Listen: 25506_1973918deloria_64

Vine Deloria Jr., a treaties expert and author of "In Utmost Good Faith" and "We Talk, You Listen," talks with Kevin McKiernan. Topics include religion, treaties, and Wounded Knee.

This recording was made available through a grant from the National Historical Publications & Records Commission.


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SPEAKER 1: You often make analogies between Indian people and the Jews in the Old Testament, the Jews under the pharaoh in Egypt. And I believe you've said that some people might view Custer as an atonement, an offering that was given up for the covenant that was broken.

VINE DELORIA: Yeah, I got that. That's straight Old Testament theology there's no-- I mean, no weaseling out of that. In fact, I think if you take some of the social philosophy ideas out of the Old Testament and take them into contemporary social problems, you come up with many of the same answers.

And you see, the tribal structure of the early Hebrews, they are really comparable to Indian tribal structure. And I've had a lot of young Indians point out to me that this period in Indian existence is comparable to the Babylonian captivity, when the customs, and culture, and language is changing.

So it's not wholly my idea. I mean, a lot of people share it. Because I went to seminary, I'm perhaps better able to articulate the implications of that particular theory. And I suppose, if I were a Jew, I'd be a strong Zionist.

SPEAKER 1: Is that one of the theses of your coming book? The one to be published this fall, God is Red.

VINE DELORIA: Well, what I've been concerned about in many areas is the inability of American society to come to grips with either social movement or ecological movement. On the one hand, the frightening lack of integrity of public officials and officials holding high office. Not simply Watergate, but the lack of integrity within church structures, within corporations.

And so I've been trying to analyze why-- what motivates people to do the things they do. What is there in human nature or in human society that produces people that are as good as their word? I mean, how do you close the gap between the symbol and the substance of what people are?

And looking into Indian tribal religions, I think that they're based on a three-fold relationship between whatever God the people have a relationship with, that particular community, and the land that they live on.

And I see this in the Jewish religion, in I think the most successful Christian communities, the Amish, for example, with practically no measurable indices of social disorder in their communities, have incorporated this too.

So what I did in God is Red was try to analyze the failures of Indians to affect any significant change over the last five or six years and to take the activist events, and the issues that are raised, and the response of non-indians to Indian issues and analyze them using religious terminology, religious ideas, and then to examine the current phenomenon among whites of interest in Christianity, the Jesus freaks, and the underground church, and all that.

In terms of is this a religious movement, I mean, that's going to produce some integrity in American institutions or is it more an emotional escapist phenomenon is a cultural phenomenon rather than a religious phenomenon.

SPEAKER 1: In a sense, you've tried to chronicle that with respect to Indian people? Chronicle it to, oh, I think in some major similar ways with people like McLuhan and--


SPEAKER 1: --Reich, The Greening of America. You feel that something's happening in this country. Something is happening and we're in the middle of it, and that we can't really objectify very easily?

VINE DELORIA: Yeah. Something is happening, but it seems to me that nobody has been willing to take a broad enough view, or do enough thinking, or ask the right questions to really nail it down.

The Greening of America came and went without any discernible change. And I think what it did was, in a large measure, justify the corporate acquisitiveness of the people who came of college age in 1960.

I know an awful lot of kids that were in SNCC and the movement in the '60s that are now corporation executives who will cut your throat to get an extra penny, you see? What justifies their behavior in view of their earlier openness? And I think Reich gave them a cop out.

But what I'm concerned about is that Western European ways of thinking about history and society, I think, have foreclosed the ability of people in that tradition to ask questions that really need to be asked at the present time. And one of the things I've rebelled against is Christians and liberals jumping on the ecological movement without understanding what the relationship to land should be.

SPEAKER 1: What do you mean when you talk about the Anglo-Saxon heritage in terms of a person's vision of the world and his ability to understand it at this time in this country?

VINE DELORIA: OK, let me use an example. Nixon goes into Cambodia and Laos with the justification that he doesn't want to be the first American president to lose a war. Now, outside of the moral outrage of young people about bombing Cambodia, what does this statement say about Nixon's conception of history, you see?

It's that the United States is doing something unique that mankind has never experienced before, and that if that's true, then history runs in a linear progression and we're going to start checking off our progress against other peoples.

And I think this overlooks a majority of mankind's experiences. And not only experiences, but the way men in societies of men have learned to regulate the relationships that they as individuals have with each other. And I don't see that dimension coming into American political life, or religious life, or economic life. And I think that's why we've got a lot of problems.

And so the idea that Western Europeans discover the rest of the world, you see, excludes the majority of mankind from having a valid history or having any status in the eyes of the world.

The idea of American foreign policy opposing liberation movements all over, to me, is a perverted idea of history because these people have had histories for tens of thousands of years. Yet, in the Anglo-Saxon or Western European tradition, they weren't discovered and they have no history until Western European people contact them.

You see the-- even the third world ideology is swallowed up in this because it assumes that the third world is doing something unique outside the Western European interpretation of history. And they're not. I mean, what they're doing is really adopting western modes of political identity in order to survive in a world dominated by western thinking.

