Custer’s Last Stand
This is a point by point look at the book as I read it and after I read the book. Only a small fraction of my thoughts on this book are here.
- The book opens up with a short poem by famous laurate Rita Joe, the reason the author chose this poem is I think to display that this book is his way shouldering the burden of the Indian experience and a way of showing respect to those who came before. Rita Joe is admired by many people in the Indian community so it makes sense.
- In the introduction, the author explains exactly what this book is. It is a narrative not a history of natives in the united states and Canada. And while a great deal of history is included in the book it isn’t rigorous.
- A few details stand out, in modern times the author believes that European superiority is thinly veiled compared to before and so the terms he uses reflects that experience. “I get stopped wherever I go, but stories go wherever they please,” I think is a great quote to show how the natives are not really separated by these borders and don’t believe in them. P. xvi
- The author finds the name “Department of Indian Affairs” to be more ingenious than the current one which includes “Northern development” I suspect because there has been little development and much destruction.
- On page three the author talks about his philosophy of history. He believes that history is really just stories we tell ourselves. The rest of the chapter, Forget Columbus tells us to rethink the stories we know and look to other ones.
- I have never heard of these figures he’s mentioned in Forget Columbus to me the names Louis Riel and General Armstrong Custer are unknown entities. I think the author thinks the general public knows more than it actually does. I have heard people call this bias a Reverse Dunning Krueger or some sort. I should check out the books he mentioned
- A major part of the book that really gravitated with me are the many different types of Indians. Dead Indians are Indians that Americans just can’t seem to get enough of and it isn’t a coincidence they love dead Indians. They are dead, no longer exist and are in the imaginations of people in North America. From advertising to expecting native people to where things they never really did to point to that narrative. So that people can know they are Indian.
- Live Indians are the next part and they aren’t loved at all. Because they are supposed to have disappeared. And the hope is with certain policies in Canada, at least one type of Indian will disappear in Canada: the legal Indian. What need is there to keep treaties if there will be no legitimate people to fight for it? If native lands are empty they can be claimed and privatized to the new colonists.
- A few stood out historically in this that I learned: First, that it is likely there hasn’t been a single treaty actually followed through by the Colonists. P. 84
- Another thing that I found was the gross way in which land has been taken away by natives historically and how they have been dominated. The allotment has been a popular method, by divide up lots into smaller parts of land than the total that belonged to the tribe before, governments could gain an ‘excess’ that hadn’t existed before.
- Another upsetting thing that I found is that all apologies given have been completely hollow. No action has been taken to stop a lot of the things being done or that were done in the past. The apology was never to be followed up with action neither for America or for Canada. P. 123
- I have learned of the few good things about an ancient struggle between the natives and the colonists: John Collier, for example, ended a lot of the horrible treatment of natives, repurchased some land that was lost during general allotment. Yet even the most helpful of people in government could only slow destruction. Power still remained in the hands of the colonists. Which could change from an open palm to a fist at any moment. And it was usually a fist. That was moving I might add. P. 133
- I learned about the acts of our first prime minister which have permanently changed my view of the man, I had never ever heard of the conflicted that ended up with Louis Riel at the bottom of a rope. Not mentioned once in my history class in school. Intentional? Who knows. P. 127
- I learned about the many problems that natives face that they have created themselves. The Cree with their ‘freedmen’, the new buffalo, and the waste distribution and mining operations that natives have used for their reserves. because there has been little development and much destruction.
- I learned about Native efforts in Alcatraz with AIM and how the author feels about it. Whether it accomplished anything at all. P. 158
- In my favourite chapter and the one I was most heartbroken over was Forget about it the author goes over the horrible things that happened in history and satirically says forget about it. That what happened in the past doesn’t matter since the present is so great for natives. He then talks about bill C-31 that talk about Indian status is an attempt at being a termination act of its own. He talked about the discrimination he faced from realtors, Treaty Seven as a dog-whistle for Indian. P. 184
The making of Treaty Seven
“I had expected that the real estate agent would be censured by the real estate board, but he wasn’t even admonished. […] His flyer wasn’t a lynching in Mississippi or a massacre at Sandy Creek. It was just another of those sharp shards of bigotry you find when you run your fingers across the Canadian mosaic.” -Favourite Qoute P. 186
- And the author follows it up with more diet racism experienced by natives in multicultural policy Canada. P. 187 Is it a coincidence one of his chapters is about an apology?
- Happy ever after is a short last chapter, and I hoped it would be much longer. I want a happily ever after really badly. It is true that Americans like a happy end and I am glad he ended on a… somewhat contented tone. No, I don’t quite know how to describe it, it feels like the world has a whole lot of a work to do before it starts talking about progress.
- Briefly, Thomas does three things in the last chapter, he discusses why natives feel so connected to their land, he explains two major developments: The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) and the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement. He goes into the problems natives face for both of these.
- In Nunavut, in my opinion, they have the greatest opportunity to be quite independent. The only thing in their way is teaching the language in schools and getting native peoples in power. Though I am not so sure how well that will work for the vast majority of Natives or just again benefit the few at that top of the barrel.
On Writing Quote
“Oh yeah I mean, you’re always optimistic when you start one of these projects, at least I am. I am a complete pessimist; that is, whenever I get up in the morning and start to write I believe that I’m going to make some kind of difference, even though in my heart that I won’t, I still do it anyway. And I go ahead as if I will.”
Despite the pessimism in this quote, I found it the most inspiring thing that I ever had when it comes to writing. A book to save the world? Ridiculous, but I’ll do it anyway. As if it would do something.