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Progress: The Indian Dilemma

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Progress: The Indian Dilemma

     Progress may be delineated as both good and evil; it is a necessary step towards development, but a destructive factor in cultural identity and cultural honor.  This contention resounds with truth in the case of Indians in the Northwest in the late 1880s, as illustrated in the paper authored by Sarah Carter entitled, “Two Peasants and a Cow: ‘Peasant’ Farming for Indians in the Northwest, 1889-97.” Carter contends that then Department of Indian Affairs Commissioner Hayter Reed utilized peasant farming as a way of changing the Indian culture and the Indian individual; by introducing and implementing peasant farming in earnest, Reed promoted individualism among the Indians, destroying their tribalism at its core.

Further, the cultural honor of Indians was also vastly affected, as they are reduced into farmers who are trained solely in manual labor, and so are reduced into a degraded farming category-small scale producers, with no skill in handling sophisticated farming equipment. Hence, we can say that the education of the Indians in farming is a step forward towards progress, at the same time a step backwards, weakening racial identity and pride. Carter (1989) writes that, “the peasant farming policy emerged during an era when the stated priorities of the Department of Indian Affairs was to dismantle what was called ‘tribal’ or ‘communist’ system and to promote ‘individualism’.” The farming policies, therefore, served as a tool to sever the strong tribal bond among the Indians,; the goal was not to better the farmlands, but to eradicate the perceived Indian dilemma. Further, the restrictive peasant farming policies degraded the Indian into the kind of farmer whose technical skills are limited to manual labor, and whose productivity is limited to small-scale produce. This kind of treatment only proves that progress for the Indians is more a curse than a blessing.

     The very same premise can be found in the paper of Mary Ellen Kelm, entitled, “Diagnosing the Discursive Indian: Medicine, Gender, and the Dying Race.” Kelm (2005) explains that, “the Indians had suffered from, not been saved by, contact with civilization.” Thus, the blow of progress to the Indian community is more damaging than alleviating. The most disturbing facts are revealed in Kelm’s descriptions of the Indian students’ conditions in residential schooling, as most students are afflicted with tuberculosis, and are not properly looked after. The authorities refuse to act constructively to better the condition, affirming the contention that handing education and skill to the Indians is merely a show, a tool to destroy tribalism as earlier stated in this paper. Moreover, the perception of the white race in viewing the Indian in terms of pathology is quite damaging. The white race sees aboriginal health as a threat to the white community. This perception persisted until the recent years, as Kelm (2005) discourses that, “certainly, the tendency to pathologize aboriginal people, to see them as a threat to the health of the population as a whole, continues.”

     In these two readings, it is quite clear that several factors are behind the offer of progress to the Indians. The major motivation for the peasant farming policies implemented in the 1890s was to destroy tribalism, while the major motivation for providing medical help to the Indian community was to destroy the perceived Indian threat. Because of these inappropriate motivations, Progress for the Indian spells suffering, instead of  prosperity and good fortune.

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