9. The Illinois

A) What We Know / What We Believe

Being true means nothing in the country of imagination, and being believed means everything. (309-10)

Savage Dreams (1994)
Rebecca Solnit


History is, however, not simply what happened, but the representation of what happened. Dominant representations of Native-settler historical encounters in places like Champaign-Urbana have tended until recently to play up white settlers and downplay, even erase, Native Americans in subtle and not so subtle ways. (160)

Key in this regard is that in the heart of the heart of Chief Illiniwek country, there is literally nothing, a historical absence, a nonperson. Chief Illiniwek is a sign without a historical referent, a free-floating signifier in a prairie-flat land wiped clean, erased of Native Americans. This makes the literalness with which pro-Chief supporters invoke and refer to Chief Illiniwek - as if it were a part of them - all the more a conundrum. (165)

"At Home in Illinois: Presence of Chief Illiniwek, Absence of Native Americans" (2001)
David Prochaska


Chief Illiniwek is a representation of our name, which is Illinois. The name of the university and of the state just reflects the indigenous people of the area. He is an embodiment of that name. And we believe he is representative of the qualities of dignity and courage to which our athletics teams aspire.

William Murphy / Associate Chancellor for Public Affairs


First the land and then the men on the land, such is the normal sequence; but what historian of the white race can describe the first men of the Illinois country? What magic talisman does he hold that will reveal to him the processes of the red man's mind? They are almost as inscrutable today, after the labors of multitudinous students, as they were to the first missionaries who sought to lead this child of nature up the century-old rounds of the ladder that ascended to the knowledge of the white man's God. (21)

The story must therefore be told with the use of many question marks and with many confessions of ignorance. (21)

A writer who knew the Illinois well has written the following description: "There never were people better made than they; they are neither large nor small - generally there are some them whom you can circle with your two hands. They have tapering legs which carry their bodies well, with a very haughty step, and as graceful as the best dancer. The visage is fairer than white milk so far as savages of this country can have such. The teeth are the best arranged and the whitest in the world. They are vivacious, but withal indolent." (39)

The Illinois Country: 1673-1818 (1920)
Clarence Walworth Alvord


They enjoyed the wild roving life of the prairie, and in common with almost all other native Americans, were vain of their prowess and manhood, both in war and in the chase. They did not settle down for a great length of time in a given place, but roamed across the broad prairies, from one grove or belt of timber to another, either in single families or in small bands, packing their few effects, their children and infirm on their little Indian ponies. They always traveled in Indian file upon well beaten trails, connecting, by the most direct routes, prominent points and trading posts. These native highways served as guides to our early settlers, who followed them with as much confidence as we now do the roads laid out and worked by civilized man. (13-14)

The Last of the Illinois and a Sketch of the Pottawatomies (1870)
John Dean Canton


Hermaphrodites are very common amongst them, which is so much the more surprizing, because I have not observ'd any such thing amongst the other Nations of the Northern America. Poligamy is allow'd amongst them; and they generally marry several Sisters, thinking they agree better than Strangers. They are exceedingly jealous, and cut the Noses of their Wives upon the least suspicion. Notwithstanding they have several Wives, they are so lascivious as to be guilty of Sodomy, and keep Boys whom they cloath with Womens Apparel, because they make of them that abominable Use. (168)

The Illinois, as most of the Savages of America, being brutish, wild, and stupid, and their Manners being so opposite to the Morals of the Gospel, their Conversion is to be despair'd of, till Time and Commerce with the Europeans has remov'd their natural Fierceness and Ignorance, and thereby made 'em more apt to be sensible of the Charms of Christianity. (169-70)

A New Discovery Of A Vast Country in America, Volume 1 (1903)
Louis Hennepin


The Illinois fought back but, no match for the powerful Iroquois, soon settled for a strategy of assimilation with the French, leaving central Illinois and relocating their villages near the Mississippi River trading posts and missions, practicing agriculture and livestock-raising, and intermarrying with soldiers and settlers. Gradually, disease, alcoholism, and cultural disintegration reduced the Illinois people to the pitiful existence of "trading-post Indians." By the close of the eighteenth century, the Illinois had all but lost a unique tribal identity. (13)

