Brown Quarterly - Vol. 1, No. 2 (Winter 1996)

American Indian Seminar

By Larry Van Horn

During the entire month of June, the National Park Service (NPS) co-sponsored a research seminar, "American Indians during the Reservation Period, 1880-1940" at the Newberry Library in Chicago. The Newberry Library is an independent research institution that was founded in 1887 and is known for its collections that concentrate on American Indian history, Chicago genealogy and community relations, the European Renaissance, and the history of world cartography.

Fourteen professionals participated in the seminar, eight of whom were of Native American descent. The format included regular seminar discussions on required and recommended readings and formal library research on a topic pertinent to the work of each participant.

We discussed how Native Americans became physically dislocated as they were placed on reservations, particularly in the latter part of the nineteenth century. Indian societies suffered not only the loss of land but also cultural losses associated with the disruption of traditional subsistence practices which resulted in changes in kinship and political organization. Indian resistance occurred along with attempts at cultural renewal. Through their books and other writings in national publications on Native American values and cultural diversity principally in the early twentieth century, we were introduced to Indians who resisted or "talked back" to Euro-Americans and the dominant society. We also dealt with the pros and cons of John Collier's reforms as Commissioner of Indian Affairs and his Indian policy during the era of President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal.

Wounded Knee and Cultural Diversity

The Newberry seminar was extremely useful because it provided an effective opportunity to bridge the gap between academic and public history on a number of topics, including park planning and management. Part of the format of the seminar was to have various participants present aspects of past research or projects relevant to the overall theme. I spoke about Wounded Knee, South Dakota. At the Newberry, I conveyed the results of this 1992 study which proposed three alternatives that can be considered if a park or memorial is established at Wounded Knee by the United States Congress. In the process of this study, cultural diversity surfaced revealing various Lakota groups with differing ideas about whether there should be a park at Wounded Knee and if so, what type.

Wounded Knee as a Seminar Theme

Wounded Knee serves as an example of how the broad themes of the Newberry seminar might be illustrated in two categories: cultural revival and intellectual resistance or "talking back." First, the attempt for cultural revival through the Ghost Dance, which Chief Big Foot and his band of Minneconjou Lakotas practiced, led directly to the Wounded Knee massacre because it was the reason Big Foot's band was being apprehended by the United States Army when the shooting started. Second, the presence of Indian voices talking back as part of American Indian identity earlier in this century continues by way of the serious concerns and protests of the contemporary Wounded Knee residents not wanting any formal park to be established there.

Available Educational Materials

The Study of Alternatives, Wounded Knee, South Dakota, is a federal government document in the public domain. Unfortunately, the printed copies have already been distributed to the public as part of the planning process. But photo-copying is available per individual orders at six cents per page to the National Park Service's Technical Information Center at its Denver Service Center (12795 West Alameda Parkway, Denver, CO 80225-0287, (303) 969-2130). This availability is true of the plans and studies produced by the National Park Service for all of the parks in the National Park System. Many of these have served in the past as educational materials and can do so in the future. Some of the topics discussed include: the protection and preservation of natural and cultural resources; visitor enjoyment of such park resources and their interpretation; park contribution of the education of the American public about this country's natural and cultural heritage.

(Photocopies of the Study of Alternatives, Wounded Knee, South Dakota can be obtained at a cost of $.06/page. National Park Service Technical Information Center, Denver Service Center, 12795 West Alameda Parkway, Denver, CO 80225-0287.)