|John Kane reflects on good Indians and bad Indians:
Let’s be honest. Most people have no idea who Philip Sheridan is – or care. The infamous quote, “The only good Indian is a dead Indian” is attributed to him. Whether Sheridan really said it or not is like him – of little consequence. However, the quote is as entrenched in American racism as any opinion that was ever expressed.
There are two ways to interpret the quote but neither leaves any room to describe a Native person who has survived the longest and most sustained attempts at genocide as “good.”
The obvious and first assumed interpretation is that relative to a live “Indian” a dead one is better. U.S. President and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Theodore Roosevelt (d. 1919) once said, “I don’t go so far as to think that the only good Indians are dead Indians, but I believe nine out of ten are, and I shouldn’t inquire too closely into the case of the tenth.” This guy obviously subscribed not only to this interpretation but also to this sentiment. Is there any wonder why the Lakota want his face off their Black Hills?
There is another way to view this classic American quote and that is to suggest that all the “Good Indians” have died or been killed. L. Frank Baum, author of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” thought Sitting Bull was a “good Indian.” He called him the “Greatest Medicine Man of his time, by virtue of his shrewdness and daring.” And upon his cowardly murder at the hands of the U.S. government, Baum went on to write, “With his fall the nobility of the Redskin is extinguished and what few are left are pack of whining curs who lick the hand that smites them.”
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John Kane: Good “Indians”
(The Two Row Times 8/28)