David Wilkins: Tap into the knowledge and power of our nations

Crow Chief Plenty Coups (1848-1932) posed for Edward S. Curtis. Photo from Library of Congress

Professor David E. Wilkins discusses the power and perseverance of Native peoples:
Of course, we all know that every one of our nations was hammered hard by the merciles and unrelenting forces of invasive colonial powers, intent on claiming dominion over our lands, lives, and liberties. But we have to recall not just how our peoples persevered, but how they did it. It is obvious that when we focus solely on the negative actions of the colonizers instead of our own positive strengths that our vast oral history archive is not being tapped and we lose knowledge, power, and moral integrity.

I’m reading Jonathan Lear’s outstanding book, Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation (2006), in which he analyzed a statement by the Crow chief, Plenty Coups, who shortly before he died in 1932, said this: “When the buffalo went away the hearts of my people fell to the ground, and they could not lift them up again. After this nothing happened.”

Lear, a philosopher, was fascinated by Plenty Coup’s blunt comment and knew that the Crow and many other Great Plains tribes endured cultural devastation in the wake of profound losses they suffered after the demise of the buffalo and confinement on reservations. He decided to try to understand what the Crow leader meant by the words “after this nothing happened.”

Obviously, Plenty Coups and the Crow people continued to live, but the way of life they had engaged for generations had indeed ended. They now had to prepare for a future for which they lacked even the concepts with which to experience it. How did they cope? And, what lessons can we glean from the decisions they made in the wake of those traumatic events?

Get the Story:
David E. Wilkins: New Visions for New Times (Indian Country Today 3/2)

Join the Conversation