Sins of Omission

The Myth of Red Brotherhood

Second only to the myth of Indian as ecologist is that of red brotherhood.  Although physically similar, the Indian peoples of what is today the United States were a diverse lot.  There was no common language, culture, or identity.  A few groups of Indians evolved political organizations—the Iroquois League of the Five Nations was the most sophisticated—but most did not advance beyond tribal groups who generally lived in a state of war or intermittent hostilities with neighboring tribes.  Many tribes did not even have a common name for themselves, going by terms that simply meant “people” or “folks” or something that differentiated them only from beasts in the forest.  They did have names for their neighbors, though, referring to them as the “slithering snakes” or “sons of she-dogs” or “little adders” or other, equally insulting, pejoratives.

White encroachment aroused no general Indian hostility.  To the contrary, whites were often welcomed as allies by one tribe against a nearby enemy.  Most of the time, when Indians fought, they fought each other, not whites.  Fighting whites was only a temporary interruption of their traditional intertribal warfare—just as fighting Indians was only a temporary interruption of white intertribal warfare.  The English and the French spent more time, money, and materiel fighting...

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