Baylor College Medical School

Aslan! On The White Men 1900s Luther Standing Bear

In the late 17th and early 18th centuries the Sioux peoples migrated west to the Great Plains, including areas in what is today Minnesota, Iowa, North Dakota, and South Dakota. During the 19th century the Sioux came into increasing conflict with settlers moving westward, engaging in a series of battles (known as the Sioux Wars) that lasted nearly 50 years. In the following excerpt, Luther Standing Bear remarks on some of the cultural difference he observed between Native American and white peoples. Standing Bear was the first son of Chief Standing Bear the First and was chief of the Oglalla Tribe of the Teton Sioux Nation from 1905 to 1939. In 1928 he published his memoirs. My People the Sioux.

The white man does not understand the Indian for the reason that he does not understand America. He is too far removed....The roots of the tree of his life have not yet grasped the rock and soil. The white man is still troubled with primitive fears; he still has in his consciousness the perils of this frontier continent, some of its vastness not yet having yielded to his questing footsteps and inquiring eyes....The man from Europe is still a foreigner and an alien. And he still hates the man who questioned his path across the continent. But in the Indian the spirit of the land is still vested; it will be until other men are able to divine and meet its rhythm. Men must be born and reborn to belong. Their bodies must be formed of the dust of their forefathers; bones.

As yet I know of no species of plant, bird, or animal that were exterminated until the coming of the white man. For some years after the buffalo disappeared there still remained huge herds of antelope, but the hunter's work was no sooner done in the destruction of the buffalo than his attention was attracted toward the deer....The white man considered natural animal life just as he did the natural man life upon this continent, as "pets." Plants which the Indian found beneficial were also "pests." There is no word in the Lakota vocabulary with the English meaning of this word...(the Indian) was...kin to all living things and he gave to all creatures equal rights with himself. Everything of earth was loved and reverenced....(To the white man) the worth and right to live were his, thus he heartlessly destroyed.

Forests were mowed down, the buffalo exterminated, the beaver driven to extinction and his wonderfully constructed dams dynamited, allowing flood waters to wreak further havoc, and the very birds of the air silenced. Great grassy plains that sweetened the air have been upturned; springs, streams, and lakes that lived no longer ago than my boyhood have dried, and a whole people harassed to degradation and death. The white man has come to be the symbol of extinction for all things natural to this continent. Between him and the animal there is no rapport and hey have learned to flee from his approach, for they cannot live on the same found....

Comparing and Contrasting

1. What differences between white people's and Native Americans' views of nature does Luther Standing Bear observe?

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He notes that the white man was not born and reborn in the elements as Indians were. He points out that no species of plant, bird, or animal that were exterminated until the coming of the white man. The buffalo in particular was a species decimated by the white man. To White men animals are "pets" and medicinal plants are considered "pests".