SPEAKER 1: So again, this is somewhat comparable to the Jews, and their heritage, and the Salvation history created through the Old Testament?

VINE DELORIA: Right. And the question I have with that is that, I think the thing that saved the Jews as a people and as a religion is their refusal to embark on missionary crusades.

And so in God is Red I try to analyze the motivation of the missionary situation because, to me, any number of people can have or any number of communities can have valid religious experiences, which give them either an awareness of themselves as a group or an awareness of the individual as an individual. In other words, an achievement of an identity.

But then when you get in the missionary phase of religion, what you're saying is, because one person has an experience, then it's his duty to go out and describe his experience to someone else and try and force them to have the same experience, you see.

SPEAKER 1: Which is, again, a linear way of thinking.

VINE DELORIA: Not only a linear way of thinking, but in effect, it means that the individual who had the experience is more important than the experience itself because he feels the need to go out and communicate it, you see. And so consequently, you get a fanaticism there that I think religion at that moment become political movements and not religions themselves.

And you see, when you hear right wing Americans today talk about Christianity or communism, you realize they're using Christianity not as a religious ideology, but a political ideology. And they're opposing it to another political ideology.

And I think, you see, that in early Christian history, where the Romans are continuing to persecute the Christians because of their political status, and not because their religious beliefs. In some of the early documents, the Romans are terribly afraid of Christianity as a political ideology because it means that slaves and aristocrats have to stand on the same level.

SPEAKER 1: You've mentioned this in some of your writing at some of our national political conventions, the crusades of Billy Graham and others have gotten intertwined.

VINE DELORIA: You can't tell a difference. Yeah, Nixon's-- the 68 Republican Campaign, you had Nixon, Agnew, and family there while the swing band played Glory Hallelujah that Civil War Hymn, you see. And at what point do you distinguish between a religious phenomenon and a cultural phenomena?

One of the chapters of my book that I think I'll probably be hit very hard on. I spent a five-year period keeping a careful lookout for what I call cultural aberrations of religion. And I put all of these, what I call, crazy movements into one chapter.

I'm sure some of the people that-- for instance, there are karate for Christ camps, where they teach karate. And as the instructor breaks chunks of ice he says, this is what you're supposed to do to the devil.

And I collected all of these things to pose the question of what happens to a religion when a culture begins to-- what the question is, should religion dominate culture or should culture dominate religion? What's the interrelationship of those two, and how do you express them? Because in my earlier book, I related an incident where the missionaries came out and insisted all the Indians cut their hair and go to church.

And when they got him in church, then they showed them copies of The Last Supper of Jesus and the last apostles with long hair, you see. And the Indians said, well, what is this? We're told to become Christian, you had to cut your hair. And now, we see all of these people with long hair.

Well, that's what happens when a culture dominates a religion. The cultural ideas become a whole religious content. And you're not dealing with any superpower in the universe or reality of the universe, you're dealing with your own peers.

And I think that's a terribly confused area of American life. And my book just lays it down, are you people going to think about these things and ask yourself questions about them or are we going to continue with the current nonsense?

SPEAKER 1: When you turn from that which you describe as linear to the opposite, I guess, you-- McLuhan talks about a global community, and you might talk about oh, Buckminster Fuller or a global dome-like vision of reality.

How do you explain or do you explain within that context the rise of so many religious and quasi religious fads? A search for meaning which seems to be very much in evidence across the country, tarot cards, the popularity of-- the popularity now of I Ching, astrology, the Jesus Movement, all kinds of attempts to get at-- and I guess I'm asking you a question, to get at something which is non-linear?

VINE DELORIA: I think to get some vision of reality, or some sense of stability, or get emotionally recharged. I think these are all valid movements insofar as you don't make them absolute.

The reason I chose the title God is Red for the book is because I think there's an extra dimension of the environment that people, almost everybody working in the field of religious thought has failed to take into account.

A lot of the early stuff done in the history of religions they say, the idea that places have spirits is an animistic belief, and therefore, primitive, and all this. But I would maintain that even today, you can go into different areas, or different cities, or different places and you feel the spirit of those places, you feel a change of personalities and things.

It's a far different feeling to be in Arlington National Cemetery than Yankee Stadium, you see. And I think that's a valid religious question. It's a far different feeling to come to a big city and try to adjust to it, or to go to a small town and try to adjust to it.

It's a tremendous change when you go back to a small town you've lived in before, you go back to a neighborhood you've lived in before. I think these are all valid feelings of high religious intensity that have not been identified as religion. And I think they're part of our identity.

And consequently, that's one of the major reasons I tried to raise this book. The Indian activism, when it started out, wanted to take over pieces of land to set up communities on, you see.

And so what I'm trying to say in the book is, even Indians don't understand what they're doing because this was an Indian-- it was really an Indian Religious Movement, which is what AIM claims it is, but I don't think AIM understands the nature of religion enough to understand why it's a religious movement.

SPEAKER 1: One of the signs up at Wounded Knee was independent Oglala Sioux Nation. And this certainly was an indication of the feeling of sovereignty, the feeling of independent community power, a kind of oneness.

