Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto
By Vine Deloria
University of Oklahoma Press |278 pp | $16.47
Levi Rickert, editor-in-chief in Entertainment. Discussion »
With the passing of Neil Armstrong last weekend, much has been written about his historic first step by a human being on the moon in 1969. Chickasaw John Herrington, the first American Indian enrolled in an American Indian tribe astronaut, on Monday described Armstrong's first step on another heavenly body as huge.
By coincidence, Vine Deloria's "Custer Died For Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto" - that was first published in the same year Armstrong landed on the moon - is being reviewed here this week.
Just as Armstrong's landing on moon was huge on the world stage, the same can be said of the release of "Custer Died For Your Sins" in Indian country.
Much has changed in Indian country since "Custer Died For Your Sins" release in 1969. The book predated self-determination that is now part of how the federal government deals with American Indian and Alaska Native tribes. "Custer Died for Your Sins" was written 19 years prior to the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act that allowed Indian casinos.
Even so, some of the same pervasive problems, such as racism, poverty and drunkenness, Deloria discussed in the book still remain entrenched in Indian country. For that reason, "Custer Died For Your Sins" has remained relevant.
In this excerpt from the book, one could not ascertain which decade it was written unless informed:
"But the Indian task of keeping an informed public available to assist the tribes in their efforts to survive is never ending, and so the central message of this book, that Indians are alive, have certain dreams of their own, and are being overrun by the ignorance and the mistakes, misdirected efforts of those who would help them, can never be repeated too often, Every generation of Indians will have to assume this burden "
writes Deloria in the preface he wrote to update the book in 1987.
American Indians understand how true this statement is and how timeless it truly is.
Deloria, who died in 2005, was one of the most effective American Indian intellectual of the past century. Equipped with a master's degree in theology from the Lutheran School of Theology and a law degree from the University of Colorado, went on to become the executive director of the National Congress of the American Indians. As he progressed on to become an author, he became a significant voice in Indian voice in Indian country.
His grandfather, the Reverend Philip Deloria, was an Episcopal priest. His father, Vine Deloris, Sr., became an Episcopal archdeacon and missionary on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation.
In 1969, when "Custer Died For Your Sins" was published, it was one of the first books written by an American Indian that was widely read by non-Indians. The book propelled Deloria to the national stage because of its acceptance. Here was an American Indian, others were willing to listen to for advice.
Within five short years of its publication, Deloria released "God is Red: A Native View of Religion," which took him to another authoritative level and caused Time Magazine to name him as one of America’s "shapers and movers" of Christian faith and theology.
Perhaps, the reason "Custer Died For Your Sins" was so well read was it is so well written. Deloria uses candor mixed with humor throughout the book, with simplicity that is easily understood.
Given its relevancy, the book is timeless to the point every American Indian who even thinks about running elective office to his or her tribal council should read this book. It will make them think beyond the dollars associated with Indian gaming.
Every urban Indian top administrator and staff member should read this book. It will make them think about some of the most basic and fundamental precepts of being an American Indian.
The book is that powerful.
The subtitle to "Custer Died For Your Sins", "An Indian Manifesto" lends itself to a sort of ageless greatness, which the book truly is.
posted September 1, 2012 10:59 am edt