The Heart of Everything That Isn’t: the Untold Story of Anti-Indianism in Drury and Clavin’s Book on Red Cloud

Four Arrows
10/5/14

Originally published in The Stringer: Independent Journalism. Reprinted with permission.

Fielding Graduate University

I don’t mean for this to be a book review of The Heart of Everything That Is: The Untold Story of Red Cloud. An American Legend. Rather, I intend it to be an indictment of the genre of anti-Indianism it represents. Although it is unlikely that its authors consciously set out to try and prove Western civilization’s superiority over the “barbarous Indians,” they nonetheless follow in the footsteps of those who have tried to do so:

The Invented Indian (1990) by James Clifton, who writes that “acknowledging anything positive in the native past is an entirely wrongheaded proposition because no genuine Indian accomplishments have every really be substantiated” (p.36);

Sick Societies: Challenging the Myth of Primitive Harmony (1992) by UCLA anthropologist, Robert Edgerton who writes about child abuse and other social maladies that were far more pervasive in primitive societies, proving the superiority of Western culture;

Lawrence H. Keeley’s War Before Civilization that proposes that civilization and centralized governments have overcome the horrors of primitive life (1997);

Robert Whelan’s Wild in the Woods: The Myth of the Peaceful Eco-Savage (1999) that offers such assertions as “Indigenous peoples have little to teach us about caring for the environment;”

Shepard Krech’s, The Ecological Indian: Myth and History, who asserts that the demise of the buffalo was the fault of the Indians themselves (2000).

Steven A. Lablank’s Constant Battles: The Myth of the Peaceful, Nobel Savage that concludes that technology and science have put mankind on the right trajectory for world peace in comparison to the barbaric behaviors of aboriginal people (2003);

Steven Pinker’s text, The Better Angels of our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (2011) who uses exaggerated and erroneous stories about Indigenous violence against European colonists to make the case that we are better off now than in pre-state societies.

In fact, the negative impact of The Heart of Everything may be worse than these blatantly anti-Indian publications. The latter at least met with numerous scholarly and lay rebuttals. Not so with Drury and Clavin’s text. The high praise given it by such prestigious and progressive publications as Salon and the Boston Globe refer to the book’s “exceptional fairness and accuracy.” Of the many customer reviews at amazon.com, only a few offer a single star rating and express intelligent concern for problems such as those I soon describe. I did, however, find one critical review by Tim Giago that is worth noting. Giago, also known as Nanwica Kciji (Stands Up for Them), is an Oglala, Lakota, as was Red Cloud. Born on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in 1934, he was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University; founded the first independently owned American Indian newspaper, now known as “Indian Country Today;” founded the Native American Journalists Association; and is a columnist for the Huffington Post where he posted a short editorial on January 19th, 2014 that challenged reviewer consensus that “honest treatment” was given to the new book’s history of Red Cloud and his people. He accuses the authors of “misguided interpretations” and says they “denigrate while patting the American Indian on the back.”

It is true that Drury and Clavin sometimes praise Indian prowess in battle and occasionally criticize the treaty-breaking policies of the U.S. government and some misguided actions of its military. This gives the impression of fairness and accuracy in spite of their absence. As with hypnotic suggestions, the subtle ones have greater power than the more obvious directives. Ultimately, the book’s best-selling status reflects the success of what contemporary Lakotas refer to as the “Dances with Wolves” approach to the continued demeaning of Native Peoples, an approach that prioritizes Euro-centric people and values and ignores or dismisses the present by romanticizing or distorting the past. To do so, the authors have missed the mark on more things in one book than in any single anti-Indian text I have seen, save perhaps the entire series of Little House on the Prairie, now known as an exemplar in anti-Indian history (Wilder, 2006), with mistakes about social structure, role of women, inherent values, war-based cultures, individualism, art, the Sun Dance, the Black Hills, spiritual beliefs, health and hygiene and more.

As a Cherokee/Irish mixed blood and an Oglala relative and pipe carrier who has fulfilled his Sun Dance vows with Rick Two Dog’s Medicine Horse group, I have a degree of passion about this topic. I dedicated many years to critically researching and writing about the “Indigenous worldview” that ties together the great variety of Indigenous cultures. As a university professor, activist and author/editor of a number of relevant publications, I feel a sense of urgency about exposing anti-Indianism so as to encourage more people to awaken to the perspectives about life that guided human behaviors for most of our history, before “God moved indoors” to quote my old friend, Sam Keen (1994, p.iv).

With gratitude, I can say that I am not alone in this mission. In addition to the many brothers and sisters struggling to help their people and tell the world the truth about living in accord with the laws of Nature, many non-Indian thinkers are realizing that we can no longer afford to dismiss, denigrate or ridicule the history or wisdom of traditional Indigenous ways of knowing and relating to the world. Noam Chomsky is but one example:

“The grim prognosis for life on this planet is the consequence of a few centuries of forgetting what traditional societies knew, and the surviving ones still recognize. We must nurture and preserve our common possession, the traditional commons, for future generations, and this must be one of our highest values, or we are all doomed. To regain this sensibility from those who have preserved it we must pay careful attention to their understanding and practices” (Chomsky, 2013, back-cover).

Thus, my goal is not only to expose and rebuff some of the misguided and inaccurate material in the targeted text, but also to show how we must all be more mindful about assumptions that are rooted in the hegemonic education and media in which most of us are immersed. Only then might we turn the tide toward a more truthful understanding of the traditional American Indian knowingness that Chomsky rightly says we all must start heeding, not as romantic fantasies but as practical solutions for a seriously at -risk future facing all of us.

It would take a book-length treatise to properly counter the many off-putting claims and inferences in the Heart of Everything that Is. I select a sampling of them here and offer only a cursory rebuttal, hoping the reader will research those topics further that pique their interest. A good place to start, although less significant perhaps than what follows, is with the book’s title and subtitle, starting with the subtitle, “The Untold Story of Red Cloud.”

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Michael Madrid's picture
Michael Madrid
Submitted by Michael Madrid on
In our high school library we have several different books that outline the contributions of Native Americans to science, medicine and other noteworthy subjects. The most often used is "American Indian Contributions to the World" by Emory Dean Keoke who is a member of the Standing Rock Sioux. We also have several books on different tribes written by authors sympathetic to each tribe and their plights. The books on any group of indigenous people need to be overseen by the educated members of each group. Too long have the stories of indigenous people been dirtied by the influence of their conquerers.
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