‘Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: an Indian History of the American West.’ Some thoughts.

‘Bury My Heart’ is fifty years old: this may strike those who read it upon publication as rather extraordinary and not a little scary. Time passes… and in many ways, nothing changes. Certainly not in terms of the ubiquity of prejudice.

The language of the book may feel dated; both as a work of art and as social history it now feels clunkyish, to me, inevitably so, but the Righteousness Factor (dare I say it?) and the deep, poignant, socio-political heft of this document remain valuable, real, critical. Having been on a kind of accidental pilgrimage through literature on race, the book registers as an honourable, early(ish) contribution to anti-racism and I absolutely recommend it on that premise. That is, more as a powerful holding-to-account of murderous White-American predilections than as a great work of art.

Author Dee Brown was a journalist, printer, librarian, lumberman who went on to write histories. “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” has something of reportage about it but bolts urgently forward towards worthy polemic and indeed ‘life’s work’. This is for The Indians. Their stories are told (by them to some degree) in order to mark their betrayal, their tragedy. There is no pretence towards neutrality – and why would there be? It’s campaigning.

The individual stories – or, more accurately, the stories of individual Chiefs or protagonists – are rich but often harrowing. The whole is somewhere between enraging and saddening: we know the outcomes and we know indigenous peoples and what we now call People Of Colour still suffer diabolical prejudice and oppression. So read the book and weep, or get angry, or think about what it means for us today – what shadows are cast, in this ‘populist’ present.

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