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International Socialism, February 1976


Bryan Rees

Geronimo &
The People’s Land


From International Socialism, No.86 (wrongly numbered No.85), February 1976, p.30.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Geronimo: His Own Story
Edited by S.M. Barrett
Leo Cooper, £4.50.

The People’s Land: Eskimoes & Whites in the Eastern Arctic
Hugh Brody
Penguin, 90p.

In 1848 Marx and Engels wrote in the Communist Manifesto,

‘The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere ... It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilisation into their midst ... In one word, it creates a world after its own image.’

Both these books illustrate the truth of what was written in 1848.

In 1830 the US President, Andrew Jackson, signed the Indian Removal Act, which ‘removed’ all Indians to the west of the Mississippi River. By 1877, according to Ralph Andrist, it was all over,

‘in all the Great Plains, from Canada South, there was no longer a free tribe or a “Wild” Indian.’

By 1883 the destruction of the vast herds of bison which had roamed those plains was completed – the basic resource of all Plains Indians was no more.

Ethnocide is the vogue term which is used to describe the annihilation of one people by another – systematic mass murder is more emotional, but equally good and accurate.

The life style of the Apache, completely bound up with his environment, which Geronimo describes in some detail, could not of itself give anyone a reason for obliterating them from the face of the earth. Except for one thing – it gets in the way of ‘Progress’. Doing your own thing and getting in no-one’s way in the doing of it, with capitalism marching across America, is bound to bring problems.

Geronimo dismisses the Mexicans, whom he fought intermittently between 1858 and 1884, as ‘treacherous and malicious’ – hardly surprising when you know that in 1858 at Kas-ki-yeh they almost wiped out his tribe. There is no love lost between the two. With the White Men it is different; initially there appears to be a basis for mutual trust and respect, and it turns into a catalogue of broken treaties (mainly broken by the White side), and a protracted and sometimes vicious struggle,

‘Sometimes we attacked the White men – sometimes they attacked us. First a few Indians would be killed and then a few soldiers. I think the killing was about equal on each side. The number killed in these troubles did not amount to much ... but we never again trusted the United States troops.’

By 1886 the White man had won. Geronimo had finally surrendered and was first sent to San Antonio for trial. After that he and other Apaches were sent to reservations in Florida and Alabama which resulted in the death of a quarter of the tribe. Finally they ended up at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, thoroughly domesticated and no more than curiosities.

The photographs in the book tell us as much as the text. The defeat is written in the faces of the Indians – they have become objects for innocent eyes to stare at, they are safe and ‘civilised’.

Geronimo and the Apaches always wanted to go back to Arizona. He wrote:

‘It is my land, my home, my fathers’ land ... I want to spend my last days there, and be buried among those mountains.’

There was no magnanimity in defeat – he died at Fort Sill on alien ground.

Hugh Brody’s book on the Eskimoes demonstrates that the same forces which saw the end of Geronimo and his people are still active. Colonialism still lives, but in the more remote parts of the world.

The Eastern Arctic is just such an area with the Eskimo people as the victims. Remember the Eskimoes? Wrapped up in skins, harpoon in hand, standing by an igloo. Well not quite – a life expectation of 41 years or less is further reduced by a high rate of pneumonia, chronic bronchitis, diabetes, and TB in epidemic proportions; infant mortality is five times the Canadian rate; alcoholism is rampant.

The White men came to the Arctic traders and missionaries. They have remained and brought the life style of the south to an area where it doesn’t fit the needs of the indigenous population. Secure in his warm bungalow the White missionary looks out at the Eskimo and thinks he needs to be ‘saved’; the White administrator looks at the Eskimo and thinks he must be ‘helped’, and most Whites look at the Eskimo and think he must be ‘civilised’. Hardly surprising then that the White community is self-contained and isolated having little or no contact with the Eskimo.

The trouble with this hook is the way it’s written – in a sociological/anthropological language which can only be easily understood by sociologists and anthropologists. It also helps if you are Canadian. It is not an easy book to get into, and the difficult language tends to obscure the fact that Eskimoes are slowly being killed off and the process is being assisted by the Canadian government through the Crown Indians Act.

Brody argues that,

‘Eskimoes of the Eastern Arctic will be able to live in ways that reflect their own preferences only if the dominant society’s intrusion can be minimised.’

With the Arctic now becoming the ‘new Klondike’ with vast amounts of oil, gas, and minerals being discovered, that argument becomes a bit pious. As far as I can see it will not happen short of the revolution in Canada.

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