Talking Back to Civilization
Talking Back to Civilization , edited by Frederick E. Hoxie, is a compilation of excerpts from speeches, articles, and texts written by various American Indian authors and scholars from the 1890s to the 1920s. As a whole, the pieces provide a rough testimony of the American Indian during a period when conflict over land and resources, cultural stereotypes, and national policies caused tensions between Native American Indians and Euro-American reformers. This paper will attempt to sum up the plight of the American Indian during this period in American history.
American Indians shaped their critique of modern America through their exposure to and experience with “civilized,” non-Indian American people. Because these Euro-Americans considered traditional Indian lifestyle savage, they sought to assimilate the Indians into their civilized culture. With the increase in industrialization, transportation systems, and the desire for valuable resources (such as coal, gold, etc.) on Indian-occupied land, modern Americans had an excuse for “the advancement of the human race” (9). Euro-Americans moved Indians onto reservations, controlled their education and practice of religion, depleted their land, and erased many of their freedoms. The national result of this “conquest of Indian communities” was a steady decrease of Indian populations and drastic increase in non-Indian populations during the nineteenth century (9). It is natural that many American Indians felt fearful that their culture and people were slowly vanishing. Modern America to American Indians meant the destruction of their cultural pride and demise of their way of life.
American Indians associated many things with the injustice of modern America: their poor education, containment onto reservations, restricted freedoms (of religion and traditions), and limited rights as so-called American citizens. An advocate for Indian education, Henry Roe Cloud wrote, “Is the Indian a ward of the government or a citizen? What are his rights and duties? . . . [He] must be trained to grapple with these economic, educational, political, religious and social problems” (59, 60). Cloud challenged the American educational system by rhetorically questioning the meaning of Indian citizenship and campaigning for more Indian societal responsibilities. In the Society of American Indians' (SAI) Quarterly Journal , progressivist Carlos Montezuma wrote, “Reservations are prisons where our people are kept to live and die, where equal possibilities, equal education and equal responsibilities are unknown” (93). In Indian schools, children were not even allowed to speak their native language for fear that they might return to their savage ways. Essentially, American Indians only wanted equal rights and equal citizenship; they wanted Euro-Americans to stop treating them like lower-level beings. But Euro-Americans continued their quest to mother the...