Stan Steiner talks with Studs Terkel ; part 1
BROADCAST: 1967 | DURATION: 00:50:09
Discussing the book "The New Indians" and interviewing the author Stan Steiner.
Tap within the transcript to jump to that part of the audio.
Studs Terkel In listening to Benny Bearskin describe the tradition of the Indians and also speak of the degradation to which they've been subjected through the centuries, I think it's a perfect lead in to a remarkable book, a very important book, called "The New Indians", by Stan Steiner, who's known as an honorary Cherokee by the way, and it's incidental that Mr. Steiner wrote this book, as he said, because many of the young Indians said, "You go ahead and write it." They have many books in their drawers. This is the first full-scale report of the gathering that was known as "Red Power" movement -- we hear of the "Black Power" movement -- this is the Indian Movement, a revolt against the white man's culture's debasement of a tribal way of life. Now this is astonishing because the impression we have, Mr. Steiner, is that we think of the, you know, the old cliche, the the vanishing race, the vanishing American -- "Lo, the poor Indian!" And your book is quite revealing and something is developing, isn't there?
Stan Steiner Well, when Mr. Bearskin says something about, this was the Indians' home and is the Indians' home and they feel at home. The new Indian or the young Indian, comes to the point where, as Dick Gregory said on a program I was on in San Francisco just last week, if the Indians ever say, "Whitey go home", they mean all the way.
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Studs Terkel And yet these young -- and let's describe them. They're quite -- they have become quite aware, and many have gone to college and as a result of World War II, much has happened. You speak of a number of them here. Perhaps we can talk about this, how this began, the very nature of this.
Stan Steiner Well, you know, the Indians are a defeated people. They fought a war for a land that was theirs and they lost it. And they were a massacred people. We always talk of Indian massacres, and we think of Indians massacring whites, actually whites massacred Indians. About three quarters of a million out of a million Indians were massacred by whites. So they were a very defeated people just two, three generations ago.
Studs Terkel Now--
Stan Steiner And at that point, you know, at that point, you s- you talk about the new Indian, well, the old Indian was goddamned thankful to have survived. There's a lot to be said for surviving when you're in a def-, not only defeated but the nation that defeated you surrounds you. Well, for a long time Indians kept very much to themselves to preserve what little they had left. World War II changed a great many things among Indians because World War II drafted, oh, 25, 50, 75,000 Indians. No one knows exactly how many. And about a hundred thousand others worked in war plants. And for the first time they had a taste of both civilizations: the the one which is called progressive, technological -- well, towers in Chicago and smog in Chicago and all the rest. And they of course had their own civilization all the time. And they learned two things, and they they'll tell you this over and over again no matter where they stand, they will always tell you this: that there are some things in the white man's civilization that obviously are much better. It's better to put your clothes in a washing machine than stand there all day and washing it yourself. On the other hand there are a lot of things in Indian civilization, such as family ties and a warm heart and taking care of your own and appreciation for the things in nature and life, and maybe an aesthetic or religious sense, which are an awful lot better, they think, than the things in white man's civilization.
Studs Terkel So it's a question, really, of retaining -- well, first of all identity, and first of all, and over and above that, survival. And this is quite remarkable. As you say we can talk about some of the old Indians many whom I understand from your book appreciate the work of the young Indians, too. But perhaps, you open up -- it's very dramatic, the case of the Deerslayer. Perhaps you should talk about this. There was a case of a guy named John Chewie, in Jay, Oklahoma. It's quite dramatic. Suppose you set the scene for this case. It's it really tells us a great deal.
Stan Steiner Well, at the recent hearings before Senator Kennedy was killed, assassinated, he asked one of the Indian leaders whether Indians will ever riot. And the case of the Deerslayer is a case of an Indian riot. And the leader who he asked is a young guy named John Belindo, was an ex-medical student who became leader of the National Indian Congress in Washington. He turned around at the stand and he said to Senator Kennedy, "Well, we will not riot for garbage disposal machines. This is not in the Indian nature." And this was headlined, of course, in the riot conscious papers of America, the fact that Indians would never protest. This is not at all what John Belindo meant. Indians do protest. They don't protest in such a way that the mass media send their cameras down to photograph it because often in an Indian protest nothing is happening. There's a protest of silence. In this case of John Chewie, the -- many Indians feel this is their land. Well, pure and simple, period. If it's your land why do you have to have permission from someone else to do something on it?
Stan Steiner Right. He was arrested for shooting a deer to eat, because the Cherokee income down in eastern Oklahoma probably averages out to something like 500 dollars per family, if that. That's the government's statistic so it's probably generous. And he shot a deer as Indians will very often do, as the Chippewas will shoot wild ducks up in Minnesota, or the Hopi refuse to take out hunting license at all, or the Tiguas down in El Paso won't take out driver's license because they say they don't ask the Texans to take out driver's license to drive on their land. He shot a deer because he felt it was Cherokee land. And he was arrested and charged with whatever he was charged with. And on the day of his trial, 400 Cherokees came into this small town in Oklahoma, Jay, and as I said they didn't riot. And well anyway, the mass media couldn't have done anything about it, because they just took their old blunderbusses and their shotguns in their pickup trucks and they came in and they sat. And they sat all day. They sat around the town square in this town of about a thousand people, so 400 armed Cherokees sitting around made a big impression. [laughter] And Chewie is still not in prison and this was three years ago. I met him last summer and he was fishing very peacefully in one of the non-reservation lakes. [laughter]
Studs Terkel Well, this of course, well, this tells a great deal, this story does. We can come back to parallels in a moment. There are many parallels. I'll ask you about relationships of the various movements of minority groups. We see with Indians -- John Chewie, you make it quite clear hunting is involved here but in contrast to the great white hunters, the John Wayne-type of hunters that shoot for the sport, hunting here and trapping and fishing was really to survive, isn't it?
