This edition: American Indians Confront "Savage Anxieties"Tweet
Original tape date: December 26, 2014.
First aired: January 5, 2015.
American Indians have long had to contend with the myth of the “savage” as well as with the law, especially the language long employed by the courts to legitimize what legal scholar Robert Williams calls "this uniquely American-style, constitutionally sanctioned white racial dictatorship."
Robert Williams, himself of Lumbee Indian heritage, has set himself the task of trying to root out the law's bias and to challenge the bigoted ways of talking, thinking, and writing that still shape our attitudes toward the American Indian population. Williams tells Bill Moyers, “When Europeans came to the New World, the first thing they said is, ‘Well, Indians don't appreciate property. They're savage. They're backwards. They're uncivilized. And so we really don't have to pay them for it or if we give them a treaty we really don't have to give them what the land is-- is truly worth.’ Nothing could be farther from the truth. Tribes have very clear conceptions of their traditional boundaries, they maintain their rights and their claim to sovereignty over the lands according to their own honored traditions and tribal elders.”
Williams continues, “What we've had is 500 years of taking away from tribes. And it's going to be very hard to start giving back and to start recognizing those things were taken from tribes… And that continual work that Indian leaders, indigenous people are doing throughout the world is getting back what was taken away.”
Robert Williams teaches law and American Indian studies at the University of Arizona, has represented tribal groups before human rights courts and commissions, adjudicated as a judge for Indian courts of law, and written such influential books as "Like a Loaded Weapon” and “Savage Anxieties: The Invention of Western Civilization,” which show how and why the notion of Indians as war-mongering, unruly savages was used to justify western expansion – and suppression.
Robert A. Williams, Jr. American Indian Studies, University of Arizona