The Contrarian Sioux

crazy horse stampI’ve had to release the notion that all Indians are community-minded.

While anthropologists correctly note cultures are classified by their communitarian versus individualistic values, there’s plentiful evidence that indigenous folk have an independent streak.

The Sioux, for example, tolerated individuals who “followed their own bent,” according to Larry McMurtry, writing in his book, Crazy Horse.

McMurtry even surmises that their—our—patience contributed to our dissipation.

He paints a picture of the 19th century Lakota as open-minded, forgiving and liberal. Tempers would fray, however, as settlers traipsed through the Dakota territory in search of passage to the West.

Crazy Horse followed his own path, McMurtry notes, and wanted nothing to do with the whites or negotiations or treaties.

And he took short-cuts with traditional ways.

“When Crazy Horse felt like doing something, he just did it.”

Crazy Horse–part of our Oglala Tiyospaye–arrived at one of his visions after setting out alone, but without sweating, fasting or consulting an elder.

His vision led him to become a simple and unaffected warrior who would provide for his tribe.

As it turns out, his independent streak would be both charm and plague.

Crazy Horse is lauded today for his warrior qualities and for refusing to parlay with the U.S. military.

But he was also indifferent to norms and customs, a contradiction hard to decipher as we re-invent history.

Perhaps our nostalgic imaginings are too sedentary. We like to view the past through sepia filters that fix our sights rigidly.

Seems Crazy Horse—and our Oglala brethren—inherited a vein of contradictions.


About Cynthia Coleman Emery

Professor and researcher at Portland State University who studies science communication, particularly issues that impact American Indians. Dr. Coleman is an enrolled citizen of the Osage Nation.
This entry was posted in american indian, authenticity, ethics, Lakota, native american, native press, Native Science and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Contrarian Sioux

  1. hrygth says:

    Hello! I’m also a member of the Osage tribe. I’m enjoying your blog immensely. I’ve been researching the Osage recently, trying to reconnect with a distant heritage. Your blog is very helpful. Thanks!


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