Stan Steiner Well, in some tribes like the Cherokee or the Sioux, and -- well, the Dakota, really. Sioux is a white man word. In the Dakota that hunting is to put meat on the table because otherwise you have dried milk and dried beans from the -- whatever it is the poor people's assistance that's going from the Department of Agriculture right now. But it's something more than that, it's a pride in a land. You know we're all tourists. Actually, you know, Studs, there are no Indians. There are no Indians on the face of any of the continents here. In North or South America, there are only people who lived here who always in their own language call themselves people. You can't find in any Indian language from New York State down to the Aztecs all the way down, any word that says Indian. This is because a couple of tourists from Europe went the wrong way. So they feel the the white people are all out of tune. They've never been in tune. In fact there was an Indian philosopher back around 1880 who said the white man is a primitive. He'll always be a primitive. He doesn't recognize his mother. His mother's the earth. He travels all over the face of it and he never puts his feet in it. Well, he was talking about the United States. This was a Sioux philosopher, who never got into the law books of a philosophy schools but was a very profound philosopher.
Stan Steiner And the desecration of young Indians, young Indian children who should have this as their bread and butter and their mother's milk. But get instead a school and aspiration to things they can't achieve and really aren't part of their nature and they don't want. For example, you train a lot of Hopi kids to become auto mechanics and there's limited use for auto mechanics in Northern Arizona. So these kids go looking for jobs as auto mechanics in Los Angeles or Chicago, and they they find themselves completely out of place and maybe they work for a while and they quit and they they can't take the man's abuse and his vulgarity because they essentially consider the white man quite vulgar and uncultured.
Studs Terkel You point this out, too, among some of the Indians in World War II, the veterans, the behavior is somewhat different than that of what was relatively the barbaric behavior of others, whether it be toward captives toward women toward -- we would hear of the "Drunken Indian".
Stan Steiner Well, you get into what Sol Tax and the University of Chicago people would call a cultural conflict because you you have a case -- young Indians don't like to get drafted. They never did. They don't now. And they will either resist the draft, like the Iroquois simply go join an uncle up in Canada. They feel they're not violating any patriotism because they're still patriotic to the Iroquois Nation. Or they join the Marine Corps. In fact the same guys who would normally be pacifists, you know, in our political system, at the same time would join the Marine Corps not to be drafted by the system. I mean they're they're proving their manhood by doing this. So you have a case in Vietnam now there are, oh, perhaps several thousand Navajo and Apache young men who have joined the Marine Corps -- paratroopers, the hardest and worst assignments -- and they write poems back to the tribal papers. You can't pick up one of the tribal papers any week without a poem from some Marine in some foxhole in some jungle in Vietnam. And he's writing the most tender love poem to his land back in Arizona. And the theme is always he doesn't really know what the war's all about and the people he's fighting "look like me," he says.
Studs Terkel This this again leads to so many implications. The whole matter of -- of course, we think of Ira Hayes, the hero of World War II, raising the flag of Iwo Jima. I suppose this has become a story, hasn't it? Heroic and then suddenly neglected, the Indian back home, no longer the hero and somewhere dying in skid row or in some lost street.
Stan Steiner Well, that is one story. Of course, this is a matter of choice which story you pick, you know. It's like "High Noon" with -- was it John Wayne? No, it was Gary Cooper marching down Main Street. And he proved his bravery by not shooting until the, whatever the villain was, was right in front of him. He kept his cool. Well, this is not the way you fought in the West. In the West, you fought behind bar doors, behind tombstones. This is the way Wyatt Earp got his marshal's badge, for shooting it out in a bar. What they're describing is the Indian way of fighting. This is the way the Indian fought by showing his bravery by not drawing blood. So--
Stan Steiner By getting as close as possible to your enemy and not hurting them, and then coming home with something that belonged to your enemy, like breechcloth or his horse. And then you were a real hero. So it depends on which end of the cultural spectrum you're on.
Studs Terkel This comes to the matter again of the Indians, of Benny Bearskin too, speaking of a certain culture. No insane asylums, no prisons. In fact, wasn't it was one of the young Indians speaking of amending the Constitution so that human rights, rather than property rights would be paramount?
Stan Steiner Yes, that's that's what I started off to point out and what you're heading toward it. It's not only a feeling for your country but a feeling of disgust for the destroyed people that are caught in this bind. Because you take this young Indian kid who has this heritage that Benny Bearskin speaks about, and has this heritage -- you know, the "Lone Ranger" backwards. I mean, if Tonto were the Lone Ranger and the Lone Ranger were Tonto you'd have a true story of the West. He has this in his heritage. He's put into a school and it's a -- very simple. He's put into grade one. Teacher asks a question and nobody answers it. She picks on somebody. The kid answers it wrong, and no Sioux kid or no Navajo kid or no Hopi kid or Cherokee will get up and correct him. Because if he gets up and correct him, he's proved he's a boor. He's really hurting his own people. You don't do that in public. So, therefore the teacher thinks they're all stupid, and convinces the kids after a while that they're all stupid, and proceeds to destroy a human personality. Because the Indian is not in an Indian school, he's in a white man school with competitive systems and grades. And this is not his way.
Studs Terkel This is incredible as you talk about -- Jonathan Kozol wrote a remarkable book called "Death at an Early Age" about the Boston black ghetto. And it is though you were talking about that very thing. The parallel is quite incredible here.
