Philip J. Deloria,
Playing Indian
(Yale University Press, 1998)

Playing Indian is a study of how non-Indians in America have utilized the Indian items, clothing, ceremonies and lifestyles for their own purposes or gains throughout history, from the Colonial era to the present, and how "playing Indian" has affected the Native Americans.

America is a country founded on the principle that all men are created equal, yet there has never been equality among the races. Many whites have turned to the Indian lifestyle in an attempt to quiet their inner turmoil, especially during times of civil or racial unrest. Many have been curious about how the "others" live or what they experience in life, especially within the psychology and sociology fields. And many enterprising whites have seen a chance for profit from commercialization of the Indian culture.

This book puts all aspects of this racial interplay under a microscope to reveal how Indians have been abused, humiliated and misrepresented; while at the same time they have been empowered by the increased exposure and public awareness of their situation. It has historically been a good-bad situation.

Two points that really stand out in this book are the war between Canadian author and co-founder of the Boy Scouts of America, Ernest Thompson Seton, and American Daniel Carter Beard over how patriotism should be symbolized to the young boys of America and what type of scouting experience would best develop character.

Beard felt that "non-citizen" Seton was un-American in his approach to developing character through association with nature and Indian crafts, even though his program did radically alter the behavior of problem children. His program taught the positive nature of Indians. Beard wanted the boys to mimic Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett and other famous pioneers. He preferred a white-based program that emphasized the heroic nature of the Indian killers and encouraged "pioneer" boys to wage war on the Indians. His program taught only negative Indian images.

Seton withdrew from the scouting program, while Beard maintained that he had been dismissed.

This case demonstrates how American leaders have instilled racism into our youths from a young age and have created an entirely negative Indian image while perpetuating a white-based history.

The second point that stands out is the way minority veterans came home from war to a second-class citizenship and decided to rock the boat. They felt they had proven their patriotism to the most extreme point and refused to accept the way they were being treated. They were instrumental in Civil Rights and could be called the pioneers of the movement.

Deloria writes in a flowing narrative that is easily understood and thoroughly engaging. He takes a scientifically technical subject and turns it into a thrilling read. If more history professors presented their information in this style and tone, the world would be filled with history buffs.

Deloria opens with the fast action of the Boston Tea Party and never lets up the action or tension, examining one incident after another. This is history from a different perspective -- one we should all carefully consider.

Notes in the back provides extensive further reading suggestions. This makes it easy to locate the books that will take you as far into specific incidents as you wish to go.

Playing Indian is history in the finest form. More importantly, it is a study of how racism in the form of perceived/portrayed Indian identity and culture in America has affected the entire population of the nation. While this book is groundbreaking in the arenas of history, psychology and sociology, it is also great for pleasure reading. Deloria will convince you to look at white-native history from a different angle.

- Rambles
written by Alicia Karen Elkins
published 19 June 2004