Touch the earth : a self-portrait of Indian existence

by T.C. McLuhan

Other authorsEdward S. Curtis
Paper Book, 1971



Call number

E98.C9 M24


New York : Simon & Schuster, cop. 1971


A selection of statements and writings by North American Indians chosen to illuminate the course of Indian history since the coming of the whiteman. Illustrated by pictures from the photographs of Edward W. Curtis.

User reviews

LibraryThing member dypaloh
What do you say to people with the good sense to think that the mania for owning whatever you possibly can is a path to a society’s impoverishment rather than its wealth? Tell them: You lose! A nasty thought. Unfortunately for Native American societies, it encapsulates how history turned out when
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powerful military adjuncts of wealth-centered nations enforced their will.

It didn’t help reconcile Indians to their new status that the people who dispossessed them thought they were ignoble savages. But what else was the white man to think? Here’s why:
In the life of the Indian, there was only one inevitable duty, the duty of prayer…His daily devotions were more necessary to him than daily food. He wakes at daybreak…and steps down to the water’s edge. Here he throws handfuls of clear, cold water into his face, or plunges in bodily. After the bath, he stands erect before the advancing dawn…Each soul must meet the morning sun…alone!
Whenever, in the course of the daily hunt the red hunter comes upon a scene that is strikingly beautiful or sublime…he pauses for an instant in the attitude of worship.
[Ohiyesa, Santee Dakota]

Well . . . that quote, from Touch the Earth: A Self-portrait of Indian Existence, somehow doesn’t sound like ignoble savagery. Perhaps the problem was obstinacy toward the Christian faith:
We made up our minds to be friendly with [white men]…But we found this difficult, because the white men too often promised to do one thing and then when they acted at all, did another…Their Wise Ones said we might have their religion, but when we tried to understand it we found that there were too many kinds of religion among white men for us to understand, and that scarcely any two white men agreed which was the right one to learn. This bothered us a great deal until we saw the white man did not take his religion any more seriously than he did his laws, and that he kept both of them just behind him, like Helpers, to use when they might do him good in his dealings with strangers. These ways were not our ways. [Plenty Coups, Crow]

Okay . . . I fail to see obstinacy here, except in how sectarian division as well as hypocrisy proliferate.

So, Touch the Earth is not a primer for the doctrine of Manifest Destiny. It is a collection of voices whose words, from the continent’s first peoples, express what has been lost to them. Those words (much of the text) record the confusions, costs, and resentments accompanying that loss. They document the effort to cope with the arrival and then permanence of the situation and to explain the disbelieving discovery of what it is to be conquered, in which the concept of survival becomes a perplexity that cannot be settled within. The voices are sometimes despondent, most always eloquent. That eloquence was heard by those who held power. Made hardly a whit of difference.
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