In his new preface to this paperback edition, the author observes, "The Indian world has changed so substantially since the first publication of this book that some things contained in it seem new again." Indeed, it seems that each generation of whites and Indians will have to read and reread Vine Deloria’s Manifesto for some time to come, before we absorb his special, ironic Indian point of view and what he tells us, with a great deal of humor, about U.S. race relations, federal bureaucracies, Christian churches, and social scientists. This book continues to be required reading for all Americans, whatever their special interest.
In addition to stirring rhetoric: an overview of the relations between American Indian tribes and the United States from Wounded Knee through 1969; chastisement of missionaries, anthropologists, and government agencies; wry characterizations of inter-tribal politics; screeds on the bankruptcy of both the black Civil Rights Movement and of white American society; and much, much more. Parts of it went over my head -- I'm not well-grounded in Indian politics -- and other parts, such as his opinion of the Civil Rights Movement and the role of corporations as the saviors of white culture, demand a re-read.
Unfortunately, Vine Deloria would probably not be impressed with my field trip or class or the institutionalization of "culture" in general. He spends an entire chapter making fun of the misguided and patronizing work of anthropology, often no-holds-barred scathing commentary:
"One workshop discussed the thesis that Indians were in a terrible crisis. They were, in the words of friendly anthro guides, BETWEEN TWO WORLDS. People between two worlds, the students were told, DRANK. For the anthropologists, it was a valid explanation of drinking on the reservation. For the young Indians, it was an authoritative definition of their role as Indians.
So they DRANK.
I lost some good friends who DRANK too much."
The book de-mythologizes the idealized Indian in the minds of many white Americans - e.g., Tonto or the Indians in Peter Pan, written by and for white impressions of the culture. But Deloria is also writing a specifically political manifesto concerning the status and rights of Indian nations at the end of the 1960s. So other chapters delve into the political struggles that American Indians have, both internally and externally. The black civil rights movement has a huge impact on the way that Deloria is thinking about Indians' civil rights. Yet he also resists the inclination to merely copy the success of black civil rights leaders - it wouldn't work, they're different minorities with different issues, and a simplification of different cultures with the status of "minority" is damaging to them all.
The relevance of this book 40 years later is ambiguous - certainly there are different political issues now, but there are still problems of marginalization and the tension between living with an American government and asserting independent nationhood. However, the book remains an interesting piece of history, and a strong voice of dissent on behalf of a group that has struggled to have its own say.
Deloria discusses his personal frustrations with American policies directed at Indians, and humorously, anthropologists and whites who want to claim Indian ancestry. Deloria is candid in his writing and calls for specific changes to current arrangements.
Highly recommended for anyone and everyone because we clearly (and sadly) haven't been paying attention to this group before...or ever.