Sugar Creek: Life on the Illinois Prairie (1986)
John Mack Faragher


As among other primitive people, the chief governing forces of the Illinois were social opinion and folk custom, and powerful forces they were. The freedom of these prairie children was more a metaphor than a reality; from childhood up they were hedged around by unbreakable custom; habit guided their footsteps, fear of consequences limited their wills. (43)

For the American aborigines the idea of an orderly world did not exist; like young children, they did not expect to find natural causes for phenomena. In their world anything might happen, everything was possible; men visited the sun and moon, passed through numberless transformations, beasts spoke, and the roll of the thunder across the skies was, in the minds of the Illinois, the flapping of the great wings of the "thunderbird." The Indians lived in a myth-made world. (47)

Like most Indians, the Illinois were inveterate gamblers, and men and women alike would often stake everything they owned on a throw of dice. (52)

If in the course of contact with shrewd traders who befuddled them with a strange fiery liquor and reduced them from economic self-sufficiency to abject dependence, the Indians came to show themselves suspicious, treacherous, greedy, and oftentimes ill-natured and unreasonable, it is not a logical deduction to conclude that the dusky aborigines were an essentially inferior race who deserved nothing better than to be exterminated and driven from the land of their forebears. (53)

The once proud Illinois who had been able to contend on equal terms with the Winnebago and the Iroquois were reduced by 1748 to between thirty and thirty-five hundred men, women, and children; and these were described by their neighbors as drunken, lazy sots, afraid to go to war. (223)

The Illinois Country: 1673-1818 (1920)
Clarence Walworth Alvord


Father Louis Vivier, a Jesuit missionary at Kaskaskia, wrote in 1750 that

"the brandy sold by the French, especially by the soldiers, in spite of the King's repeated prohibitions, and that which is sometimes distributed to them under the pretext of maintaining them in our interest, has ruined this mission, and has caused the majority of them to abandon our holy Religion. The Savages - and especially the Illinois, who are the gentlest and most tractable of men - become, when intoxicated, madmen and wild beasts. Then they fall upon one another, stab with their knives, and tear one another. Many have lost their ears, and some a portion of their noses, in these tragic encounters." (389)

"The Depopulation of the Illinois Indians. Part 2, Concluded" (1956)
Emily Blasingham


Our early settlers around and in these timber belts and groves well remember many of their Indian visitors by name, and the writer has listened with great interest to many enthusiastically told stories from them of personal contact with these people. Particular mention was made by many of a Pottawattamie chief named Shemauger, who was also known by the name of Old Soldier. Shemauger often visited the site or Urbana after the whites came, and for some years after 1824. He claimed it as his birthplace, and told the early settlers that the family home at the time of his birth was near a large hickory tree then growing upon a spot north of Main Street and a few rods west of Market Street. He professed great love for this location as his birthplace, and the camping ground of his people for many years. At the time of the later visits of Shemauger there was not only the hickory tree, but a large wild cherry tree standing about where the hall of the Knights of Pythias is now situated. Besides these trees there were others in the neighborhood of the creek, which made this a favorite and most convenient and comfortable camping place for the Indians; and, from what is known of the habits of these people, it is not improbable that the chief was correct in the claim made upon Urbana as his birthplace. It is remembered of Shemauger that he would sometimes come in company with a large retinue of his tribe and sometimes with his family only, when he would for months in camp at points along the creek. In the winter of 1831-32, these Indians to the number of fifteen or twenty remained in their camp near the big spring on what, of later years, has been known as the Stewart farm in the neighborhood of Henry Dobson's about two miles north of Urbana.