Stan Steiner And the interesting thing now, the reason for the book, the reason for the "New Indian" is now with Indians having gone into World War II and Korea and Vietnam and having gone through G.I. Bills and having the government foot the bill into college, there are Indian doctors of education who can see what is wrong with the Anglo education system, at least as it applies to Indians, or, I suppose as it applies to Chicanos or as it applies to Blacks. And they want to reorganize it and set up an Indian school system. This is what makes the New Indian, they're no longer complaining or willing to just be shattered at the insults of a different civilization. They want their own civilization modernized.
Studs Terkel Well, this is fascinating because Benny Bearskin in some other aspect of the conversation, and in your book, too, you touch on "integrate into what?" That's pride in own culture. Isn't that part of it, too?
Stan Steiner Well, the National Congress of, well, and -- no, it's the National Indian Youth Council, which is the organization of these high school and college Indians have a definition, a series of definitions and terms, one of which is integration. Integration to them, is integration, is you marry into another tribe. That's integration.
Studs Terkel Before I ask about the young Indians -- this is interesting. Before I ask about the powwow of the young intellectuals, and some of them like Clyde Warrior, who's fantastic, and Mel Thom and the others. And Deloria. Is it Deloria?
Stan Steiner Yes.
Studs Terkel Yeah. Before them, the -- you spoke of hunting. We heard of the "Fish In". That's when Dick Gregory also, sympathetically, went to jail. Up in Yakima, the Yakama Indians. The story behind this "Fish In" is a very interesting one about the commercial fisheries and the Indians and treaties.
Stan Steiner Well, I'll I'll tell you that story or your listeners that story. But first since you mentioned Clyde -- I I memorialize him as I go on these program because he died last week. And if you talk about an Indian personality being destroyed, here's a brilliant young guy and a master's in education, a master's program in education. Probably one of the most articulate young Indian leaders who has come up since Crazy Horse, which is a long time back, and he died of all the diseases that were put on him -- frustration. And, in a sense, was killed and was a victim of this bind which young Indians have put in. He died at a highway in Oklahoma. But about the "Fish Ins". That's another sort of a story because there Indians are fighting back with everything they got. That's in a sense an old story. You could re-enact it right here in Illinois and you could re-enact it in any state. It just happened to explode in Washington State and it might explode in Illinois because the Indians have the same claims here. To give the whites the privilege to settle in Illinois, the whites got all the la-, I mean in Washington, they got all the land in Washington State, for which the whites gave the Indians the privilege to fish on their rivers, which was a pretty fair real estate deal. This was alright as long as the Indians had reservations. Now most of the Indian reservations are quite small. The largest one is a few thousand acres. There's one that's a quarter of an acre. Well, it's hard to get river frontage on a quarter of an acre. And since the Indians are fishing tribes and they live from eating and selling fish, they have to fish off reservations. Ergo, they're breaking all the laws of the state. So the Indians decided with this new generation, with these new Indians, they would fish anyway. Since the Russians fish offshore, and the Japanese fish offshore, and the Canadians fish offshore, and, of course, American commercial fishers fish off and on-shore. They figured they had a right to fi- fish on more than a quarter of an acre. And they put on their Marine Corps uniforms and they put on their Army uniforms and they went to fish. There have been probably 200 Indians arrested since this started in '64. Some of the Indians who were arrested were right back from Vietnam. In fact, one of the young fellows said that he didn't understand why the United States government was spending tens of millions of dollars to supply fishing boats to the Vietnamese, the South Vietnamese fishermen, but took his fishing boat away, and he fought in Vietnam. And this story is over and over again. Well, it reached a high point during the Poor People's March in Washington, where the Supreme Court on the same day -- with no disrespect meant to the Supreme Court -- came out with two absolutely contradictory decisions. One was to give the State of Washington the right to do whatever it darn pleased to the Indians in that state. The other was to deny the State of Wisconsin the right to do the same thing. And I was there in Washington. Indians marched on the Supreme Court. They protested. They finally got in to see somebody. I spoke to one of the leaders, Hank Adams, who was one of the "Fish In" leaders, who's a young college kid from Washington State who's part Sioux, part Assiniboine. And I said to him, "You know Hank, nobody marches on the Supreme Court. You can march on anything. You can march on President Johnson's bathroom. But you don't march on the Supreme Court." He said, "Well, this is our land. If the Supreme Court doesn't know that, it's not my Supreme Court." And, Hank is a politically I think, fairly conservative young guy but, very Indian. And they're back now in Washington State and they are fishing again on the rivers. Dick Gregory just, I think, fasted for 40 days in prison in joining that "Fish In". Marlon Brando tried to get himself arrested up there, but he didn't quite make it [laughter]. But I think they will fish on those rivers until they have the right to fish.
Studs Terkel Well this, of course, is a clear case, it seems to me this, the fish the "Fish In". Here's a case of commercial fisheries and of Indian fishing. Also, now also that some of the Indians were really catching a great deal of fish and making a livelihood. And this was this was a threat to the commercial fisheries, too?
Stan Steiner Well, I think the hang-up is more than Indians. It doesn't make any sense if you think of, I don't know, 40,000 Indians in Washington State and 10 percent of the fishing catch going to Indians, and what difference does it make if they get nine percent or 11 percent or it doesn't make any difference if half a million or a million or a million and a half Indians in the United States. I mean, wh- why would the country insist on continually double dealing the Indian after all these years? There's not much left that the Indian has. I think it's more than that. The hang-up is a national political psychosis. What I mean is this: every mess we get into -- unsolvable, political, and military situation overseas -- if it's in Iran or if it's in Ghana or if it's in Vietnam -- we're dealing with a village people and we're dealing with a tribal people and we're dealing with a colored people and we're dealing with people with age-old civilizations. Very different cultural standards. So the government invariably -- and it doesn't make any difference who's sitting in the government really, whether it's the most brilliant young, liberal intellectual or the most hackneyed old ward heel of politics who hap- po- politician got to the White House makes the same damn mistakes, and he does it because he doesn't understand these people. Well, the Indians are these people and the young Indians, some of the young Indian leaders as you know from the book will say, "If we understood the American Indian we would understand the Vietnamese." We wouldn't -- if we could solve the Indian problem we would solve the -- our attitude toward the quote-unquote colonial problem all around the world. And their hang-up is really that: that it's a colonial attitude toward a conquered people who happen at this point, for their misfortune, to live right in the middle of the country. I mean they're not over in Asia. They're right here.
