Here are selected quotes from On the Rez by Ian Frazier.
- "Any smugness at the thought of this urge to division in Indian society ignores how powerful it has been in the United States at large. From a certain perspective, the history of the United States has been a history of schism. Whether we would be one nation or many has perplexed us from the start... We know, for example, that the United States has been a Protestant-majority nation since it began. That fact seems simple, white-bread, monochrome. But the origin of the Protestants in America was protest and argument. Especially in the early nineteenth century the Protestants in America argued and disagreed and divided into factions so prolifically as to make the Indian tribes seem unanimous by comparison. (12)
- "So, to the question 'Why can't Indians get with the program?' one might reply that we have already gotten with theirs. Immigrants did not simply reproduce in America the life they had left behind overseas. They adapted instead to the culture they found here, a native culture that was immeasurably old and that still survives today. The latest version of American history tends to describe the meeting of whites and Indian in terms of despoilment, with the Indians getting the worst of it, as indeed occurred. But such accounts can't do justice the thrilling spark of freedom in the encounter - the freedom the Indians had, the freedom that white people found. As surely as Indians gave the world corn and tobacco and potatoes, they gave it a revolutionary new idea of what a human being could be. Thanks to Indians, we learned we didn't have to kneel to George III. In the droning sameness of history, this was front-page glorious news: we could walk the earth the equal of anyone we met:, no princeling's inferior, unobliged to kiss anyone's hand in subjugation or have anyone kiss ours." (13)
- "Over the next summers, the question of white guys dancing would become one of the most controversial on the reservation. Some traditionalists wanted the tribal council to pass a law banning all non-Indians from sun dances held on Pine Ridge. People who favored open sun dances answered that they would use guns to defend their right to practice their religion with whomever they chose. At least one respected leader kept his sun dance strictly closed. Some dances were open, others were semi-open but had entrances with many checkpoints at which undesirables could be turned away, others were small and secret and held in remote places where passerby and tourists would never see. A hundred years ago Oglala who continued to practice their traditional ceremonies despite the goverment's ban did so in secret, for fear of white people finding out and shutting them down; today the fear is of white people finding out and wanting to join." (53-54)
- "The most famous removal of Indians, of course, was the removal of the Cherokee from Georgia westward to Indian Territory in 1838 and 1839. There are many accounts of the forced march that came to be known as the Trail of Tears - of the Cherokee's previous peaceableness and prosperity on their lands in Georgia. of the mercilessness of President Andrew Jackson; of Supreme Court Justice John Marshall's ruling that the removal was illegal; of Jackson's response: 'He has made the law. Now let him enforce it.'; of the opposition or people as diverse as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Davy Crockett to the removal; of the US soldiers' roundup of the Georgia Cherokee; of the Cherokee's suffering in the stockades and along the trail; of the death of more than four thousand Cherokee, about a third of the population of the tribe, before the removal was through. The Cherokee had their own written language, with an alphabet devised by the Cherokee leader Sequoyah during the 1820s. But their success at following the ways of the whites proved no defense. As would happen again elsewhere, building houses and farms only gave the Indians more to lose when government policy changed." (74-75)
- "Sometimes when I travel in the West - on the Great Plains, especially - I find myself in a place too unimportant for people to pay it much attention nowadays; and yet it's a real place, and unlike any other and specific to itself, and it always makes me wonder what the lost Indian name for it was. Father Buechel's dictionary contains many words for which the object or action or condition described will probably never come up in ordinary conversation again - that is, the word remains, but what it describes has now been forgotten or lost. Will the Sioux ever again have much use for the word tacaka, which means the roof of a buffalo's mouth?" (154)
- "If you ask people nowadays to name a hero, probably they'll say Michael Jordan, or maybe Mother Teresa, or maybe AIDS researcher Dr. Mathildre Krim. In the public sphere, the pickings have become pretty slim. Or else they'll mention someone unknown to the public, or a dedicated teacher they had in high school. The first kind of hero is admired by millions and exists for us mainly through newspapers or on TV. Historically, though, the distinction between the two kind of heroes has been much less clear; that is, in the past a hero to the public at large might also have been someone you know of knew of from you community - someone you would see on the street now and again, an acquaintance, a friend-of-a-friend.
For the Oglala, heroes have always been the first and second kind sumultaneously. Crazy Horse, for example, was just a guy you saw around from time to time, herding his horses, sitting before his lodge, smoking with his friends. And yet he was also... Crazy Horse: the near-magic warrior, the victor of many battles, the man never wounded once in a fight, the famous destroyer of Custer and the Seventh Cavalry. Our usual experience of heroes today is to divided between the one or the other kind, and so diminished in general, it may be hard to imagine how someone who is both kinds of hero at once can elevate your soul... Or imagine that an older kid you looked up to when you were in elementary school, instead of fading in luster in the usual way as time went on, not only fulfilled every expectation you had for him but surpassed these with glorious public feats you never dreamed of." (198-199)
- "Imagine that the hopefully, innocent, unbounded fantasy you had about someone you really admired when you were a child did not meet the usual puncturing and deflation but simply continued to grow; that you kept it with the same innocence and hope, finding more justification for it every day; that the person you admired, someone as familiar to you as yourself and yet at the same time apart, took the hope invested in her onward into the larger world without a hitch, increasing her fame and achievement and admirers geographically along the way; and imagine that against odds upon odds she won, won at everything important she tried, won so blithely as to hardly show her strength; and that she carried the hope invested in her unstoppably aloft, defying the death and fear in the world. And imagine that as she did this she somehow carried you with her, lifted you, too, above the fear and the death, and gave you and all the people around you someone to be - a self, a freedom, a name. Warfield Moose, Sr., SuAnne's [Big Crow] teacher of Lakota studies at Pine Ridge High School, said of her, 'She showed us a way to live on the earth.'" (199)
- "When SuAnne talked about the reservation, people recall, she sometimes used the metaphor of the basket of crabs. It's a common metaphor on Pine Ridge. She said that the reservation is like a bunch of crabs reaching and struggling to get out of the bottom of a basket, and whenever one of them manages to get a hold and pull himself up the side, the other crabs in their reaching and struggling grab him and pull him back down. The metaphor could apply, no doubt, to many places nearly as poor and lacking in opportunity as Pine Ridge. But somehow it seems even more true here - Oglala society is at once infatuated by and deeply at odds with fame. It creates heroes and tears them down almost simultaneously, as leaders from Red Cloud to Dick Wilson have learned. Perhaps the explanation for that has to to do with the Oglala's free-and-equal view of how people are supposed to be, combined with the general distress the culture has undergone. But if the cause is unknowable, the result is usually pretty clear: the Pine Ridge Reservation is not a comfortable place to be famous in for longer than a week or two." (241)
- "I knew I was almost done working on this book, and as I drove around the reservation or sat at Aurelia's or the Big Crow Center, I was tempted to draw conclusions. Books about Indians often end with an analysis of Indian problems and advice from the author about what Indians could do to improve their lot. Certainly, I could imagine the Oglala's lost improved. I could imagine the tribe growing in numbers and prospering at new enterprises, at least; I could see them staying put as the plains around them continue to lose population, and gaining strength and importance in the region until in a hundred years or so they regain their long-ago stature as a major power in the middle of the continent. Maybe young leaders of SuAnne's generation and the ones that follow will offer the tribe a vision that takes it beyond the hard times of today... As to actual advice for the Oglala, however, I have none. Advice from authors and others - representatives of the church, or officials in the government - usually has not worked out too well in the past. Besides, no Oglala has ever asked me." (276-277)