Another favorite camping ground of Shemauger was at a point known as the Clay Bank on the northwest quarter of Section 2, Urbana Township, sometimes called Clement's Ford, towards the north end of the Big Grove. One early settler (Amos Johnson, who died twenty years since) related to the writer his observations of these people while there in camp. His father occupied a cabin not far away, and the family paid frequent visits to the camp out of curiosity, fearing nothing. Some of the braves amused themselves by cutting with their tomahawks mortices into contiguous trees, into which mortices they inserted poles cut the proper lengths. These poles, so placed horizontally at convenient distances from each other, made a huge living ladder reaching from the ground to a great height. Up this ladder the Indians would climb when the weather was warm and sultry to catch the breezes and to escape the annoyances of the mosquitoes. He saw the bucks thus comfortably situated upon a scaffold in the tops of the trees, while their squaws were engaged in the domestic duties of the camp on the ground below. Thirty-five or more years ago, trees from near the Clay Bank were cut and sawed into lumber at the nearby mill of John Smith, when these mortices, overgrown by many years' growth of the trees, were uncovered, showing the work of these Indians forty years before, and corroborating the story as related to the writer.

Shemauger told another early settler (James W. Boyd, who died many years since), or in his hearing, that many years before, there came in this country a heavy fall of snow, the depth of which he indicated by holding his ramrod horizontally above his head, and said that many wild beasts, elk, deer and buffalo perished under the snow. To this fact, within his knowledge, he attributed the presence of many bones of animals then seen on the prairies.

Shemauger was remembered by those who knew him personally as a very large, bony man, always kind and helpful to the white settlers. It was also said that, upon being asked to do so, he would, with a company of followers, attend the cabin raisings of the early settlers and assist them in the completion of their cabin homes. All accounts of Shemauger represent him as kind to the whites and ambitious for the elevation of his people. One early settler (Jesse B. Webber) at the Big Grove, who came here in 1830 and remained all of that winter before making himself a home, spent much of his time in the company of the chief and formed for him a high esteem. In 1830 Shemauger was about seventy-five years of age and had, in his time, participated in many of the Indian wars with the whites and, with his experience, would gladly remain at peace with them. The Kankakee Valley was the home of the chief during the last years of his stay in Illinois, and he was seen there by those who made trips to Chicago. Following the Black Hawk War his tribe - or the remnant of it remaining east of the Mississippi River - went West and its members were seen here no more. (642-43)

History of Champaign County (1905)
J.O. Cunningham


In 1930 "an old Indian woman" from whom Borchers obtained his Chief Illiniwek costume told him "that she as a girl, had helped mutilate the dead of Custer after the battle of Little Bighorn." (168)

"At Home in Illinois: Presence of Chief Illiniwek, Absence of Native Americans" (2001)
David Prochaska


B) Dialogue?

Histories of conquest are stories of disjuncture, and the great curse of Euro-American history is its shallowness, its failure to take root in a place so different from its place of origin. There are other countries which have absorbed their conquerors, but the States can't absorb an immigrant population which can't remember where it is or who preceded it to the place. It is the conquerors and invaders, not the conquered or invaded, who have lost their roots, their ties, their sense of place. Amnesia is one potent means of overcoming the traumatic dislocation of the conqueror: Rather than lacking a personal past in a particular place, the amnesiac lacks the past. Invention is the other means, the means by which a place is covered up with decorative motifs and fantasies; and for the U.S. the Bible has provided many of the principle embroideries scattered across the continent that was so blank to its invaders. Pretending that the place is somewhere else, whether it means naming it Zion or "making the desert bloom" by redistributing fabulous quantities of water, has been one way of coping. But the inability to remember the past becomes the inability to imagine the future, and it is not surprising that a country with a ten- or hundred-year past can't make wise decisions about the long-term future. There are other maps. (323-24)

Savage Dreams (1994)
Rebecca Solnit


But as Homi Bhabha reminds us, a nation's existence is also dependent on "a strange forgetting of the history of the nation's past: the violence involved in establishing the nation's writ. It is this forgetting - a minus in the origin - that constitutes the beginning of the nation's narrative."

To Die For: The Paradox of American Patriotism (1999)
Cecilia Elizabeth O' Leary

Nation and Narration (1990)
Homi Bhabha


The lure of the local is not just the lure of myths through which people make sense of their own lives, but the lure of mythologies through which power is consolidated and solidified, and the project of racism advanced.

