Lame Deer, Seeker of Visions

Dialogues

The Book

Colonialism in North America did not stop with the Revolution of 1776. It had new names: "Westward expansion", "Manifest Destiny"; but those who were called pioneers still did the same things based on the same values that caused colonialism in the first place. The text, Lame Deer Seeker of Visions was originally published in 1972 and is the story of both Lame Deer and the Lakota nation as they were affected by our expansion. It gives us the history and brings us up to date on the continued oppression of America's native population.

The Authors

John (Fire) Lame Deer was born around the turn of the last century on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota. He is a full-blooded Sioux and has been many things in his life including a rodeo clown, a painter, a sheep herd, and a thief. Above all, though, he was a Lakota holy man.

Richard Erdoes was born in the old Austro-Hungarian Empire. He would read books that, though not historically accurate, cast American Indians in the role of hero. After he grew up, he moved to the United States to escape Nazi rule. He met Lame Deer during Martin Luther King Jr.'s peace march in New York city in 1967. This was the beginning of the collaboration that would last the next four years. Richard has since written several more books.

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  Dialogues

In Lame Deer, we are seeing the result of five hundred years of colonization and expansion on one person. It relates directly to Morning Girl because of the ending when Columbus lands on the island. The epilogue which is an excerpt from Columbus' journal reflects the same ideals which the Lakota people have to deal with even in the twentieth century: "a people who would better be freed [from error] and be converted to our Holy Faith by love than by force" (Dorris, 95). Although we are no longer converting to the 'Holy Faith', there are still attempts to civilize the native people.

The idea conversion of ideals is prevalent in Lame Deer, as he spent much of his youth in schools sponsored by the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) being forced to learn American language and ways. This relates to themes in Robinson Crusoe, and The Life of Olaudah Equiano. Robinson Crusoe tries to convert Friday, the native he saves, by teaching him the bible. The Equiano relates his conversion and learning civilized behavior. Both books seem to put conversion in a good light, but one must consider the audience they were meant for: Robinson Crusoe was meant for white Europeans that believed in the same things, and Equiano was meant for English parliament. One other book that relates the attempted civilization of a savage is Tarzan of the Apes. Although in this case it is a white noble, Lord Greystoke, that is raised by apes.

Conversion and civilization relates to religious ideals of both the colonizers and those colonized. Lame Deer states that the "religion" of his people is more an inherent thing. It is even shown in their symbolism: "What appears commonplace to you seems wondrous to us through symbolism. This is funny because we don't even have a word for symbolism, yet we are all wrapped up in it" (Lame Deer, 108). Christian ideals supported conversion as a reason for colonization.

  Notes

Lame Deer begins by recounting his vision quest and naming. He uses this story to move into his own childhood and family history. He says, "I am a medicine man and I want to talk about visions, spirits, and sacred things. But you must know something about the man Lame Deer before you can understand the medicine man Lame Deer" (Lame Deer, 8).

Lame Deer's childhood was spent on the reservations growing up with his grandparents in a traditional manner. He did not even have contact with a white man until he was five. As he got older and tales of a bogeyman did not scare him anymore, his grandparents would say, "go to sleep or the Wasicun will get you." Unfortunately, eventually they did.

Sometime between six and seven (the book is not specific as to when) Lame Deer was sent to white man's school for the first time. He describes it as being very militaristic. At fourteen he was sent to boarding school which was a real horror for him as he had never been away from his family.

In the book, he also talks about the "Green Frog Skin" or money. He explains that in his native culture there is no concept of money, that's why so many of his people have trouble with it. He talks a lot about how we cling to it and how much better things would be without it, stating many specific troubles it has caused.

After a bit about his adult life, the book takes a turn to the present (late 1960's). It weaves it's way in between Lame Deer's talks with Richard Erdoes and bits about his life. There are many bits that help to learn about his culture and people.

The book ends with a brief autobiography of Richard Erdoes, telling how he came to meet Lame Deer. Richard has an equally colorful background with his history and bouncing from relative to relative with different religious denominations in Europe.

  Links

***Pineridge This is a very well put together site that used a linked timeline to detail the history of the Lakota nation. It's use of the Internet medium and graphics in the new version would be very useful for teaching younger groups. It also includes the old version for less advanced systems which is equally well made.

***White Buffalo Calf Woman Online version of the story of how White Buffalo Calf Woman brings the first pipe as told by Lame Deer. This is a very important story as the pipe is central to Lakota sacred tradition. It also includes links to other sites and stories.

**Trophies of Honor Online gallery of indigenous art. Most of our exposure to native art today is tourist crafts like blankets, and dreamcatchers. This site shows that native arts are alive and accessible.

**Tribute Oglala Lakota Sioux history This site tells about some important points of Oglala Lakota Sioux History. It is well written and includes links to other pertinent sites.

*New Advent History of the Sioux

  Teaching

Lame Deer, Seeker of Visions is a good way to help students understand the history of the Lakota people. It can also be taught as a way to understand the plight of Native Americans in a modern context. It should be understood that the book is also a potent personal narrative. It can be used to help take away the "stoic Indian" stereotype because Lame Deer is very human and his sense of humor shows through in the book. Students may even be asked if they can identify with him or different parts of the narrative.

  Citations

Lame Deer, John; Erdoes, Richard . Lame Deer, Seeker of Visions. Washington Square Press, 1994.

Dorris, Michael. Morning Girl. New York, United States: Hyperion,
1999.

Colonial & Postcolonial Literary Dialogues

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