Saturday, July 07, 2007


Skins & Fighting for Uncle Scum

Yesterday, I finished reading Adrian C. Louis' 1995 novel, Skins. Rudy and Mogie, the book's two main characters, are both "full blood" Lakota (aka Sioux) Indians and Vietnam combat veterans. I've long pondered the devotion to the US armed forces by many Indian people. They are hugely overrepresented in the ranks of veterans and the active duty military and almost every powwow one goes to begins with an honor guard composed of Indian veterans; sometimes, even bearing individual military branch flags.

Louis has some ideas about what explains this attachment to the very military that, years before, was used to kill and dispossess so many Indians. While watching the PBS documentary Last Stand at Little Big Horn (co-written by James Welch and narrated by N. Scott Momaday) last night it was driven home to me that the poor and immigrant soldiers, including the "Buffalo soldiers," who drove the Lakota from their lands in the late 1800s were not much different from the Lakotas who fought for the US in Vietnam or, for that matter, the Lakotas who took control of what became Lakota territory in the 1700s. Here's a quote from Black Hawk--a Lakota veteran of the 1876 battle of the Little Big Horn--from the film: "These lands once belonged to the Kiowas and the Crows but we whipped those nations out of them and in this, we did what the White men do when they want the lands of Indians." Indeed, as a result the US Army was assisted by Crow scouts in their campaign against the Lakota. And so it goes.

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