"The lure of the local: landscape studies at the end of a troubled century" (2001)
Don Mitchell


One of the finest things about being an Indian is that people are always interested in you and your "plight." Other groups have difficulties, predicaments, quandaries, problems, or troubles. Traditionally we Indians have had a "plight." Our foremost plight is our transparency. People can tell just by looking at us what we want, what should be done to help us, how we feel, and what a "real" Indian is really like. Indian life, as it relates to the real world, is a continuous attempt not to disappoint people who know us. Unfulfilled expectations cause grief and we have already had our share. Because people can see right through us, it becomes impossible to tell truth from fiction or fact from mythology. Experts paint us as they would like us to be. Often we paint ourselves as we wish we were or as we might have been. (1-2)

Custer Died for your Sins (1969)
Vine Deloria, Jr.


Thus conflict with stereotyped Indians could--indeed had to--become central to the American story, but flesh-and-blood Indian people and the histories they made for themselves could not. So, as White Americans wrote their nation's past, their greatest erasure of all was of memories of Indians who neither uncompromisingly resisted like the King Philip of their imagination nor wholeheartedly assimilated like the Pocahontas of the their fantasies. (252-53)

Facing East from Indian Country (2001)
Daniel K Richter


And this was not the only contradiction undergirding the nation's history and sense of collective identity: what of the constant collisions between personal liberty and social order? the distance between the rhetoric of egalitarianism and the reality of slavery and class struggle? Disjunctures like these are the stuff of which most nations and societies are made. And yet, while its citizens created the United States around such dissonances, many of them found that playing Indian offered a powerful tool for holding their contradictions in abeyance. Indianness gave the nation a bedrock, for it fully engaged the contradiction most central to a range of American identities - that between an unchanging essential Americanness and the equally American liberty to make oneself into something new. (182)

Playing Indian offered Americans a national fantasy--identities built not around synthesis and transformation, but around unresolved dualities themselves. Temporary, costumed play refused to synthesize the contradictions between European and Indian. Rather, it held them in near-perfect suspension, allowing Americans to have their cake and eat it too.... As it did so, playing Indian gave white Americans... a jolt of self-creative power. (185)

Playing Indian, then, reflects one final paradox. The self-defining pairing of American truth with American freedom rests on the ability to wield power against Indians--social, military, economic, and political--while simultaneously drawing power from them. Indianness may have existed primarily as a cultural artifact in American society, but it has helped create these other forms of power, which have been turned back on native people. The dispossessing of Indians exists in equal tension with being aboriginally true. The embracing of Indians exists in equal tension with the freedom to become new. And the terms are interchangeable. Intricate relations between destruction and creativity--for both Indian and non-Indian Americans--are themselves suspended in an uneasy alliance. And so while Indian people have lived out a collection of historical nightmares in the material world, they have also haunted a long night of American dreams. As many native people have observed, to be American is to be unfinished. And although that state is powerful and creative, it carries with it nightmares all its own. (191)

Playing Indian (1998)
Philip Deloria


"Statement by NCAA Senior Vice-President for Governance and Membership Bernard Franklin on University of Illinois, Champaign Review"

For Immediate Release
Friday, November 11, 2005

The NCAA staff review committee has retained the University of Illinois, Champaign on the list of colleges and universities subject to restrictions on the use of Native American mascots, names and imagery at NCAA championships.

In its review of the particular circumstances regarding Illinois, the NCAA staff review committee found no new information relative to the mascot, known as 'Chief Illiniwek' or the logo mark used by some athletics teams that depicts a Native American in feathered headdress, to remove the university from the list.

The staff review committee found that over the last decade, the volume and frequency of contentiousness around Chief Illiniwek has increased. Those who oppose continued use of Chief Illiniwek have grown in number and have found national platforms for their argument that the broad range of Native Americans perceives the Chief's 'fancy dance' a demeaning interpretation of their own customs and traditions. Media accounts, letters and e-mail continue to document instances of hostile behavior toward those who oppose the use of Chief Illiniwek.

Although not included in the university's review request, the issue of the logomark used by some athletics teams that depicts a Native American in feathered headdress adds to the use of Native American imagery that the broadest range of indigenous tribes and peoples find offensive and insulting. As the staff review committee has noted in previous writings, by continuing to use Native American nicknames, mascots and imagery, institutions assume responsibility over an environment which they cannot fully control. Fans, opponents and others can and will exhibit behaviors that indeed are hostile or abusive to Native Americans. Despite good intentions and best efforts, the stereotyping of Native Americans into narrow images is an undeniable consequence of choosing such names and symbols.

