indian Liberation

Tinker writes, " Having seen the center of euro-american power, having seen the great city of Washington, "Big soldier" came away singularly unimpressed. Osages had already experienced the technological edge- especially military prowess- that euro-americans had developed. And "Big Soldier" to some degree pays homage to the conomic power of the White world, even as he rejects its apparent benefits in favor of his own world and its sense of balance and freedom. Tinker notes later an agreement with a citation by Louis Burns from "A History of the Osage People", that ""Big Soldier" could readily appreciate the material culture of americans but resolutely rejected their spiritual culture. This statement is as true to day for many indigenous folk the world over as it was in 1822 or in the centuries before.

Tinker also writes, "But even the memory of this event is clouded by euro-american mythmaking that moves subtly toward discrediting Osage notions of resistance, harmony and freedom. * The problem here is that "Big Soldier's" name does not really translate as Big Soldier. The translation actually presumes the White euro-western stereotype of indian peoples- namely, that Indians were militaristic societies where all the men were "warriors" or "baves." It perpetuates the euro-american myth that Indian men customarily and recklessly pursued some warrior ideal, living in militaristic societies that gave in to primitive blood thirst with constant warfare. Yet there is really no word for "soldier" or even "warrior' in Osage, a lack that is consistent with all precontact Indian communities in North America.

Thus, a-ki'-da tonka, or big a-ki'-da, is really a problematic name to translate into english. While some want to translate a-ki'-da as "warrior", and the word was used to name the members of a military detachment, there is, as I just said, no word for warrior or soldier in Osage or any other Indian language. Indian war making was relatively nonviolent prior to european contact and ultimately oriented toward the defense of the people. The total destruction or conquest of an enemy was never a military objective. Indeed, the killing of an enemy was not usually accorded the same high honor as "counting coup", or touching an enemy in battle without being touched in return.
A-ki'-da really refers to defense, that is, defense of the village or defender of the people. A big a-ki'-da would undoubtedly be one of the five a-ki'-da appointed by each of the two ga-hi'-ga (chiefs?), who then would have special responsibilities for maintaining order in the town and would have lived immediately around the chief's houses in the center of the village. Thus, they served a political function in each town.
"Big Soldier" should then read as something more like "one who watches over the land" or "caretaker or guardian of the land and people"- instead of an americanized name that denotes a member of a military detachment and/or an enforcer of an ideology.

This post is a continuation to the thread started Here.


Starrider said...
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Starrider said...

HSJR. sez:

There is statement that I would challenge. It is the perception that Indians did not go to war violently. War at any level is violent and Indians were violent also. As I've said before Indians comitted the same brutal acts that non-Indians did.

I would like to believe that Indians were as noble as some want to pretend they were, but that just isn't true they were and are human and all humans committed violent acts for some reason. Some of those reasons were just, others weren't.

Choco canyon is a good example. They have learned that they ate their captives. And the Aztecs cut the hearts of their captives out and sacrificed them to their Gods. So we can draw any conclusions we want, but these acts were violent and not necessarily noble.

The Osage were fighters or warriors or soldiers, they served with Custer at the "Battle of Black Kettle" when all those women and children and old men were killed by the Brave George Custer. And the Kiowa men gathered their families and fled when they heard that the Osage were coming. So they weren't always non-violent.

It's painful to admit the truth, we as a people aren't all that different than other's.

SS Sez:

What you say is true, but Tinker was talking more about pre-contact ideals. he is working with the idealism of the original theology and. later in the book he talks a lot about a theology of liberation and healing that must be essential to both whites and indians. If you get into the book all these things fit into context better.