Good Essay On The White Man’s Indian

Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Europe, People, Law, Christopher Columbus, United States, White, International Law, Colonization

Pages: 5

Words: 1375

Published: 2021/01/09


Indigenous Rights

The excerpt from the Berkhoffer book The White Man’s Indian illustrates the author’s conception that the very word Indian and all the imagery, etc. associated with it was entirely based upon the Europeans. He contends the word Indian actually came from Christopher Columbus’ description of the native Arawak tribes in the West Indies and fellow Spanish colonists or conquerors continued what Columbus had begun. Berkhoffer then goes on to describe how the depiction of Indians was all entirely conceived by the White Man. It was as if the native peoples of North and South America had no true identity of their own. Also, if they were to reveal it, the Europeans were certain to ignore it. Because Indians were not like them it was assumed in their narcissism that they must teach them their ways or else they would simply take advantage of them. For instance, Berkhoffer describes how the Spanish were not impressed by the advanced civilizations of the Incas and Aztecs because they practiced human sacrifice. It was never taken into consideration that maybe the Incas and Aztecs thought their worship of Christ was a bit strange.
Berkhoffer’s analysis of the how the White Man created the entire identity for indigenous peoples and then just lumped them all in one category when many of them did not even speak the same language or practice the same customs was quite in depth. He goes through primary source documentation of the myth the White Man produced and it seems like he has left no stone unturned in proving his point. His examination of the issue, which is indigenous people being not only stripped of their lands but of what made them unique, is quite original. For example, I have read extensively about Native Americans as I feel the United States clearly acted in a genocidal fashion towards them and I did not realize the depth of Berkhoffer’s assertions. His prose is a bit didactic but it serves its purpose and is very informative.

European Conquest and the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

This reading by Keal analyzes the rights of the Europeans to subjugate not only the Amerindians but other native populations through their course of imperialism. He points out in the beginning of the excerpt that Europeans had a de facto system of international law where they acted in certain ways towards only each other as a means of “getting along” and then anyone that was not European was not only virtually ignored but looked down upon. Therefore, Europeans felt they had the right to steal their lands, snatch their natural resources and essentially place them in bondage for their personal gain. That was their justification. It as a merely, “you are not us” mentality.
Keal’s analysis is thorough but rather dry and although it shows compassionate for indigenous people and their rights, examining forms of law and the ideas of writers as well as philosophers of the era really does not have much impact. Whether it violated international law or not, the Europeans were still going to do what they were going to do. Also, there was no truly stated, regulated or implemented international at the time. It simply is not relevant what John Locke thought about the plight of the people that were European colonists all over the world. The reality is no legal tribunal system or philosopher was going to save them from their fate. Keal’s points are well-researched, illustrate appropriate compassion and are expressed in the correct fashion, but his arguments really do not hold much water in light of the era and how things were certain to transpire. It appears this is much more for academia’s sake than to provide information on the rights of indigenous peoples.

The Conquest of America

Todorov’s work focuses on Columbus’ writings in regard to the Amerindians and how he produced the concept of the Noble Savage. These people were backwards, had no religion, no customs and what really seemed to bother Columbus was they wore no clothes. He was overwhelmed how they had no sense of greed and appeared most genial. He could not understand why they would trade material objects with value for things that were not as valuable to him. Columbus was a product of his time. In that era and for several centuries to come, Europeans denigrated and ignored people that were not European. It was really as if the only use they had for them was to bring them into the Christian fold and then treat them as slaves. They had no other utility. For even if they did adopt the Christian faith, which many did, they would still never be European.
What is interesting about Todorov’s analysis is how it grabs the reader. You feel much more drawn to what he is saying because rather than looking at countless examples of how the rights of indigenous peoples’ rights were wrested from them, he takes Columbus’ own words and then attaches imagery with them to illustrate his points. I enjoyed his work very much. He certainly had a deep appreciation for his subject matter and although a lot has been produced on the concept of the Nobel Savage, I would have to say Todorov’s is right at the top of the list from a knowledge and entertainment perspective.

The Struggles of Indigenous Peoples for and of Freedom

Tully’s article is interesting in that it tackles the subject of the repression of the freedoms of indigenous peoples from a different angle and I liked that he used Canada as a reference. Just recently, in fact several months ago, I became aware of how Canada had discriminated against and still is prejudiced against their aboriginal peoples. That shocked me. I’m not sure why as that has been the pattern and it would be expected the United States and Canada would follow the structures that were passed onto them which would be the British imperialist model. Tully illustrates that what occurred in America was not an isolated incident, but again the use of political theories to attempt to explain what happened to indigenous people in regards to their rights is for academia. It reminds me of sitting around a table and people talking in depth about things that are relevant but not necessarily pertinent. The subjugation and treatment of indigenous people was based on colonial might and not the rule of natural law, the Enlightenment, international law or anything else. The Europeans had guns and brought disease and the indigenous people lost the battle.
As far as Tully’s analysis, organization and clarity of thought, it was excellent. I just feel these types of discussion on this issue do not hold much real world value. It is more about might is right than what kinds of law are applicable for the indigenous people having to suffer at the hands of colonialism. There were treated horribly and the people that were over in the Americas in the early stages of settlement were often not ruled by law in the first place, but by greed. They came to seek a fortune and viewed the indigenous people as a barrier to accessing riches. They also held them low esteem and felt they were backward because their cultures were so in tune with their environment. This happened to indigenous people all over the world and still is. So with natural law at work, international law firmly established and colonialism banished then why is there still so much inequality for indigenous people? It appears the colonial system will forever leave its imprint on lives all across the globe. Maybe that is why the discussion of the situation from various philosophical and legal perspectives does not hold much merit for me. Tully has sympathy for who he speaks of. He just does not present his case in a way that is palatable to me.


Berkhoffer, R.E. (1979). The White Man’s Indian. New York: Vintage Books. 3-31.
“Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples” (2008). The United Nations.
Duson D., P. Patton and W. Sanders. (2000). “Chapter 3: The Struggles of Indigenous People for and of Freedom.” Political Theory and the Rights of Indigenous People. Oakleigh,
Victoria. Cambridge. 36-59.
Keal, P. (2003). European Conquest and the Rights of Indigenous People. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press. 84-112.
Shah, Anup. (2010). “Rights of Indigenous People.” Global Issues.
Todorov, T. (1987). “Columbus and the Indians.” The Conquest of America. New York:
Harper and Row. 34-50.

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