VINE DELORIA: Yeah. And Alcatraz was going to be set aside for an Indian university cultural center and all this. But I spent four years in seminary trying to figure out who had the best description of reality.

And I think tarot cards and all these other things are techniques that can and should be used inside small community groups. I support communes, or small groups, or very small religious movements even if I don't agree with their analysis of reality because I think that if you can achieve some type of emotional, intellectual stability withinside a group in a particular environment that becomes your own, that you've really achieved a major purpose of your existence. It's up to you to expand your horizon. And really at that point, you stop gaining knowledge and you're starting to gain wisdom, you see.

So I don't put any of these things down. I just want to raise this issue at this time with social movement so that people in government and the general public can really understand why Indians are doing this and support us for the right reasons instead of supporting us for the wrong reasons, you see.

SPEAKER 1: Do you feel that religion is a major issue of the time?

VINE DELORIA: Yeah. I see no way about it-- no way around that. I wrote We Talk, You Listen in 1969 early. And when it was in-- my last chapter deals with the need for a new religion in America. And when it was on the galleys with the time all of the pop songs started coming out with the religious theme, the Beatles, Let It Be and all this, and I--

SPEAKER 1: Bridge Over Troubled Water?

VINE DELORIA: Yeah. Bridge Over Troubled Water, all this. And I quickly edited the galleys the day before it went to the press, and just added a few pages-- just inserted a few things saying, the fact these religious songs are coming in means we're trying to define this issue. That was about four years ago now. And we've had Explo 72 and all of the great American religious events.

But it seems to me nobody has asked the question of what is religion? You see? There's been an assumption that, because you have Billy Graham or because you have Jesus freaks, or because you have Indian medicine men that somehow you're being religious. And I think that the problem is much deeper than that. We have to take a lot of other factors into account.

And that the religious game, I would say, is wide open. I think Indian tribal religions probably have a better ultimate grasp of the nature of the universe. But certainly, today, we're failing to-- we're failing to relate to the Indian religious ideas in-- I suppose, with great enough intensity that it's really changing our communities for the better.

SPEAKER 1: You feel that a lot of the Christian symbols and myths are dead and no longer viable, no longer those which have any kind of objective correlative that people can understand without confusion. Do you think that confusion with symbols and myths has come into the Indian community as well?

VINE DELORIA: Oh, yeah, yeah. Sure. And that's one of the chief problems I have in talking about this particular field with Indians. So many of them want to go back and take the old dances and the old ceremonies from the 1860s and try and relive those.

And I think at a certain level in your understanding you can do that. But what I try and point out to Indians is the Christian religion forecloses revelation as of the death of Jesus. And from then on, everybody's writing commentaries on what he said, you see. But in the Indian Religious tradition, the vision quest, or sweat lodge, or any of the ceremonies that the various tribes have, it's to open revelation immediately right here and now.

And if the Indian Religious Movement can be taken seriously in ultimate sense that new ceremonies have to come based on the conditions we're living with, credit cards, and jet planes, and all this stuff, that somehow if new ceremonies don't arise, it means that we've done to the Indian tribal religions exactly what the Christians did to their religions, see, made a creed out of it. And it's very difficult for Indians to see this.

SPEAKER 1: Have you ever gone through a sun dance ceremony and been pierced?

VINE DELORIA: No. And I don't intend to. First, I'm 40 years old now. I've spent almost 10 years working in legislation and legal rights. I'm on the massive project to do a whole series of analyzes of treaties in-- hopefully Senator Abourezk is going to set up a commission-- a two-year commission to study conditions of Indians. And I'm trying to get ready to just flood that commission with material for two years.

But I feel that if you're going to be serious, that you have to make basic decisions within your life as to what you're going to do. And I think I can recognize the nature and dimension of the religious problem. But that if I commit myself to being a religious man, then I have to drop the stuff I'm currently doing and go off and do the religious thing.

And I think I'm in a unique position to do the legal thing right now. And so I made a conscious effort not to go into the Indian religion with any commitment or anything like that. To be aware and to try and analyze it as an observer and to support traditional religious people, but not to try and become a medicine man, not to go on a vision quest, and not to go through the sun dance or sweat lodge, or any of this.

Because I think you need, first, people of a much younger age who have a different viewpoint of the world and have more energy and are willing to devote the time and make the sacrifices necessary to achieve religious visions. And I'm just too old for that type of thing.

And I just feel with the extensive knowledge I've built up of treaties, the history of Indians, legal problems with various tribes, I'm much more useful to Indians as a lawyer and a free-floating lobbyist and whatever.

SPEAKER 1: Indian medicine is becoming rediscovered, I guess, the way you said that non-indians discovered Indians about four years ago. Many people are expressing a great interest in that. Do you think that's a passing fad as far as spectators are concerned or do you think that's something that will overlap and that will be a benefit to the overall society?

VINE DELORIA: I don't know. I don't know. It seemed to me that the medical field has been much more open to discoveries and new theories than social science fields or political science.

