Tribalism, Class, Mexico, Southern Tribes, Anglo Hunger -- And More

Hunter Gray hunterbadbear at
Fri Jul 11 08:47:48 MDT 2003

Repost -


Note by Hunterbear:

I posted this initially on RedBadBear in connection with an excellent post
made there by Louis Proyect with respect to the book by Anthony Wallace,
"The Long Bitter Trail: Andrew Jackson and the Indians." These comments of
mine, even standing alone, are self-contained and self-explanatory and may
be of interest to some at ASDnet. I'm sending a copy to Chris Lowe.


A bit pressed at the moment, I will follow Sam's thought and make a few
brief comments on the attendant matters emerging from Louis'  very good post
[and related discussion] concerning  Anthony F.C. Wallace's "The Long Bitter
Trail:  Andrew Jackson and the Indians."   I should add that, long ago when
it initially appeared, I purchased and read Wallace's "The Death and Rebirth
of the Seneca"  [New York:  Knopf, 1970] and have always found it excellent.

While it's certainly possible that several of the Southern tribes -- and
others further up the Mississippi Valley -- had origins in and around what
is now Mexico or even further south, that's probably still somewhat
speculative.  Since there was always a good deal of migration in the Western
Hemisphere -- only  recently recognized widely by anthropologists -- it's
certainly quite reasonable to assume this might well have occurred.
Linguistic relationships, art, and "mounds" do point to possible link-ups.

 I'm presently involved in helping my very sharp one-half  Mississippi
Choctaw grandson get started on a school paper which I, frankly, consider a
meaningless assignment in relative twaddle. But since Thomas grew up in our
particular Native setting [and not in his father's], I can't use Tom as an
informant on this question of, say, basic Choctaw origins.  But I'm not sure
any contemporary Choctaws -- Mississippi or Oklahoma -- could provide
definitive insights into that one at this point.

I do believe that all of the Native peoples of the Western Hemisphere were
and are basically tribal people -- and this would certainly include, for
example, the Toltecs and the Aztecs and the very, very old peoples of
Teotihuacan. I've always been very cautious about efforts to impose European
concepts of "social development"  on Fourth World peoples anywhere --
including, very basically, the matter of "social class."  I'm not sure there
is any really basic disagreement among discussants of this in our List
family  -- save for a few qualitative and degree quibbles.

Certainly, we are all socialists!

To this moment, and after hundreds of years of exposure to frequently
hostile European and Euro-American influences and actions, Native tribal
societies and cultures [where their people have survived the genocidal
holocaust] certainly remain quite intact. I'd certainly argue that tribes
are each, from one perspective, "One Big Family" where everyone is related,
some way, by blood or by marriage -- and, from another, inherently sovereign
national societies each of which has its own origin, vision, history, and
destiny and culture.  I'd say, too, that tribes are fundamentally
egalitarian and democratic -- essentially classless. The basic ethos of any
tribal society in the Americas is communalistic and characterized by the
fundamental principle of tribal [mutual] responsibility: i.e., the tribe has
an obligation to the individual and the individual has one to the tribe --
and, if these two dimensions conflict, that of the tribe takes precedence --
but there are always clearly defined areas of individual and family autonomy
into which the tribe cannot intrude.  It's an ancient and solidly viable
balance between collectivism and individual liberty [from which the large
urban/industrial societies of the world might well learn some very
worthwhile things.]

Personally, I avoid linear ranking and terms like "primitive" and
"civilized" -- all of which too easily veer into cultural ethnocentrism.
Hunting peoples travel seasonally with the game and thus necessarily travel
light as far as material things are concerned. But, for example, the
migratory Wabanaki hunting bands of the Northeast -- out of which I partly
come -- featured [and feature], as all human societies anywhere do, very
complex non-tangible cultural dimensions [e.g., philosophy and religion,
always inseparable in Native cultures].  The more sedentary farming/hunting
Iroquois [out of which I partly come] featured and feature more material
things and featured and feature very complex non-tangible cultural
dimensions.  And so with the town-dwelling and mostly farming Hopi and
Pueblo people of the Southwest -- and so, too, with the builders of city
states:  Toltec and Aztec.  Whether light or heavy on the matter of material
culture, the non-tangible religious/philosophical dimensions are always
very, very complex.  I can't use "primitive" and "civilized" as concepts.