Based on its own research, discussions with relevant Native American groups and information provided by the university, the staff committee concurs with Illinois that the term 'Illini' is closely related to the name of the state and not directly associated with Native Americans. The nicknames 'Illini' or 'Fighting Illini' are not reasons for including the university in the August 2005 policy, and the review committee accepts the university's appeal on this point. However, because the term 'Illini' has become associated with Native Americans through its use in conjunction with Chief Illiniwek, the committee strongly recommends that the university undertake an educational effort to help those among its constituents and in the general public understand the origin of the term and the lack of any direct association with Native Americans.

The review committee does not mandate that the University of Illinois, Champaign change its mascot or logo, but as a member of the NCAA, Illinois is expected to adhere to the NCAA's principle of non-discrimination and promote an atmosphere of respect for and sensitivity to the dignity of every person. At an ever increasing rate of occurrence and volume, Native Americans have expressed their objection to the use of names, terms, imagery and mascots associated with athletics teams. The Executive Committee's policy and the staff review committee's application of the policy have consistently held that good intentions and well-meaning efforts by schools cannot by themselves overcome the objection of those being characterized by such terms.

The NCAA's position on the use of Native American mascots, names and imagery has not changed, and the NCAA remains committed to ensuring an atmosphere of respect and sensitivity for all who participate in and attend our championships.

The University of Illinois, Champaign can file an appeal with the NCAA Executive Committee. This appeal must be submitted in writing. Requests for reviews from other institutions will be handled on a case-by-case basis in the order in which they are received.


The premise is simple: I listened to the 2005 NCAA men's basketball tournament games at various sites around east-central Illinois that are historically relevant to the ongoing controversy over Chief Illiniwek, the "racist mascot" or "honored symbol" of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I consider these "listenings" to be provisional and performative memorials - attempts to reconcile popular claims of "honoring native heritage" with specific histories that problematize the ways in which this act of "honoring" operates. These histories have, for the most part, been overlooked and/or diluted by our collective sense of guilt. As a result, they remain absent from the "official" versions of the heritage that we stubbornly retain and celebrate. I aim to spatialize the discourse around Chief Illiniwek by attaching concrete spatial and historical signifiers to a self-referring sign, which has for too long been confined solely to the athletic field.


Illinois 72 / Louisville 57

Adkin's Point

Miamis Passing to the West

About 1832 a large body of Indians (believed to have been Miamis), 900 in number, in moving from their Indiana reservation to the western territories, passed through Champaign County, crossing the Salt Fork at Prather's Ford, a mile or so above St. Joseph, thence by the north side of Big Grove to Newcom's Ford and by Cheney's Grove. It is said the caravan extended from Prather's Ford to Adkins' Point, as the northern extremity of Big Grove was then called. These Indians were entirely friendly to the whites and encamped two days at the Point for rest, where the settlers gathered around for trade and to enjoy their sports. (94)

A Standard History of Champaign County Illinois (1918)
J.R. Stewart


DATE: Monday / April 4, 2005

GAME: Illinois 70 / North Carolina 75

LOCATION: Leal Park & Chief Shemauger Park (City of Urbana / Champaign County, Illinois)

SUBPLOT: Told to "Git"

In the summer of 1832, before the organization of the county and the fixing of its county seat - when the site of Urbana was perhaps only what it had been for generations before, and Indian camping ground - a large number of Indians came and camped around the spring above alluded to as situated near the stone bridge. It happened to be at the time of the excitement caused by the Black Hawk War, and caused not a little apprehension among the few inhabitants around the Big Grove, although the presence in the company of many women and children of the Indians should have been an assurance of no hostile errand. A meeting of the white settlers was had, and the removal of the strange visitors determined upon as a measure of safety. A committee consisting of Stephen Boyd, Jacob Smith, Gabe Rice and Elias Stamey was appointed by the white settlers and charged with the duty of having a talk with the red men. The committee went to the camp and, mustering their little knowledge of their language, announced to the Indians that they must "puck-a-chee," which they understood to be a command to them to leave the country. The order was at once obeyed. The Indians gathered up their ponies, papooses and squaws and left, greatly to the relief of the settlers. (92-93)