I would hope that there's enough intelligent people in the medical profession to really take the Indian medicine thing and explore it for all it's worth. And I would hope Indians would do this.

I know some people down in Oklahoma are using a Cherokee system of dream analysis to work with mental health patients. On the Navajo reservation, there training medicine men to work with public health doctors.

And all around the country, I think you find, as you put it, a tremendous interest in Indian medicine and a willingness of younger Indian people to consider the various holy men in the tribes as having a valid power to cure the same as a doctor.

SPEAKER 1: Many people I talked to who spent time at Wounded Knee during the 71 Day Occupation last spring felt that above everything else it was a spiritual occupation, it was a spiritual feeling. It wasn't, as you said, Abby Hoffman felt that he had the Woodstock Nation in his head and felt that was the way Sioux people ran around with the Sioux Nation in their head.

It wasn't that so much as some kind of an idea, a space which was more than geographical, more than physical, and it had some non temporal aspects to it, or rather, cross temporal or something like that. Did you feel that or did you as an outside observer watching something happen on your own reservation or near, I guess, near your own reservation?

VINE DELORIA: Well, the second day of the occupation, I tried to pull all the Indian lawyers together. And I got, I suppose, 11 or 12 people. And we went into the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and tried to support the occupation by offering to provide staff work for hearings on treaties.

SPEAKER 1: That was more than half the lawyers in the country.

VINE DELORIA: No. We got-- we got, I think, all 150 Indian lawyers really.

SPEAKER 1: Oh, I didn't know that.

VINE DELORIA: Yeah. Well, that information on the Cavett Show was wrong. I mean, the Ford Foundation and the government both poured millions of dollars into Indian legal education in the last five years. We must have 100 Indians in law school.

But I heard a lot of stories like you were talking about, that they felt that the spirits of the people had been killed at the original Wounded Knee were there to help them. They had ceremonies every day. And it was definitely a different space-time dimension involved in their understanding of what was going on.

I heard those stories consistently through the Wounded Knee thing, but I was so eager to support hearings on Indian treaties inside the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I devoted almost all my time to that and kept trying to pull political forces together that could give support to that.

So I didn't go to Wounded Knee at all. And I tried to get the Sioux tribal councils around the country to come together in a big meeting to hold hearings and discussions on all the Sioux treaties and try and present a uniform case to the government.

And of course, the councils were really split down the center on whether to support Russell Means or Dick Wilson and so that-- I really walked into a buzz saw because people on both sides think I'm on the other side. But my primary interest at that point was attempting to take the treaty issue and give as much support to what the people at Wounded Knee wanted in terms of government living up to their treaties.

SPEAKER 1: This is the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868.

VINE DELORIA: Well, that's the one that they're primarily concerned with. And I think it comes from a lack of knowledge of the history and nature of Sioux treaties. I put out a 189-page book in just a little offset book listing all the treaties and agreements of the Sioux Nation with the United States. And now I've got two people helping me with research, and we're going through the claims cases and the legislation, everything relating to the Sioux tribe in the United States.

And the people of Wounded Knee were concerned primarily with the 68 Laramie Treaty. I'm as much concerned with the 76 Agreement, the 51 Fort Laramie Treaty, and some of the others to give a broader scope to actually what legal problem exists with respect to treaty fulfillment.

SPEAKER 1: One of the strategies of the upcoming Wounded Knee trials is a strategy based upon treaty recognition, that the land was taken and was held with the goodwill and really with the blessing of the traditional chiefs and headsmen under that 68 Treaty. Do you think that will be an effective strategy as a lawyer?

VINE DELORIA: I don't know. I think it depends on how they present it. But after having spent almost seven months researching this, that's a pretty risky thing. They must have more up their sleeve I would suspect.

The several other defenses that I've come across that I think are much better, and I've passed it on-- passed them on to some of the AIM lawyers. And depending on how the trials start out, I'd like to try and get some of the Indian legal groups together to present one major statement at the trial.

I would maintain they can't try them for anything under a series of cases taken in 1890. I think a state of war actually existed between the Oglala Nation and the United States in--

SPEAKER 1: In 1973?

VINE DELORIA: In 1973. And under federal legal doctrines, when a state of war exists between Indian tribes and the United States, the acts committed during the period of hostilities are not crimes. So they're acts of war. And the United States obviously signed an agreement with the people of Wounded Knee, which to me, is the same as a peace treaty.

SPEAKER 1: What's the implication of that agreement, that once the hostilities are over, they can not press charges?


SPEAKER 1: Can they press charges against those who conspired to begin the war?

VINE DELORIA: No. This stems from Geronimo, Victorio, and Mangas Colorado's conflict with the army in the 1890s. And I would support. If they'd done the most dastardly deeds at Wounded Knee, I'd still support them on that basis because the United States used those very cases to take money away from the tribes in 1890. And now, I want to force the United States to consistently follow its own law.

SPEAKER 1: Could you talk a little bit about that?