Studs Terkel That's what's fascinating and very important about Stan Steiner's book, our guest Stan Steiner, the book "The New Indians" is -- Harper and Row, the publishers -- is the fact that there is a cliche we live by and perhaps a comfortable one for some, to be sympathetic and to weep crocodile tears, "the Indian is dead." And you're revealing something quite astonishing, that there's a new feeling among -- I suppose the question is how many -- what about the popu- [for instance?] what about the population, the Indian population, the American Indian population today as it compares to the past?
Stan Steiner Because the government statistics are valueless. There are a lot of statistics in the book, 20 pages, because Harpers told me, and it's true, that unless I put the statistics they would never use the book in anthropology courses. That there wouldn't be any facts. I I think statistics hide facts. For example, you take Indians: the government census says the census taker is supposed to estimate whether -- if I'm a census taker and you're an Indian, or at least I think you are, I estimate whether you have a quarter Indian blood. If I -- my brain tells me this, therefore, I write you down as Indian or I can even ask you. And the census 10 years before, that's the '50 census, it was impolite to ask. I was just supposed to make this mental deduction, so obviously it's impossible to tell how many Indians there are. It's like the Mexican-American population. The government says three and a half million. The Mexican leaders, Mexican-American leaders, will tell you eight million because there's no count of minority peoples because the standards are so racist in the first place. I mean, you can't tell a person by the quantity of blood by making an Anglo guess at that. So, rather say, as some of these new Indians say, one quarter of the population of North and South America are Indian.
Studs Terkel And as far as the United States -- I say American Indian I should say the United States Indian -- the population then, your conjectures and sources tell you is greater than it was. It is not the vanishing race.
Stan Steiner No, it's it's many times what it was. It's it's a romantic and lovely idea of a man who has conquered another man to say how noble and extinct he is, and that's just been going on as long as the white man thought he had conquered the Indian. The Indian was never noble when he was equal force to the white man, then he was always a savage. The noble Indian arose around the time of General Custer. When Custer was at West Point -- he was a young kid of 19 -- in his ethics class, the teacher asked him -- this was 1858, I believe, '57 -- the teacher asked him to write an essay on the "noble red man." And Custer wrote a beautiful essay about how the "noble red man" was extinct, on the verge of his do- doom and disaster, standing boldly and bravely with his rifle in his hand, and of course, he would disappear in a few years. And, of course, it was General Custer who disappeared in a few years, but that's historical footnote. But that's a luxury, you know, to sympathize with the Indian. You only sympathize with him if he has no power. In some of these states in the West where the Indians are developing power, the politicians no longer sympathize. [laughter]
Studs Terkel This, of course, we come back to that again, don't we? Because the subtitle of this book is "Red Power". Make it clear to people the word "Red Indian Power." [laughter] So we come to this whole theme again, don't we, of the misconception, and here there's a great parable. Would you say that, before I ask you about, specifically, perhaps pay more tribute to -- I'm really shocked to hear that because I've just been very impressed with Clyde Warrior, who died. If I may just quote him from your book here, Clyde Warrior, speaking: "I am disturbed to the point of screaming when I see American Indian youth accepting the horror of 'American conformity', or those who do not join the great American mainstream of personality-less neurotics are regarded as incompetents and problems." And he speaks of these foreign institutions, meaning, of course, these Anglo, these white institutions created by a foreign society. And then wrote, the late Clyde Warrior: "The young Indian must introduce into this sick room of stench [and?] anonymity some fresh air of a new Indianness, a fresh air of a new Indian idealism, a fresh air of a new greater Indian America. How about it? Let's raise some hell." He says, "This will not come about without nationalistic pride in oneself and one's kind." And so we have Clyde Warrior speaking, I suppose, for the new, the young Indians.
Stan Steiner Before I could do anything in in my life I would have to have some pride in myself. I think everything starts [coughing] with yourself. I think of a political, ideological, or a physic- oh, philosophical mold, which is imposed from the outside has no value because it disappears in the next day. And I think this is what these young Indians are building. One of the young Indians who are mentioned in the book, who I believe taught once at the University of Chicago even though he is quite young, who is a Cherokee, who is anthropologist, said that the New Indians will build their [coughing] Indianness out of sawdust, if they have to. But they will build it out of their blood. There are young Indians who are now learning their old language even though they don't know a single word of their language. It's been that much ripped out of their souls and their families. There are young Indians who will tell you that the Indian way of life, if it can be modernized will completely change and save the American way of life which is being dehumanized.
Studs Terkel Well, this is, of course, this is also the -- in the Black Revolution, too. The same principle applies. It seems -- it's interesting is, it not? And I'm sure among the Spanish-American people, too, the same principle. This, of course, was the basis of the Poor People's Campaign, that those who have been deprived are the very ones who may indeed, if succeed, save our own humanness of the majority, if there is a majority culture, so-called.
