Saturday, November 22, 2014

Entering injun country and fighting hostiles

It's a fascinating photographic collection at the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City. In 1867 photographer Alexander Gardner became part of the survey team for the Union Pacific Railway. Gardner had once worked in New York for Mathew Brady, who had produced so many iconic pictures of the Civil War.

While part of the exhibit contains photographs of Kansas City in 1867-68, Lawrence, Kansas and other areas, other photographs depict the myriad relations between the U.S. military, white settlers and the Indians that lived in the region. These are powerful images, both poignant and hypnotic. See “images.”

In 1868 Gardner went with the Indian Peace Commission held in Fort Laramie, Wyoming. The Commission was made up of people sympathetic to Indian culture and their way of life and those that wanted a “final” solution. It was, however, the beginning of the end for the Plains Indians.

The American Civil War was over and the “frontier” was about to be opened up to European-Americans on a vast scale. We were headed for the Pacific coast. (Still one of the best accounts on how the railroad opened the West and its consequences read Richard White's book Railroaded.)

A story for all of us in injun country

This is not an American story or just another sad tale about indigenous people worldwide, although it has directly affected native populations for a long time. It's really about values, economic systems and what we're willing to consider as alternatives in the 21st century. See 'tar sands' and accompanying video.

The U.S. military has used the expression “going into injun country” for a long time when embarking on our numerous military campaigns or entering an especially dangerous area within a country where we're usually not wanted. The problem is that more and more of us will likely be considered “hostiles” living in injun country by those few seeking some type of “final solution.”

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