VINE DELORIA: Well, Geronimo gathered a group of Apaches, and Victorio had done that earlier on the Hot Springs Reservation in New Mexico. Each of them gathered a group of Apaches who were not necessarily-- well, they're even-- I guess in one case some Pimas with them.

And they left the reservation and head for Mexico. And the US Army chased them. In order to get away, they had to raid ranches, capture new horses, get food, ammunition, the whole thing. So they committed a whole series of depredations going down into Mexico.

In the 1890s the United States passed an act, which very few people know about, called the Indian Depredations Act. And any white settler from 1862 on who felt he was injured by an Indian who belonged to a tribe that had a peace treaty with the United States, the government allowed him to sue the tribe in court and collect damages.

And the only qualification of this was that, if you had a new political entity that the United States dealt with that had never signed a peace treaty with the United States, then those were not depredations committed against the white settlers, those were acts of war and the United States and the tribes could not be held liable for because it means-- it meant that the people had not been conquered.

SPEAKER 1: So under that act, the ranchers and citizens who oppose the 73, this here occupation of Wounded Knee, could not sue the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council?

VINE DELORIA: No. But the United States could not-- the United States or the State of South Dakota could not indict these people for crimes because these are acts committed during a period of hostilities.

See, Geronimo, his last campaign only lasted six months. And everybody chased him all over. He committed all these acts. And the Civil authorities wanted to press charges and try him for murder and hang him as a criminal.

He signed an agreement with the United States that stands on a legal basis, the same status as the agreement signed at Wounded Knee, where he said, I'm surrendering myself to federal authorities and the war is over, you see. So they say, OK, the war is over. That's it.

Out of those cases came a definition-- a legal definition of what Indian band is. And that's a group of Indians, and not necessarily of the same tribe, but who acknowledged one person as their leader and act in concert and exist over a period of time.

Well, that's a precise definition of the Oglala Sioux Nation that Russell Means created for 71 Days. And I don't see any way the United States can weasel out of it-- well, they can because we've seen conspiracy trials and everything else that the Nixon administration has done.

But if you want to be legally consistent, there's nothing you can do to the people at Wounded Knee because they constituted in legal terms a political band of Indians over a three-month period that was engaged in hostilities against the United States. The United States signed an agreement to end the hostilities.

SPEAKER 1: Part of that agreement also called for an investigation to see whether there existed a need for a presidential treaty commission. Do you think because of that that the occupation of Wounded Knee may in fact have accomplished something in the long-run?

VINE DELORIA: No. Because I don't think Nixon is smart enough to do that. They've had, I think, two meetings. In the White House's people have consistently rejected the idea of treaties.

And the idea is being taken up by Senator Abourezk of South Dakota, who heads the Indian subcommittee in the Senate, and Senator Henry Jackson, who heads the full committee in the Senate. I think these people are going to push to create a commission on Indian Affairs that will investigate treaties, and that they're the ones who are going to benefit from this.

I think Nixon's advisors are advising him not to recognize the Treaty rights of Indians. And he's making a very bad political blunder because I think he could still pull a good image out if there was a presidential commission to investigate treaties, but I just don't think they're smart enough to do it.

SPEAKER 1: Do you think anything was gained by the occupation of Wounded Knee?

VINE DELORIA: I think it made a lot of activists more conservative. It made a lot of conservatives more active. And I think it really shook Indian Country. And a lot of people are now recognizing the need to revise tribal constitutions to redistribute political power in the reservations. A lot of people who'd been conservative about raising claims against the government are becoming much more radical in their assertions.

And I think that the most profound effect was that the majority of people in Indian Affairs finally had to take a position over a long enough period of time they were forced to think out what are really the important issues we have to deal with. And so in that sense, I think it was a very beneficial.

SPEAKER 1: It seemed almost there was a surreal tenor to the occupation here in 1973, Cowboys and Indians holding a piece of land almost-- that little plot of land almost began to have the value of Pork Chop Hill or Hill 54 Vietnam. And in fact, there's really nothing in Wounded Knee. It's a town, which is a little tiny valley surrounded by hills. And it's militarily totally indefensible.


SPEAKER 1: Do you think that the tactics of the '70s, as we move now to 74, 75, and toward the 1980s, will involve occupying plots of ground like that or do you think they'll change? I guess now I'm speaking really of the American Indian Movement and of other activist groups that--

VINE DELORIA: I don't know. It's difficult to say because I would never have conceived that things would have moved to the stage that Wounded Knee moved to. The really disappointing thing, to me, is that honoring Wounded Knee, you had a substantial number of Indians saying, we're not going to support this because we believe in working through the system.

Now, Wounded Knee has been over about four months, and all the people who were going to work through the system have done nothing. And I think that's really a cop out attitude. But you're brought down to one fundamental conclusion, that you can't gain anything through occupying a town in any real substantial change through occupying a town with guns and holding out as long as you can. And you can't get anything accomplished by working through the system.

I mean, you've got to back off and say, what are the nature of the problems and how do you get a hold of it? Because two of the traditional alternatives that were offered to everybody in the '60s, you're going to work in the system, or out of it, or whatever.