Stan Steiner Well, I don't know. I'm I'm not much on saviors. [laughter] I don't know whether people can save other people. I think people have to save themselves in the end. But, I have strange mixed feelings about the American culture and nation and its ability to save itself. Because this is a nation put together of all sorts [coughing] of people and all sorts of cultures, and somehow it has never quite been cohesive. You know, we call it the "American way of life" or the Anglo or white man's way of life. But this is no -- there's no such thing as -- in a cultural sense. This is amalgamation. And one of the reasons why I think the young Indians come across so strongly, if someone reads them as they will read them in this book, and have, they're very impressed. The reviews have been rave reviews by papers that have no Indians within a thousand miles of them. They're shocked. And I think once the Chicano movement, the Mexican-American movement, begins to speak up nationally, the country will have the same reaction as they have had it already to the Black movements whether they -- people agree or disagree. They are totally shocked by a cultural entity, a cohesiveness arising, because America really doesn't have that. It doesn't have that internal inherence to itself. It's put together by too many bits and pieces, it gets too nervous, it feels it's going to fall apart at the slightest thing.
Studs Terkel Really, you're really speaking of a certain ideal that is here that many don't realize that that can be realized: a pluralistic culture. The pluralism. We speak of a pluralistic society. There are these pluralistic cultures that are indigenously rich, and this with the "New Indians." In contrast, if I say this, you know, I'm speaking now of Chicago, the city, in many large cities, and up here on Clark Street, there's a a tavern, no longer there, where I used to go. I remember that it was called, ironically enough, Shamrock Inn. And that's where many Indians were. And the booze flowed and I talked to a number of them. And I was astonished at the, not just the depression, the deprivation, but the eloquence that came out and the hurt. Many of the guys came from Minnesota, from the reservations in the northwest, and here they were in this tavern. You know that the picture we had -- this is the typical stereotype picture -- but underneath was this guy who was really something, you know.
Stan Steiner Oh, I think you'll find that almost among any Indian group. For one thing Indians love to talk, and there past mastered it at articulating. Thomas Jefferson once said if we had six Indians in Congress he would replace Congress because these people really know how to speak. They have a love for the language. That's an old Indian tradition, but it's more than that, you know. So much in America which is basic to the country is Indian. The "Articles of Confederation" which went into the Constitution, the balancing of federal and state powers, and individual rights itself. Ben Franklin who wrote it, wrote a major part of it, claims he took it from the Iroquois, Federation of Iroquois Nations. So much in the whole value system in the United States when it was set up was taken from the Indians. And John, oh, Adams and Madison and Jefferson paid tribute, and at that time it was fashionable to pay tribute to Indians for these things. So, in a sense, perhaps, if the Indian was the first American, he may be the last and the last hope of making America what the country had started out to be, at least in its in its ideals if not in its practice. But I'm not quite so sure about your pluralism. My wife is a professor of education in graduate school in New York. Or what does she call it? Psycho-linguistics, I think. And she's very much for and advocating pluralism in educational systems, in fact she's been working in Spanish-speaking schools in the Southwest to bring bilingual and bi-cultural education and is constantly frustrated because programs that seem to be so are not so when she gets to Tucson or El Paso or Los Angeles. And we argue about this all the time. She's convinced pluralism is the way of life that America should reflect. Hawaii, for example, should be the example of that, or Alaska. And I always argue that it never has been and it never will be. I I might be wrong and I would like to be wrong, but. Well, Thomas Jefferson, who was my boyhood idol, and he may be yours, I don't know. The greatest Democrat probably we ever had in this country, speaks at one point about intermingling blood of Indians and whites, which is a fine idea. And in the next sentence he says, "In order to create a white America," and I'm afraid that's pretty much the American way still. [laughter]
Studs Terkel Yeah, but still we have these challenges that indicate there's something else in the air. We haven't -- before I ask you about the the matter of women and also "Uncle Tomahawks." By the -- this is an interesting phrase, "Uncle Tomahawks". And also "Red Muslims." This is, again this, apparently -- this city, and the -- it's come to this, the cement prairies. Many Indians -- the feelings about the city, and isn't there also, don't the young Indians feel a strong feeling about their own, about retaining an indigenous culture not necessarily in what we describe as urban communities, meaning jungles of cities?
Studs Terkel [unintelligible]
Stan Steiner Well, let's take the cities. A lot of sophisticated young Indians who will tell you they're not Indian at all do remarkably Indian things in the cities. For example, there's an American Indian youth club in New York City, in Greenwich Village. It's just below Washington Square, members of which are mostly half-Indians. In fact, there's a Jewish-Indian in the club, or a commercial artist, or Madison Avenue artists and such. They are college kids. And when the Custer program was on the networks last year, these kids put out a psychedelic poster protesting it. And they went around New York City putting this poster on the doors of all the skyscrapers where any sponsor was. I don't remember who that was, but there must been loads of sponsors. And the guy who was the chairman who was a Cherokee, part Cherokee, told me that they would wait till a cop on the beat was in front of the building and sneak up behind his back and put up the poster. And I said, "Well, why did you do that, you know, why didn't you wait till he was around the corner?" And he said, "No that wouldn't be the Indian thing to do." They were counting coup and counting coup was what I was describing before, an Indian getting as close as possible to the enemy without drawing blood. And this is a guy who's done a lot of psychedelic posters which you probably sell in the stores here. I mean, he is a real swinging Indian but, I mean, he's very Indian. The kids in the cities, especially the young kids, are more Indian than they sometimes know. I can give you another example of that. I was down at the Episcopalian Diocese of Philadelphia last Thanksgiving and some of the Indians at prep schools in the East, the fancy prep schools, were gathered around and they were being lectured. It was part of their price they had to pay for eating the free turkey. And one of the lecturers was, I think, assistant head of the Board of Education of Philadelphia and they -- there were black kids who were rioting for black history courses, so-called, I mean, so-called rioting in Philadelphia. And he made a big speech, this assistant whatever he was, to these young Indians, about how they have to clear up their identity crisis. And point by point all these young Indians, none of whom would be taken as Indians in the East, all got up and informed that they had no identity crisis whatsoever. They knew they were Indians. He had the identity crisis. He didn't know whether he was black or not. So Indians in the cities are now, even in the fanciest prep schools in the East, are still Indian. You don't have to go down more than two or three layers of put-on masks and skin to perform an act well in the white world. I think I've lost some of your questions. [laughter]
Studs Terkel No that, the city, for example, the the country and the city. This question always comes up. Because somewhere you have pictures in your book, too, and one is very revealing about the hogans. They were horrible places, but apparently hogans modernized are preferable to some of the Indians than, say, housing projects.
