Tinker to challenge ‘romantic’ narrative of western expansion



Although “westward expansion” conjures images of new land and the spreading of Christianity for many Americans, Tink Tinker views it as a euphemism for invasion and conquest.

Tinker, a citizen of the Osage Nation (Wazhazhe) and the Clifford Baldridge Professor of American Indian Cultures and Religious Traditions at Iliff School of Theology, will give a lecture titled “How the West Was Lost: An Indian Take on the American Romance of the West” at 2 p.m. today in the Hall of Philosophy. Week Five’s Interfaith Lecture theme is “The American West: Religious Evolution and Innovations.”

Tinker will examine the ways in which westward expansion affected all Native Americans, and how the American narrative of romance of Westward expansion — that some Native Americans have been coerced into regurgitating — clouds and conceals historical realities. Chronic poverty in Native American communities is a lingering effect of westward expansion; Tinker cited the juxtaposition between white people making tourism profits from Mount Rushmore, which is on Sioux land, and the nearby Pine Ridge reservation in southwestern South Dakota, where unemployment is about 85 percent.

“American Indian people today continue to suffer the residual effects of that invasion, as what I call in another context the bottom 1 percent — the other 1 percent that is the poorest 1 percent of all Americans,” he said. “Poverty is rampant on reservations, minus the few that have a successful casino operation, which many whites tend to focus on.”

Everything west of already invaded and occupied land was considered “the West” in the early days of colonialism, Tinker said; prior to the Treaty of Greenville, Chautauqua was unceded Native American land.

In many ways, Americans still see themselves today as a “chosen people,” Tinker said. Romantic narratives abound in historical teachings and in Hollywood; the yellow “Support Our Troops” ribbon can be traced back to ribbons women wore when their sweethearts went off to kill American Indians, so to those communities, yellow ribbons still signify that the cavalry is coming, Tinker said.

“American public consciousness, the American sense of self, is predicated on that narrative that Americans tell themselves about themselves, and tell everyone else in the world,” he said. “The romance is that Americans are the good guys, the cowboys in white hats who bring only good to the world; well, the experience of the world isn’t quite in accordance with that. The American Indian experience of American exceptionalism is one of killing.”

Notions of romanticism and exceptionalism still permeate domestic and foreign policy today, Tinker said, and until America recognizes its history, those narratives will continue to play out.

“My white relatives will not be completely healthy on this continent until they own their history of violence, and that means they have to clear that narrative of romance, of this romanticism, and to deal with some of the actualities of Christian conquest,” he said. “What I’m suggesting is a call to reinvent America, to tell the narrative differently, to begin to own that history of violence. If we could own that history of violence, we might be less threatening in U.S. foreign policy, for instance.”

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  1. How the West Was Lost

    […] of property? The audience did not know; such a question left us stunned and silent. The title of Tinker’s lecture was an Indian’s response to the common theme, “How the West Was Won.” To […]

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