And I think we've seen, at least in the Nixon Administration, you can't get the government to take either seriously. The government will not-- I mean, if you have to-- people like Peter Dominic and Barry Goldwater say you've got to work within the system. And then they close the system on you or else they change the rules.

And so the activists come along and say, OK, we've got to work outside the system. But they haven't accomplished anything either. So I think somehow, social thinking has got to change as to what the nature of these problems are and how you get some leverage in the '70s to actually accomplish change.

SPEAKER 1: Do you think there'll be more violence in terms of the activists, in terms of that chance for revolution in this country?

VINE DELORIA: I don't know. It just seems to me the revolutionaries are growing much older and a lot of them are getting into very lucrative positions. And--

SPEAKER 1: So you think it will be co-opted?

VINE DELORIA: I think people co-opt themselves if they don't keep raising new questions. I mean, to see some of the underground newspapers that started out to raise political questions ended up as very lucrative profit-making ventures. It raises real questions in my mind.

SPEAKER 1: Well, back to Indian religion then. Do you think that many of those activists who purport to be very religious and to purport to seek to be holy men at the same time as they're being revolutionaries, do you think they'll be caught by their religion?

VINE DELORIA: Yeah. I think if they're really serious and go into this all the way, they end up primarily as community workers with a strong religious tinge and will get out of the activist situation at all.

Altogether, I can't, in my own mind, reconcile being strongly religious and doing the type of activism that's been done in the past among Indians because there's a rip off dimension to Indian activism that few Indians will admit.

SPEAKER 1: Then do you think this is mutually exclusive--

VINE DELORIA: Yeah. I don't see how you can be religious and recognize and have a religious place in the Indian community and not see through the facade of activism.

SPEAKER 1: Do you think the American Indian Movement is a spokesman for many Indian people?

VINE DELORIA: Well, I think they've come to raise a number of important issues that Indian people have talked about for a long time, but-- and they've popularized issues that people either didn't take seriously or weren't serious enough in their understanding of them.

But when you really dig into tribal histories or begin to see how cultures and attitudes have changed within tribes themselves over a 200 year period, you begin to get really suspicious about how much the American Indian Movement's position is simply pop activism and how much it's struggling with the issues.

I ran across the report on Indian-- a leasing of Indian lands in Oklahoma in the 1860s while I was doing my research. You had the same problems with tribal governments in the 1860s and '70s that you do today. And that was 100 years ago.

And this is the continual insistence by the United States government that one man or one group of men represent the whole tribe, that they occupy an office for a term of years and that the United States be able to deal with them exclusively.

And I think if you put in Indian, the old communal leadership forms, the community itself kind of led itself by consensus and people appeared as representatives of the community in times of crises or in times of calm--

SPEAKER 1: In a natural leader selection.

VINE DELORIA: Yeah, in a natural selection thing. And this term of years, your a chairman for two years that been forced upon Indians.

SPEAKER 1: In the tribal council system?

VINE DELORIA: Yeah. It's really bad because you get a good guy in there and people have confidence in him, but his opponent has $30,000 campaign fund from the white cattlemen, see. And he gets knocked out and the crook gets in. When you get a crook in for a four-year term, you know he's a crook at the end of six months, but you can't do anything.

SPEAKER 1: Well, that system is very unstable as well. The Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 brought it in. And on the Pine Ridge Reservation, where Wounded Knee is located, no president has succeeded himself. And the terms are only two years.

VINE DELORIA: Yeah. Well, if we had that system in the United States, we'd have a different president right now, see. I mean, the other system. One thing that's amazed me in doing research on treaties is a substantial number of tribes by 1885 to 1890 had full fledged constitutions.

They had supreme courts of their own. They had administrative structure of their own. I'm not talking just about the five civilized tribes in Oklahoma. The majority of Oklahoma tribes had this. A lot of the Sioux tribes had their own written constitutions, and forms of government, and everything.

And I've been trying to trace out how those tribal governments were abolished in apparently 1890s or 1900s. And there was a 30-year period where there's apparently nothing written. And you just have to go dig up old government records to find what happened.

A 30-year period with no government, and then came the IRA. And they set it up. And it seems to me the activist interpretation that we had traditional chiefs. And all of a sudden, the IRA wiped them out. It's really--

SPEAKER 1: The Indian Reorganization Act.

VINE DELORIA: Really historically incorrect. An awful lot like assistant Sioux had a tripartite government with a supreme court, and a legislature, and the executive branch. And this was 1891. I have a copy of their constitution.

And so tribes in the '70s, '80s, and '90s had gone completely from hunting bands clear over to fairly sophisticated governments that they created themselves. Then something happened, and I haven't done enough research to determine how the government stopped or abolished those governments.

SPEAKER 1: Of course, the Bureau of Indian Affairs appeared first, did it not, under the Department of Army?

VINE DELORIA: Yeah. But was in the 1840s.

SPEAKER 1: That was a long time before that. And it continued-- it has continued until now, in i guess 1973.

VINE DELORIA: But the IRA is a formula thing, you see. I mean, almost every tribe having a constitution under that-- the constitution based on a formula drawn up in Washington, this is what we're going to do for you.

