Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

September 2, 2013


Host: Ted Simons

American Indian History


  • Arizona State University Professor Donald Fixico will be teaching a new class this fall that includes American Indian views and values with tools to succeed at the university. Fixico will talk about that and his new book, “Call for Change: The Medicine Way of American Indian History, Ethos & Reality.” His book argues that the current discipline of American Indian history is insensitive to Native people’s view of history.
Guests:
  • Donald Fixico - Professor, Arizona State University
Category: community   |   Keywords: ASU, History, American Indian,

View Transcript
Ted Simons: History can be viewed in different ways by different people. That certainly is the case With the American Indian history. In a new book "call for Change: The medicine way of American Indian history, Ethos, and Reality," ASU professor Donald Fixico argues that the current discipline of native American history is insensitive to and inconsistent with how American Indians view their past experiences. Here with us now to talk about his new book and a new class he will teach this fall is Donald Fixico. Good to have you here. Thank you for joining us.

Donald Fixico: Nice to be here.

Ted Simons: Time to rethink American Indian history. What are we talk being here?

Donald Fixico: The operative word -- from the outside, about Indian people. Here is the chance to get inside the communities of native people and inside of their minds and explain how they're cultural different, decisions different, values different, they come up with different world views. But that is also saying that there is Comanche logic -- let's look at history that way.

Ted Simons: Current discipline insensitive to Indian views of history. Tell us about that.

Donald Fixico: The books written by -- the -- saying here are the facts. Here is what happened. And then that is what happened. And that really kind of disregards how that native people think and their point of view and how they see history.

Ted Simons: Do you think that some of these historians basically misunderstand American Indians.

Donald Fixico: Very much so. I can read a history book about American Indians. In the first few pages you can determine that. You can at the same time read the same few pages of a different book and you can tell that scholar spent a lot of time with that native group.

Ted Simons: Give us an example of a misunderstanding that you have seen out there.

Donald Fixico: Misunderstanding? Much of the history written probably before the late 1960s. Historians have written books about native people -- the book about the American west, he said in reading the introduction, he says read the introduction facing east. When you face east, you can see the miners coming towards you, the railroads, soldiers, settlers and everything like that.

Ted Simons: Basically it is Indian views and values mixed with what actually happened.

Donald Fixico: Yes.

Ted Simons: When you teach a class, when you wrote the book, who are you writing this for? Who are you teaching to?

Donald Fixico: I'm writing it for everyone because we need to kind of learn to think different ways. And we need to -- if we take on the most difficult questions and problems, well, how do you approach things differently? Because if we don't, we will limit our thinking and not be able to tackle the difficult questions.

Ted Simons: In the book you write about -- I want to get to the medicine way in a second. But first something natural democracy. How do you define natural democracy in the context of this book and in the context of what you are talking about?

Donald Fixico: Natural democracy, a term I used in 1982 when I was talking about the Iroquois and how they dealt with democracy and decision making. I remember giving that lecture way back then. Natural democracy the way I apply it, mutual respect for everything and not just human beings, but respect for rivers, mountains, flora, fauna, that they're in all of this because all of our relations, to look at history and to look at society in general and to only look at it in terms of human relations is only looking at a piece of the pie. And so we need to look at the entire society of life.

Ted Simons: So, looking at -- saying that everything should be mutually respected. You then move on to the medicine way of looking at history. Talk to us about that.

Donald Fixico: Okay. The medicine way is something that I grew up with and native people are close to their traditions. I think even indigenous people in different parts of the world would agree. If you are close to you are -- what you see is almost everything has a potential energy. Everything, water, rock, a wind storm, all of that has potential energy but we refer to that as the medicine way or the medicine power. Medicine power equals energy and how that is released. If you don't respect the water, then the water will come in terms of the flood. Or a raging river or something like that. In the medicine way, it is a way of paying the respect for everything that has potential power. And that's what we do. We respect that.

Ted Simons: How would you then work natural democracy in the medicine way?