History of Champaign County (1905)
J.O. Cunningham


C) Culture Wars

Submissions to a Chicago Sun-Times poll from those in favor of keeping Chief Illiniwek

Keep the Chief! The Chief is not a "mascot," but an honorable symbol of pride and respect. It would be nice to see the PC thugs focus on issues of real importance like, poverty, crime, or even littering.



A few years ago, the Smithsonian National Museum of Art in Washington, DC, opened an exhibit that sought to reconsider the nature of the images that defined the American West. Part of the goal was to show how images of heroism and conquest were propped up by (and served to mask) systems of exploitation and even genocide in the West. The exhibit sought to show that the Western myth was just that, a myth. As Stephen Daniels describes the exhibit, "Some images are described [by text accompanying them] to be less about the West than a projection of social tensions, around immigration and labor unrest, in the eastern cities where many of the art-works were produced and consumed." The reaction to this exhibition was immediate and strong. Politicians in both parties condemned the Smithsonian and threatened to cut off its funding. Museums in other cities (including St. Louis and Denver, two key locations for Western development) canceled their plans to host the show. And, in the press and on television, on the floor of Congress and in classrooms, a wild debate developed on the proper representation of history and geography - a debate that has reverberated in a series of increasingly strident battles in the culture wars around everything from the teaching of Western history, to the role of museums in promoting national culture. (114-15)

Cultural Geography: A Critical Introduction (2000)
Don Mitchell


"A Particular Kind of Truth As the Culture Wars Rage, a Rare Victory Over Routes of Knowledge" (1991) / Washington Post

In 1991, when a hotly contested exhibition called "The West as America" opened at another Smithsonian site, the National Museum of American Art, it was still considered radical for scholars to talk to mainstream audiences about "inventing 'the Indian.'" The exhibition argued that underneath the nation's glorious westward expansion, into lands inhabited by native peoples, was a darker agenda, with complex threads of racism, romanticism, religious triumphalism, economic exploitation and imperialist aspiration. The show's curators looked hard, methodically and critically at some of the most beloved imagery in the mainstream American art consciousness -- images of the Noble Savage by painters such as George Catlin and Charles Deas, and the darker, stormier visions of Frederic Remington. This was proudly revisionist history, but the nation wasn't ready. The Smithsonian was roundly savaged by critics. This newspaper led the charge, declaring that "with the sort of tortured revisionism now so stridently de rigueur in academia, [the exhibition] effectively trashes not only the integrity of the art it presents but most of our national history as well."

When "The West as America" catalogue was published, Alex Nemerov contributed an article quoting Remington on the merits of using violence against unruly minorities: "I've got some Winchesters and when the massacreing begins," he wrote to a friend, "I can get my share of 'em and whats more I will." By "em" he said he meant "Jews - inguns - chinamen - Italians - Huns, the rubish of the earth I hate." But when the National Gallery presented an exhibition of Remington's paintings last year - a very popular exhibition - they did so mostly in the absurdly abstract yet ecstatic language of Art Appreciation. The exhibit was focused on the painter's "nocturnes" - studies in light and composition and surface control. Remington, the cultural and historical actor, was gone, and his reputation was restored to a more convenient category: great artist. In the words of gallery director Earl A. Powell III, "Remington sought to capture the elusive silver tones of moonlight, the hot flame of firelight, and the charged interaction of both."


"Fighting for the West" (1991) / The Nation

Scholars may be excused for finding this somewhat tendentious. As Patricia Nelson Limerick of the University of Colorado at Boulder, a leading historian of the West, puts it, "This show is about as revolutionary as if you had a Southern history exhibit, hung romantic paintings of plantations, and then said slavery was a rough business - not a very wild proposition, and the same kind of proposition this show offers about the West."



in the House of Representatives

TUESDAY, JULY 16, 1991

But Newsweek put it best in a story on the controversy when it wrote: `To label the Smithsonian a hotbed of radicalism because it runs a show like The West as America is a little like calling The Wall Street Journal a communist rage because it once ran a piece of Eugene Debs. Yet Secretary McC. Adams was subjected to a McCarthy-like grilling before the Senate subcommittee, warned by Stevens that 'I'm going to get other people to help me make you make sense.'