SPEAKER 1: Did that Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 in effect give democracy to the Indians quote, unquote?

VINE DELORIA: Well, it would have. See, you can't-- I've always supported the act, and I think I will probably always continue to support it because it was the only thing we had. But what's happened once you get those tribal constitutions, everything set down, and the people start to operate their own government, is that the people inside the Bureau of Indian Affairs would frequently make decisions that would affect either tribal membership or the powers of the government-- tribal governments. And over a 30-year period, the Bureau of Indian Affairs solicitor's opinions and commissioners memorandums has destroyed most of the tribal governments.

SPEAKER 1: Do you think the BIA is reformable from within?

VINE DELORIA: No. It should be a capital offense to work for the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

SPEAKER 1: Do you think that there's a chance of destroying it, of getting rid of it and replacing it with something else, or?

VINE DELORIA: Well, the pressure is growing all the time. And I was really surprised. Friday in Denver, Peer MacDonald was attending the Abourezk hearings on realignment of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and he called for outright abolition. And I think more and more Indians are going to call for that.

And that's another reason I'm working so hard on treaties because I think the relationship has to be established as a treaty relationship between-- I'd like to see a 7 or 9 men commission set up to handle all the relationships of Indians in the Federal Government and just have the federal government sign agreements saying, we'll provide you with these services and this much budget. And we'll hold you to these rules and regulations. And then you go run it. And just cut out all the bureaucracy altogether.

SPEAKER 1: That wouldn't be a return to the traditional way of government, it'd be something in between, wouldn't it?

VINE DELORIA: Well, you can't return to the traditional way of government. I mean, how are you going to choose your chiefs? You're not going to go out to some reservations and pick the great grandson of Sitting Bull, or Red Cloud, or whatever and say, OK, now, we're going to turn over powers to you.

Some of these guys-- some of these guys are Winos. Some of them have left a long time ago. You go into Miami, Potawatomi, some of the Chippewa tribes, the families of the chiefs have long since assimilated into white society, I mean, 50 years ago.

Miami of Indiana were some of the biggest land holders in the state of Indiana in the last century and completely assimilated into white society. How are you going to rebuild the Miami tribe when the descendants of the chief maybe the business corporations are pressing the Indians, you see?

SPEAKER 1: If you took a look and viewed the activist movements of the '60s, the Civil Rights Movement, the Anti-war Movement, the rise of the new left, the collapse of the new left, the rise of Indian activism really in the last couple of years, and you were talking to, suppose, you're 12 or 15-year-old son, what would you tell him? What would you say to him?

VINE DELORIA: How would you explain what happened?

SPEAKER 1: How would you explain what happened and what would you say to him to choose as an alternative if you didn't want him to do that again?

VINE DELORIA: Well, I think I'd explain that, as I see it, the primary difference was the assassination of Martin Luther King. That King took a situation in which it was already federal law that there should be integration and he pitted federal law against state law in a series of confrontations and managed to swing public opinion over, educate the people of the country as to that this thing was legally correct.

And that then riding in on his coattails were a lot of energetic people who hadn't done the thinking, or didn't have the religious stature, or the charisma of King, who took the Power Movements instead of addressing the question of ethnic identity to the group itself, turned and used it to attack white America and brought about their own downfall and really killed any chance of this generation to achieve any integrity in the ethnic communities.

And I would tell him to get a part-time job and study history. I've got two sons one 14, one 15. And I told them to, when they get out of high school, go in the Marines or someplace where you can be totally irresponsible for a couple of years.

Then go to college and learn what you want to learn, go to law school and put in a couple of years at seminary and maybe learn some sculpture or something like that. Just spend the first 30-- from the time they're 17 to the time they're 30 just experimenting about what experiences are.

SPEAKER 1: Would you then advise him to try to pit the system against itself and let it kind of self-destruct?

VINE DELORIA: Depending on where their interests are. I would like to see much more rebellion in the arts, in poetry, in literature because I think you can do political revolt in spiritual expression simultaneously there. That's more acceptable and more subversive in many ways than getting out and writing political tracts. But I would like to see--

SPEAKER 1: If that began to work, would you see the rise of mindset laws and laws that convict people for the state of mind that they held?

VINE DELORIA: Well, I think we already see that in the Nixon administration with the conspiracy trials. I mean, they've had I don't know how many conspiracy trials. They've convicted Berrigan of smuggling a letter out of the federal prison. That's it.

But it seems obvious to me their conception of conspiracy is that they don't like the way people think, not that these people conspire to do anything. They just don't like the way they think.

So I think we already have laws against thinking, but I'm pretty well-convinced that maybe even before Nixon's, the current term is over, that he will have driven the United States into such a deep depression that the changes will come very rapidly.

SPEAKER 1: What changes would they be?

VINE DELORIA: Well, I would anticipate if we get a major depression, that we will have a revolution. And when you look at the interest rates now at 10%, if you don't own a home right now, you're never going to be able to buy one unless something radical happens because there's just too much interest on home payments.