Stan Steiner Well, Indians, when they when they say they want modern ways, and they they add they want [coughing] them in Indian ways. They want modern ways in Indian ways. That means you don't build a suburban housing development on the reservation. It's like in L.A., there's a program being advanced by some of the Chicanos in East L.A. who are very much Indian -- Mexicans from Northern Mexico are very Indian -- that they don't want these modern skyscraper housing projects. They want projects where the whole family can live together with the uncles and the aunts with a little plaza in between. And they proposed this to the city fathers who thought they were crazy. And this is a very responsible and respected east L.A. community development association. Well, Indians will make the same proposal and the Bureau of Indian Affairs will think they're crazy. And there is no reason why, of course, you can't have housing or welfare or family life or medical attention or anything else in the culture of the people. In fact, especially when the people themselves have enough capable professionals to promote such a system. Unfortunately, you'll always run into the same same dead wall, high wall, in Indian affairs, and I suppose in different ways you run into it in any people who are in minority among a majority. There's a governing body. There's a body which manages and this is the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which is the oldest bureaucracy in the federal government since, oh, 1824 or thereabouts. There's one bureaucrat for every 16 Indians. Everything Indians do has to get permission in one form or another, even if they want to invest money in stocks they have to get permission to do that, much less change the shape of the hogan. The only thing they can't -- well, there was one thing that they're absolutely free to do, that's to leave the reservation and become white. That they can do any time. But to do it in an Indian way they have to have permission. And generally speaking it's not granted.
Studs Terkel This Bureau of Indian Affairs the -- is it Chief Bennett now? Chief is a good word, I want to ask you about that word, 'chief', in a moment. But he says he-- there's an air of patronizing here -- he's "patient" but "my patience may run out," when the Indians are objecting to some injustices--
Stan Steiner Well, when you manage someone, Terk, you have to be patronizing. If I were to manage you, you would be like my son. Of course, I can't manage my teenage son, but I I would try to manage you-- [laughter]
Stan Steiner That's exactly what Bennett says, who is part-Indian. The last time the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, like Commissioner Bennett, was part-Indian was during the Grant administration when Custer was marching West. They had a part-Indian, but he resigned quickly. Bennett has not yet resigned.
Stan Steiner It really isn't a question. Yes, I think Collier, by many people, was considered quite a good man and he liked the book very much so I guess I should consider him a good man. But it's not a question of good man or even good policies. It's a question of paternalism. Bennett told me they had a meeting to revamp the Indian Bureau, which Johnson, President Johnson, has been trying very seriously to do for -- mainly because of the power movements among Indians, I would think, because the situation has changed so you change the structure of the government. And they didn't call any Indian tribal leaders into this conference. In fact, they closed the doors to them. And when I asked Bennett about it, I said, "Well, if you had a meeting of -- to revamp the banking situation in the country, would you bar the door to bankers, or if you had one on labor would you bar the door to labor?" He said, "Well, you have to understand, if we had a meeting for old people we wouldn't invite the old people." So I said to him, "Well, we always considered the Indians children, now you consider them old people, but you don't still consider them human beings."
Studs Terkel Of course, this is very funny -- come back to old people, too, and come back to Blacks. A friend of mine, a blues singer died, Big Bill Broonzy, says he was always called a 'boy'. You know. He always was called a boy all his life, you know. And when he got very old and wouldn't mind being called boy, and then they started calling him 'uncle'. And so we come back to the question of words--
Stan Steiner I was told by someone in Washington that they go around the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which is an Interior Department, calling each other "Uncle Tomahawks", that is the government service. It's caught on very much. Yes, the phrase is used, "Uncle Tomahawks" or "Red Power" or-. All these phrases. These young Indians are, as I said before, swinging young kids. They are Indian but they are swinging young kids. So they have bumper stickers, for example, which say, they don't say "Yankee go home", they say "Custer died for your sins".
Studs Terkel [laughter]
Studs Terkel These are the Indians. The words -- I mentioned 'chief' earlier. This is the typical word. Remember there was a great catcher for the New York Giants years ago and there's a recording of his voice. Chief Meyers. [President Chief Bennett Meyers?] Even now, as an old man, very articulate, says, you know, he watches those films and he's horrified. But the word 'chief' is a derogatory. You know, if a white guy says "Hey Chief", to a guy that's a dero- as derogatory a word as "nigger" or "kike", isn't it? Or the derogatory Spanish-American.