If formalized class structures of some sort [not European!] were indeed
developing in the large Meso-American city state situations -- e.g., Toltecs
and Aztecs, or certain  others further south, it seems clear that their
existence was clashing in an internally sharp -- and very possibly
mounting -- fashion with traditional tribal egalitarianism.

There is plenty of evidence, for example, that the Toltecs -- whose capital,
Tula, in the present Mexican state of Hidalgo, was physically bigger than
Rome -- walked away from all of that, abandoning it for a return to the
wild, free life.  Oral  and some indigenous written history, such as we
have, indicates that the basic sociological reason involved a recognition
that the city state structure would, after a certain point, destroy
tribalism -- and the Toltecs chose the latter.  The Aztecs, who built
heavily on Toltec culture, may have been undergoing the same structural
strains and facing the same emergent questions when Cortez and his bloody
legions arrived.

The Anglo-termed "Five Civilized Tribes" -- Cherokee [Iroquoian, BTW, but
never a Confederacy component], Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, and Seminole [a
Creek break-away] -- did not have traditionally, as far as is known, any
class structure or tightly centralized leadership. [The Creeks were a very
far-flung confederation.] The first four of these nations, however, did
become substantially involved early on via intermarriage and national
alliances with Scottish entrepreneurs who frequently married -- legally from
Native and Anglo perspectives -- into the tribes.  The emergent mixed-bloods
certainly served as a channel for fairly rapid acculturation -- but Never
assimilation.  The Seminoles served as a refuge for canny and very
knowledgeable runaway African slaves who frequently married into that
nation, became full citizens, and served as a channel for some [but not a
great deal in the Seminole situation] acculturation.  The leaders of these
Five tribes were almost always patriots in every sense -- whether
full-bloods or mixed.  It's worth noting that one of the most  zealous legal
antagonists of Andrew Jackson et al. was the Cherokee leader, John Ross, who
was between 1/4 and 1/8 Cherokee.  The much-feared Creek war chief, who
completely destroyed Fort Mims and fought Jackson at the Battle of
Horseshoe Bend, was Billy Weatherford [Red Eagle], 1/8th Creek.

In any event, the Anglo goal was land -- no more and no less.  Although
under any surface scratch, the Cherokees by the 1820s were still very much
traditional Cherokee, they had made a surface accommodation to
Anglo-American culture:  log houses, farms, a school system, a newspaper --
and outward conversion to Presbyterian Christianity.  Didn't matter to the
Anglos one whit: Cherokee land was the goal -- and, at great cost in life,
Cherokee Nation people were forced westward into Indian Territory and,
ultimately, more nefarious adventures with land hungry Americans.  The
Seminoles made few cultural concessions -- and most were forced westward.
In the Southwest, Geronimo -- who made virtually no cultural concessions of
any kind -- fought with super courage and tenacity to the end but finally
was forced to the ground in 1886.

Wabanaki Indians in Maine and the Maritimes are among the very oldest
Catholics in North America [via the French Jesuits] and this made no
difference whatsoever to the hungry Anglo-Americans and Anglo-Canadians.

Racism and cultural ethnocentrism have been used consistently for centuries
to attack Native peoples in an effort to break treaty rights and to secure
remaining Indian land and mineral and water and other resources.  Whether
"Christian" Indians or "pagans," it's made no difference when Native land
and resources are coveted.  It's a constant fight -- and right to the wire

 Again, on the issue of "class:" Even now, with bureaucratic structures
developing in many Native nations -- directly and indirectly stemming from
involvement with the "larger societies" -- the egalitarian, classless ethos
is still very primary in all tribal societies.

In any case, of course, we all agree, I'm sure on this: Assuming that the
Native societies and cultures and lands and resources and self-determination
and sovereignty are fully respected  by the development and emergence of
bona fide socialist democracy , that arrangement offers -- far more than
capitalism ever can or would -- Native tribal nations and people [as it does
all people] the best and very, very good shot at a full measure of bread and
butter and a full measure of liberty.

Ramblingly yours,

Hunter Gray  [Hunterbear]
Protected by Na´shdo´i´ba´i´
and Ohkwari'

In our Gray Hole, the ghosts often dance in the junipers and sage, on the
game trails, in the tributary canyons with the thick red maples, and on the
high windy ridges -- and they dance from within the very essence of our own
inner being. They do this especially when the bright night moon shines down
on the clean white snow that covers the valley and its surroundings.  Then
it is as bright as day -- but in an always soft and mysterious and
remembering way. [Hunterbear]

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