In terms of economic distribution systems, we don't know how to even get gasoline from one coast to the other. So we've got gas shortages. In the Denver Papers at least, they frequently keep a running box score of what we're out of, antifreeze, cement, turnips, beef, and all this.

And I think we're going to see, if there's a depression they're, a really bloody revolution, not in terms of overthrowing the political structure, but just outright lawlessness and wantonness because everybody will have lost everything that they had ever accomplished. And you measure accomplishments in this society by money. And if depression takes that away, how do people measure who they are?

SPEAKER 1: I saw some of that lawlessness on a very small scale in a recent trip to Wisconsin. I talked to a fish and game warden and he said poaching is up 500%. He said people can't buy meat, and they're out shooting it. So they've hired new game wardens now to--

VINE DELORIA: Try to stop it. I don't think that you're going to have political revolution as much as economic revolution.

SPEAKER 1: What's going to happen to the pieces when they fall after the economic revolution? Will they be picked up by political entities and community groups?

VINE DELORIA: I really don't know because the thing is wound up in such a complicated measure right now that there's just no way to-- your average person living in the city or in a Metropolitan area is subject to maybe four or five different taxing authorities.

He has no control over the officials that control his life because he doesn't know who they are. He's in one water district, another school district, another park district, a police district. And I'm kind of curious myself as to how the dominoes are going to fall and how these things are going to unwind.

SPEAKER 1: How do you think they'll affect Indian people?

VINE DELORIA: I think the people on the reservation are going to be the best off in the country. While I was up talking with the Quinaults last year, and they were some of the younger guys who were bemoaning the fact they had no economic development up there.

And I said, listen, you got 106,000 acres, and you got two streams, and you got all this salmon and clams in the world, and the woods full of berries. And if a depression comes, you guys are going to be eating and nobody else is going to be-- in this country is going to be eating.

And if I were you, I'd stay right here on the riverbank and just make a more comfortable log cabin and wait, because I said, the whole thing's coming down. There's just no way we can keep it going. And you're the only guys that are going to-- you're going to be eating pretty while the rest of us starve. So just stay here.

And so they're expanding their fish hatchery and people are more relaxed. I don't say merely because of my comments, but a lot of the tribes are recognizing that they have the facilities and the land to survive on.

SPEAKER 1: Indians have 50 or 60 million acres of reservation land in this country.


SPEAKER 1: Is that one of the reasons that you resent they're being called poor and people feeling sorry for the plight of the American Indians?

VINE DELORIA: No. I resent it because it doesn't give us the leverage to create the changes we want. Like if you think of at Pine Ridge, an Indian can't put his land in the soil bank, but a white man can come lease that Indian land and put it in the soil bank and sit there doing nothing and getting a damn good income from the land.

SPEAKER 1: Why not?

VINE DELORIA: Because of federal law, because it's federal trust land. Therefore, it can't be in the soil bank.

SPEAKER 1: But it doesn't-- it's not trust land anymore when it's leased?

VINE DELORIA: When it's leased, then the white farmer doesn't have the status with respect to the federal government, you see. You have on the same reservation what they call leasing units. And the Bureau of Indian Affairs will just draw a line on the map and say, all these allotments within this area are going to be leased to the highest bidder.

So you may have hundreds Indians who own land in that track, but they can't use their own land because the government determined the best use of the land is to lease it to a white rancher, you see.

And that's why you had a lot of conflict at Wounded Knee. You had all those landowners who said the federal government and the tribal council are making decisions over our land. And we don't have a right to say what happens to our own land.

SPEAKER 1: Something like 90% of the Pine Ridge Reservation is leased to white ranchers.

VINE DELORIA: Yeah. And I don't like pity that doesn't recognize these realities.

SPEAKER 1: You said many times in your writings that the time of the old symbols, the symbols with capitalism, Christianity, and many other areas, that these symbols no longer are relative, that people don't understand them and that you look tomorrow for a new system of--

VINE DELORIA: Challenge.

SPEAKER 1: --of symbols of new myths and so on. What would these be? What would the new tribes be?

VINE DELORIA: Well, I think The Godfather is one of the greatest sociological documents ever written, I mean, because it really describes how you hold a group together, you see. I don't know what the new symbols would be in some respects.

I'm disappointed that theology hasn't formed around the life of Martin Luther King. See, I'm disappointed that Indians are not grabbing hold of their own history and reinterpreting it. I think the ecological movement is the first sign we've had that other types of issues with symbols are coming in. And I've tried to pay attention to Marshall McLuhan and some of these people who are deriving new ways of thinking of things.

But I think the symbols are formed in crises times. A large part of the morale at World War II was Remember Pearl Harbor, see. And the symbol was because of a traumatic event. So I don't look for symbol creation as a rational process, I look at it as a meaningful thing that ties people together coming out of a crisis or enduring a crisis.

SPEAKER 1: Like Remember Wounded Knee?

VINE DELORIA: Yeah, yeah. I'm waiting for a continental-wide crisis that will bind everybody together, I suppose.

SPEAKER 1: Thanks.

VINE DELORIA: Thank you.


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