Stan Steiner Yes, that's a way of putting a man down by praising them, sure. 'Chief' is a meaningless thing. But that's from the white man's conception of how governments are run, you know, we have chiefs. Some of these young Indian leaders will tell you we have a very undemocratic and authoritarian government, which horrifies some political science professors, who think we have a democratic participatory form of government. But they say, "No, you elect a chief." We we never elected a chief. The Indians, if a man said, "I will lead you somewheres," he will -- he would lead by doing it. He would get out and do it and if the people followed, he was their leader. If people decided he was not a good leader they turned around and followed someone else. There was no such thing as electing a chief, and then the chief served you. So what we're really doing is imposing our own concept on the Indians. The Indians -- It's like all the treaties that are signed by chiefs. An Army group went out and met a band, which was usually a family, an extended family, with cousins and aunts. And they asked them to sign a treaty or something, and they said, "Chief, sign." So papa or uncle or grandpa, he signed it, and the rest of the Indians said, "Well, he doesn't represent us because we don't have this kind of authoritarian system. The Victorian 'papa'. We have a completely different family system." So 'chief' doesn't mean anything. And young Indians will turn the other way when you when you say something like this, because this is still used, it's still used in Vietnam. In fact, I picked up a soldier coming east here from California who had just gotten out of Vietnam, and he was telling me about a guy, an Apache, in his outfit who they called "Chief." Racist words hang on and hang on and hang on.
Studs Terkel But as you're talking about this, we have those cliches hang on, too. Because we think now the Indian woman -- I think of the "squaw", the "Indian maiden", the humble, silent one. You talk now a new kind of -- I know Buffy Sainte-Marie, and I suppose she represents, she herself represents something new, too, doesn't she?
Stan Steiner Well, this book was read by a great many of the young Indians who are in it, in the manuscript before I gave it to the publisher, most of whom were young men. And there was one chapter they all violently objected to. [coughing] That was the chapter on young women.
Stan Steiner Because you find in Indian life generally, women have a much more important role, I think, than in Anglo life. They always have had. Even if go way back to Indian gods. If you have a Mother Earth and a Father Sky, you have an equality there which you don't have to philosophize about. Or you go back to certain tribes with matriarchal systems like the Iroquois. The Iroquois ladies revolted, I think it was around 1600, and told their warrior, the Mohawk warrior men and Onondaga warrior men, that there would be no more little Iroquois unless the women had the power of war and peace, and they had it. They had it from that time on. So women are very important. And nowadays, most of these organizations, the young Indians, are at least 50 percent led by young women, which is a great embarrassment to the young warriors. [laughter]
Studs Terkel It would seem this is ever so with every culture. I'd like to ask Obed Lopez of LADO about this. I know I ask certain young black leaders about this, too, and they speak of black women and there is new pride in black women. The subject always causes a little private discussion. This is very fascinating. You point out a number of the young Indian girls who are quite leaders, Janet McCloud and the others.
Stan Steiner This program that Dick Gregory was on with me and he was praising this book and talking about it and someone asked him on the program how he got it. And he said, "Well, the leader of the 'Fish-Ins', the Washington State Fish-Ins," who, as I described to you, are Marine Corps veterans and such, gave it to him. So someone asked him, "Who was that?" And he said, "Oh, Janet McCloud." Who, of course, was not a Marine Corps veteran but is a woman.
Studs Terkel But to become -- So there's a change -- I mean, the cliches are all, the stereotypes are all being broken. The book is of my guest, Stan Steiner. And by the way, you yourself -- Harper and Row are the publishers -- how you came to write it. You yourself were knocking about dirt roads, traveling. What led you to this particular theme? This particular part of our our life: the Indian?
Stan Steiner Well, I I I'm a what they used to call a bum. I mean, when I was a kid, and I I fell asleep on the sidewalk at Des Moines, Iowa, and the cops came and hit me on the sole of my feet and took me out to a cornfield and left me there. This was known as vagrancy or bumming around the country or used to be called hobos, I guess, in the IWW days, or what have you. Of course, now we call it alienated youth and we have clinics for it. But I wandered around a lot. School -- I was one of these kids who didn't like to embarrass everyone, including myself, by talking to the teacher. So I skipped school and did a lot of wandering. And the country was, and I think still is, full of a great many Indians who have a very close appreciation of the country. And somehow I was never satisfied that the gutters of New York were the soul of America. I think I discovered what little soul I have in America among American Indians, and I grew up with a lot of the people I write about. Well, I should also say I'm not a sociologically-minded writer. I don't believe, and not because I don't think I could fake it. I think most sociologists do quite well and I could do it, too. I don't believe in studying people. I think there's something inherently fallacious. I'm very much in accord with the anthropologist, the French anthropologist Levi Strauss, who says studying other people is a privilege and luxury of imperialism. First you have to conquer them to study them, otherwise Indians would be studying whites and Africans would be studying Europeans. So I think that in this historically fallacious set-up of studying other people you have methodology which is completely screwy and serves no one any good, including the conquerors. It certainly doesn't do the conquered any good. So why I wrote this book? I like to write about people. I write books about people. These are people I like. I would have never written the book had they not asked me. And they literally did ask me. I suppose I'm the expendable Anglo.
Studs Terkel This is a bringing a point, this point can't be emphasized too much. This book, by the way, is not a study of the Indians. The point that Stan Steiner makes after the Glazer Moynihan report came out on Black families, the suggestion was made by a a young Black teacher that perhaps one day a Black sociologist will be given a grant to study the the deprived, culture-deprived white society. Study it.
Stan Steiner Well, if we can switch from Indians, I was talking to Corky Gonzales, who was head of Crusade for Justice in Denver, which is a young Chicano Mexican-American organization. And he told me that what he's going to ask the Ford Foundation for is an "Institute of Mexican-American Studies of Anglos" because he said he's finished as far as he's concerned. No one's going to come and study any of his friends anymore, but his friends should have the right to study them. [laughter]
Studs Terkel Well, the book obviously, this book, "The New Indians" is is not a study. We come to -- of course, you obviously, you yourself obviously know the people and it's about humans, a certain very cultured people, whose culture has been so desecrated. But the survival quality is there. We come to -- there are so many questions to ask you about the the -- even the phrases, the words, the hip the hip Indians. They're very hip aren't th-, the use of phrases, aren't they? "Red Muslims". When -- there was there was a big meeting that occurred, it was an accidental one, to which Benny Bearskin referred, that was conducted by anthropologists here at the university, to which the young Indians were not invited. Back in '60, is that right? Was that '60 or so?
