Journal #12 William Apess
October 29. 2009
"By what you read, you may learn how deep your principles are. I should say they were skin-deep. I should not wonder if some of the most selfish and ignorant would spout a charge of their principles now and then at me. But I would ask: How are you to love your neighbors as yourself? Is it to cheat them? Is it to wrong them in anything? Now, to cheat them out of any of their rights is robbery. And I ask: Can you deny that you are not robbing the Indians daily, and many others?" (Apess 1057)
"Apess was singled out as the outside agitator responsible for misleading an otherwise well-contented group of Native Americans, and the white strategy focused on removing his influence." (Barry O'Connell - Native American Writers of the United States. Ed. Kenneth M. Roemer. Dictionary of Literary Biography Vol. 175. Detroit: Gale Research, 1997. From Literature Resource Center.)
In this excerpt from A Son of the Forest, Apess examines the hypocrisy of the white people; how they, while proclaiming themselves to be Christians, act without adhering to the Christian principles. He also criticizes how the white people view themselves as the "superior" race as opposed to other colored people.
"Kill the Indian, save the man." That was the slogan for the white people at that time, a slogan that justifies the assimilation and elimination of the Native Americans. Native Americans were viewed as uncivilized savages that needs to be taught. The overall consensus for the white people was that they were doing the Native Americans a favor. Apess was one of the lone fighters out there to try to preserve the Indian way of living and culture, and yet he was viewed as an "agitator" who causes panic and trouble out of nowhere. Is there a sadder fate for such a warrior of his race? Is it not shameful for the white people at that time to prescribe such a label on him, when the real wrongdoers and sinners were themselves?
Agess was not only fighting for the physical preservation of Native Americans. He wanted to preserve their culture, their way of living, which were both already on the precarious brink of total extinction due to the white people. This reminded me of Zitkala Sa and Sarah Winnemucca's autobiographies; both places tremendous emphasis on how the white people "kills" the Indian in spirit. Included in this journal entry is something I came across in a photography class. This is an old photo taken by a certain photographer; his job was to take photos of the Native Indians, especially young ones, before and after they attended school that the white people set up. True, they fashioned him into what a "gentleman" should look like, and yet such transformation is unbearable to watch. How much punishment and spiritual torture did this student endure before he was transformed into this appearance? He lost the use of his language, his native clothings, his touch with his culture and lifestyle...in essence he became yet another victim of an evil machine designated to crush the Indian within every Native American. There is no Native American Problem, just as there is no Negro Problem. The only problem seems to lie solely with that of the white man.