It is ironic that in its attempt to foster diversity and the free flow of ideas, the Smithsonian has been criticized for having a political agenda. It is also ironic that those who level these criticisms seek to impose their own ideology on the Smithnsonian - a political agenda of a different breed. The institution should be commended for not laying a politically correct blanket over its exhibits, and for examining history with an open mind. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Senator Stevens. Apparently, freedom of expression means tolerating unpopular views, except when you disagree with them.


New York Times
June 16, 1991

Culture in the Capital

To the Editor:

The greatest virtue of Michael Kimmelman's article is that he actually took the time to see the exhibition and read its catalogue. Typically, most Washington pontificators about the show appear to have done neither. Even a modest tour of the galleries makes apparent how overblown, intolerant or merely silly are most of their claims. As ever in Washington, culture is strictly a brief refresher from politics. Thus the great innovation of the exhibit is not that it is "politically correct" but that it does not hew to the "correctly apolitical" mode preferred by most art museums here.

Frederick N. Bohrer
Assistant Professor of Art,
Hood College
Frederick, Md.


D) Empire / Persistence of the Frontier

Throughout the history of white occupation, the places we call Groom Lake and the Nellis Range Complex have inhabited an in-between space; a space in the seemingly paradoxical position of being both inside and outside the state at the same time. 57 A space of indistinction. During the frontier era, the “black world” known to some people as Newe Sogobia was “outside” the U.S. state. But as the U.S. took and transformed this land, it largely preserved the qualities that had made this land an “outside” – laws didn’t apply, things could be done in secret and without consequence, the land could be bombed indiscriminately, and so forth. When the U.S. established much of Nevada as an exclusively military landscape, it was as if the “black-world” of the frontier made a smooth and almost effortless (from the U.S.’ point of view) transition into the “blackworld” of military weapons, testing, and secrecy....

... The paradoxical nature of this space – its neither/nor-ness, is a part of an overall testing strategy, a strategy designed to blur the line between the Nellis Range Complex and the places where the “testing” at Nellis will be reenacted “for real.” By producing nowhere in the testing sites of Nevada, the U.S. rehearses its ability to reproduce nowhere. Elsewhere.

Groom Lake and the Imperial Production of Nowhere
Trevor Paglen


The frequent references by President Bush to the grace of God as the source of ultimate sanction for US policies has effectively rendered the world's most powerful country, for the time being at least, as a Christian theocracy. The division between church and state has been whittled away so that evangelical Protestantism, which has long vied with Enlightenment rationality for the heart, soul, and mind of America, has apparently prevailed. The sense of Manifest Destiny, which historically imbued the expansionist ethos of the United States with Christian purpose, has been renewed, this time with a vengeance on a truly global scale. The old Manifest Destiny of the United States has been absorbed into the Born Again evangelism inspiring the unbridled zealotry of the War on Terrorism. Both currents of conviction have and action have encouraged Americans to see themselves as God's Chosen People, assigned by the Creator to build a New Jerusalem on earth. (xxviii)

The American Empire and the Fourth World (2003)
Anthony J. Hall


The military lessons to be learned from the lead-up to the Iraq operation are profound, and all point in the same direction: America should always have the means to act alone, in any area of the globe where danger threatens and with whatever force is necessary.... Fate, or Divine Providence, has placed America at this time in the position of sole superpower, with the consequent duty to uphold global order and to punish, or prevent, the great crimes of the world. That is what America did in Afghanistan, is in the process of doing in Iraq and will have to do elsewhere. It must continue to engage the task imposed upon it, not in any spirit of hubris but in the full and certain knowledge that it is serving the best and widest interests of humanity.