Stan Steiner That meeting at the University of Chicago, which was sponsored by some of the greatest anthropologists in American Indian affairs and very fine men they are, I think is a typical example both of what the "New Indians" are all about and why I don't like studies. Though, these things are not equal propositions. [laughter] This was a meeting called mainly under the leadership of Sol Tax at the university here and a number of his colleagues. Full of purpose, I suppose, of bringing together Indians from all over the country because there were swellings and movements and thoughts, and it was obvious Indian Affairs weren't getting any place, were not solving any problems and Indians were getting in a worse and worse bind. So about 400 Indians did gather at the university here for several days. And I don't know how many anthropologists but a goodly number of them, too. They had their separate conference alongside.
Stan Steiner And the young Indians who came were mostly Korean War vets and some young girls, some of their wives. And came, like the Indians will come to any conference at the drop of a hat because it's free carfare, and what have you. And it's a way to -- well, people like to go to conferences. They don't always attend them. I don't like to go to conferences. But anyway, they came and they listened and they listened, and finally one young Indian said, "Well, this conference has nothing to do with us. Let's take it over." So the young Indians met. There were about 10 or 12 of them who met day and night literally for four days and four nights and rewrote and wrote most of the programs that eventually came out of the conference. And in Indian fashion, which I don't intend to reveal right here, they put them through because Indian conferences have Anglos running it in a very parliamentary way and Indians running it in a very familial and tribal way, and these things don't necessarily meet on the floor of the conference. In fact, every Indian who has attended a conference will say it all takes place out in the corridors in the back rooms and not smoke-filled rooms. But at any rate, they did this. They swung a new spirit of Indian nationalism into this conference, which is recorded in minor fashion in the book. And the interesting thing, and why I'm telling these story so long, is when Sol Tax and other anthropologists, including my brother-in-law, who's an anthropologist, read this and who were at the conference, they said, "Oh no, it didn't happen like that at all. Where did you get the story?" And I said, "Well, I don't really care whether it happened like that to you. This is what happened to the Indians. This is their story." And their comment was, "Well, it's very interesting that the Indians think it happened that way." And I could see the wheels turning. You know, they were going to study why the Indians thought it happened that way. [laughter]
Studs Terkel [unintelligible.] This is fascinating. Even out of accident out of accident came this. Then came a rather interesting gathering of the young Indian in Gallup, New Mexico. When was that? Last -- a couple of years ago?
Stan Steiner Oh, that was that was the year after. After the young fellows and the young girls left Chicago, they corresponded as they said, by tape recording. It's interesting, you know, that they didn't send arrows through the air, nor even letters because they were, were too hep for that. They sent tape recordings of their speeches to each other through the air. And they finally decided that they would have to set up their own organization of young Indians, which they did down in Gallup, one very hot day in August the year later.
Studs Terkel Don't we have an [image?]? We speak of the young Indians, now we got to talk about that couple of old timers, too, who were not Uncle Tomahawks. Finis Smith, you point out as one of them. Now, some of the older Indians, who have been quiet, perhaps not quiet but to us, really feel pretty good about this, don't they?
Stan Steiner Well, when you talk of older Indians, you know, there's a man I I mention in the book called Dan Raincloud, who was a priest, or like we like to say, a medicine man, of the Chippewa up in Minnesota. And Mr. Raincloud told me that -- he's a quite old guy who's also an expert carpenter and plumber among many trades that he has. And he's also a very fine priest. He told me he always talks to the anthropologists and sociologists for 75 cents an hour but he never tells them anything. And I think this is true of old Indians. They have always written books or told books to, as he says, "I tell my words to," and he takes away the meaning, the anthropologist, "a foot of my words." But it doesn't mean anything because it's not really what's in his heart. If you're a conquered people among other people you'll learn how to react very well and say what -- I could say what you want me to say, which I can do anyway since I've been on these programs for a while, before you say it, because I can tell by the expression on your face what answer you're going to want, so I give it to you. Well, this is what old Indians do. This is why they've survived. This is why they've gone up from a quarter of a million at the turn of the century to perhaps a million and a half now. You have to be a past-master at survival.
Stan Steiner So--
Stan Steiner Right. So the the older Indian leader who who may now be a tribal chairman would not do any of the things the young people are doing. For one thing, he's not convinced it'll work and he -- his people are his first protection. He has to protect the life of his people. But he supports them even though he may attack them publicly, he may support them privately. Or his -- even if he doesn't do that his feelings are for them because they're his people. In fact, some of the tribal leaders who I know would not go on the line with some of these statements that are in the book that the younger men make, will say, "Well, they're like the Warrior Societies." Well, a "Warrior Society" is a group of young men who go out and risk their lives, and if they are mistaken they die. Well, here they may intellectually die. They wouldn't physically die. But they do support them in that sense. And, old Ind- well, I think the prime story of old and new Indians is: When the book was circulating, when the news of the book was circulating in the Sioux country -- I've heard this from a friend of mine -- some Sioux were gathered and some of the old Sioux said, "What is this, this crazy white man Steiner is writing a-", 'White Eyes', they called me up there, "is writing this book about new Indians? There are no new Indians, there are only old Indians." So some of the young men said, "Well, you know very well, you know, we're different now. We do things differently." So finally the old fellow conceded, "Well, there may be some new Indians in the old way or there may be some old Indians in a new way, but you're an Indian until you die."