Monday, November 21, 2011

Rotten History: "I Am a Man"

"I Am a Man" - Joe StaritaI picked Joe Starita's "I Am a Man" from the library catalog because I need a Nebraska book for my Where Are Your Reading challenge, and the last few ones I tried didn't actually have anything to do with Nebraska.  Starita's history of the Ponca tribe's struggles with the American government's constant treaty revisions and lies seemed safely Nebraskan, although I admit to having qualms when their reservation was accidentally given to the Lakota (yes, that's right) so the administration decided that the best thing to do was force all the Ponca to move to Oklahoma, which was clearly better than admitting to making a mistake.

By that time I was less interested in qualifying for my challenge and genuinely caught up in the disaster wrecking upon Chief Standing Bear's people.  Corruption, incompetence, and prejudice resulted in several horrific journeys causing the death of hundreds of people, especially young children.  The last third of the book showed the legal struggles of Standing Bear; when he snuck back with the remnant of his family and was arrested for basically not dying, he found some legal help which established the right of Native Americans to sue in federal court (something the feds contested).  One part of the legal decision involved legally declaring Indians to be human, which is frightening in that this was actually a contested point.  The court battle ended with partial restoration of their home lands, although it let me to consider the issue of granting tribal lands to a tribe versus to individuals and maybe I'll read more about this (another Stream idea!).  Starita did a good job describing the people and events involved to a popular audience, since I didn't have more than a basic knowledge of the history involved.

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