When learning about other people and cultures, it is easy to generalize and make assumptions about who these different people are, what they do, and what they believe. Many of these stereotypes are founded in Colonization and Imperialism, begun in America in the 1600s. In the book Mean Spirit the author, Linda Hogan, addresses this issue, using the Osage Indians in Oklahoma during the 1920s to illustrate the opinion the white man held of the Indians and how this opinion led to disaster. Indian traditions slowly fall apart as what they value becomes corrupted while the white man continues to assert their power and laws over the Osage people. This combination only spelt disaster for the Oklahoma Indians.
Manifest destiny is a major root of many of the disputes and deception in Mean Spirit. The Dawes act of 1887 allowed for Indians to have individual ownership of land, but only after white people had the chance to claim the land best for farming and cultivation. Once oil was discovered in Oklahoma though, the dried up pieces of land given to the Indians suddenly became the most valuable allotments. To the Indians, it “seemed generous at first glance so only a very few people realized how much they were being tricked” (p. 8). Though maybe the past would have hinted toward this tendency of the white man, the Indians did not quickly expect the white man to become so deceptive to repossess land that was given to them. They shouldn’t have to have this mentality, but the white man has grown so accustomed to taking what they deem valuable that it seemed obvious for them to claim what they felt they deserved far more than the Indians. They didn’t only feel that it was their right to own the land though. They also felt that they should assert authority over the Indians that lived on that land.
The feeling of white superiority was born out of Imperialism. The white government felt this superiority when “nearly all the full-blood Indians were deemed incompetent by the court’s competency commission.” (p. 241). With the threat of incompetence, the white man effectively made it clear to the Indians that they held dominance over them. The only thing that deemed these Indians incompetent though was that they appeared less sophisticated and educated than the white man. The white man attempted to take advantage of this perceived gap, and they were doing quite well with cheating the Indians out of their money and land. When they felt they couldn’t display their dominance over the Indians though, they took on a mind of fear. The white men “had ideas about Indians, that they were unschooled, ignorant people who knew nothing about life or money. But whenever an Indian didn’t fit their vision” they became afraid of what they were actually capable of (p. 60). Because of their conditioned idea that they are better than the Indians, they actually become afraid when it seems the Indians might actually be the same or (God forbid) even better than the white man. To deal with this fear, the white man used their own laws to keep themselves from this unknown person and forced assimilation onto Indians so they would no longer have to try to understand them or treat the Indians as they were as equals.
Assimilation was forced upon the Indians through laws and social order. The Curtis Act of 1898 was designed to dissolve all forms of Indian government so that the Indians were forced to follow the laws that the Indian Commission set for them. Many of the Indians fought this and “some of them had even gone to Washington, D.C., to talk with the president who refused a hearing with them” (p. 61). Despite all of their efforts, the Indians were never given a say in what laws were placed over them, but they were punished for breaking these laws all the same. To keep the white man appeased they listened to their laws, but all they really wanted was “to be left alone and in peace. They wanted it so much that they turned their minds away from the truth and looked in the other direction” (p. 40). They were a very peaceful people that were yanked into a world full of corruption and violence and weren’t allowed to leave. The white man corrupted what they held sacred like the animals and land with hunting and oil drilling. In order to survive in this world, they either had to allow this corruption or risk their own life trying to protect it.
The combination of Colonization and Imperialism plowed a path for the white man to assert their dominance and gain power and in it’s wake left the way of life for the Indian people destroyed. Mean Spirit exposed the corruption and violence that fed this destruction through the lives of the Osage Indians in Oklahoma. Fear and the feeling of superiority led the white man to believe that this destruction was justified and would eventually help the Indians by forcing assimilation to what they believed was the superior way to live, but in reality it did nothing but oppress Indians.