"Five Vital Lessons From Iraq"
Paul Johnson
Forbes Magazine / 03.17.03


An overlooked truth about the war on terrorism, and the war in Iraq in particular, is that they both arrived too soon for the American military: before it had adequately transformed itself from a dinosaurian, Industrial Age beast to a light and lethal instrument skilled in guerrilla warfare, attuned to the local environment in the way of the 19th-century Apaches.

My mention of the Apaches is deliberate. For in a world where mass infantry invasions are becoming politically and diplomatically prohibitive--even as dirty little struggles proliferate, featuring small clusters of combatants hiding out in Third World slums, deserts and jungles-the American military is back to the days of fighting the Indians.

The red Indian metaphor is one with which a liberal policy nomenklatura may be uncomfortable, but Army and Marine field officers have embraced it because it captures perfectly the combat challenge of the early 21st century. But they don't mean it as a slight against the Native North Americans. The fact that radio call signs so often employ Indian names is an indication of the troops' reverence for them.

The range of Indian groups, numbering in their hundreds, that the U.S. Cavalry and Dragoons had to confront was no less varied than that of the warring ethnic and religious militias spread throughout Eurasia, Africa and South America in the early 21st century. When the Cavalry invested Indian encampments, they periodically encountered warrior braves beside women and children, much like Fallujah. Though most Cavalry officers tried to spare the lives of noncombatants, inevitable civilian casualties raised howls of protest among humanitarians back East, who, because of the dissolution of the conscript army at the end of the Civil War, no longer empathized with a volunteer force beyond the Mississippi that was drawn from the working classes.


The Plains Indians were ultimately vanquished not because the U.S. Army adapted to the challenge of an unconventional enemy. It never did. In fact, the Army never learned the lesson that small units of foot soldiers were more effective against the Indians than large mounted regiments burdened by the need to carry forage for horses: whose contemporary equivalent are convoys of humvees bristling with weaponry that are easily immobilized by an improvised bicycle bomb planted by a lone insurgent. Had it not been for a deluge of settlers aided by the railroad, security never would have been brought to the Old West.

Now there are no new settlers to help us, nor their equivalent in any form. To help secure a more liberal global environment, American ground troops are going to have to learn to be more like Apaches.

"Indian Country: America's military faces the most thankless task in the history of warfare"
Robert D. Kaplan
The Wall Street Journal / 09.25.04


The Global War on Terror (GWOT) is, like all historical events, unique. But both its supporters and opponents compare it to past U.S. military conflicts. The Bush administration and the neocons have drawn parallels between GWOT and World War II as well as GWOT and the Cold War. Joshua E. London, writing in the National Review, sees the War on Terror as a modern form of the struggle against the Barbary pirates. Vietnam and the Spanish-American War have been preferred analogies for other commentators. A Pulitzer-prize winning journalist, Anne Applebaum, says that the war in Iraq might be like that in Korea, because of "the ambivalence of their conclusions." For others, the War on Terror, with its loose rhetoric, brings to mind the "war on poverty" or the "war on drugs."

I'd like to suggest another way of looking at the War on Terror: as a twenty-first century continuation of, or replication of, the American Indian wars, on a global scale. This is by no means something that has occurred to me alone, but it has received relatively little attention. Here are ten reasons why I'm making this suggestion:

1. Key supporters of the War on Terror themselves see GWOT as an Indian war. Take, for example, the right-wing intellectuals Robert Kaplan and Max Boot who, although not members of the administration, also advocate a tough military stance against terrorists. In a Wall Street Journal article, "Indian Country," Kaplan notes that "an overlooked truth about the war on terrorism" is that "the American military is back to the days of fighting the Indians." Iraq, he notes, "is but a microcosm of the earth in this regard." Kaplan has now put his thoughts into a book, Imperial Grunts: The American Military on the Ground, which President Bush read over the holidays. Kaplan points out that "'Welcome to Injun Country' was the refrain I heard from troops from Colombia to the Philippines, including Afghanistan and Iraq.... The War on Terrorism was really about taming the frontier."

"Our Indian Wars Are Not Over Yet" / Ten Ways to Interpret the War on Terror as a Frontier Conflict
John Brown
TomDispatch.com / 01.19.06

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