Donald Fixico: Well, if we -- if everything has power, then we respect everything that is within the totality. And the totality has to be respected or else both cause their own doom like global warming. If we had respected the northern parts of this -- respected the northern parts of the planet and handled the natural resources in a better way, we would not be in this forth coming kind of doom that is going to happen with global warming.

Ted Simons: Medicine way, the way you approach everything, how does that work its way into the history of American Indians?

Donald Fixico: Medicine way has always been there. It is the medicine way that Comanche people, Seminoles in Florida, myself growing up in Oklahoma. It is introducing this to the larger mainstream and the rest of the world. I found that in doing that, I had to construct theoretically a cultural bridge. Cultural bridge -- if they can understand what the medicine way is they can cross this bridge and -- the way of native thinking, cross that bridge back.

Ted Simons: When you talk again about the ethos and the reality of Native Americans, again, I want to get back to the context of history. How does that change the way that I would look or someone else would look at the history of any aspect of American Indian history, how would that change or make me see this differently or literally change the reality of that history?

Donald Fixico: It would change a lot. If we can look back into the history -- it is almost like looking at a different book all together. Looking at a different way of life. A good example is maybe World War II or even World War I. If you go to World War I or II and look at the way the German people fought about that, rather than the western approach -- you don't get the German perspective. In this situation, you get the American Indian perspective and how each of the individual nations dealt with history. And it is like how did that happen? Why did that happen? How come did I miss that? And so this new perspective, that is what I'm trying to suggest in this book.

Ted Simons: And you talk about Iroquois logic and other tribal logic and how they can be different. How do you incorporate that into a general understanding of American Indian history. I can imagine between tribes there are great differences.

Donald Fixico: There are 566 federally recognized tribes today. There has to be at least 566 different points of view, if you add in the gender factor, men and women, that is twice that amount. This is to get on the other side of the equation, and once you are on the side of the equation, facing east, looking at the frontier, it opens up. As it opens up, then you see these different relationships. Take one group, any tribe, like in a circle, relationships with the white world, with the Cherokees, but also with the animals, plants, metaphysical and it becomes more than just a two dimensional approach it becomes more spherical.

Ted Simons: How do you find common ground? Are those the circles involved there as well?

Donald Fixico: Really only looking at the -- a native group or -- with the American mainstream. And so that is binary. If you take that same theoretical model of two relationships and turn that around, then you see the creeks with the -- with the Seminoles and any tribe can be in the middle, but we can't forget the relationship with the plant world, metaphysical world, French and Spanish.

Ted Simons: When folks look at history they want to know what happened and why it happened. Some want to make sure that it doesn't happen again. But for the most part, a curiosity as to what may have happened before they may have been around. How does this particular approach alter what happened, why it happened?

Donald Fixico: Well, I hope, and this is my goal from the book, is to really make people think really hard about history and in particular, American Indian history and indigenous history all around different parts of the world. Indigenous point of view, New Zealand, Australia, or in the Siberia of Russia, there is a different story, a different interpretation. History is a matter of interpretations. With the western approach, we tend to negate, nullify, forget the other kinds of history by not writing about how those people think. We use a large paint brush and paint a way of history and that is how it happens.

Ted Simons: You will be teaching a new class this fall at ASU.

Donald Fixico: Yes, using the basic structure of it. This new class, American Indian studies, 191, a substitute for Arizona State University's 101. It will be using two different biographies. These individuals, tribal chairperson and president, the first Navajo female surgeon, graduate of Stanford medical school and also Charles Alexander Eastman, Dr. Eastman, became a physician in 1890. So, how did these individuals thinking in the medicine way, how do they survive going to medical school when they came from a different set of ideas and backgrounds and values?

Ted Simons: Well, it's interesting stuff. I mean, it is an interesting read and it certainly is a different way of looking at things. Thank you for joining us. We appreciate your time.

Donald Fixico: It was a pleasure.

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