Diversity Essay: Social Thoughts of American Civil Rights Organizer John R. (Salter) Hunter Gray

Editors’ Comments
by Neal McLeod & Rob Nestor
Saskatchewan Indian Federated College

The Journal of Indigenous Thought continues in this issue to document the intellectual, philosophical, religious and narrative traditions of Indigenous people throughout the world. The current issue draws upon the insights of the work of several people, including Dr. Roy Wortman (Kenyon College), Christine Watson (Saskatchewan Indian Federated College), Solomon Ratt (Saskatchewan Indian Federated College), and Neal McLeod (Saskatchewan Indian Federated College). All of the pieces contained within this journal point to the dynamic nature of Indigenous intellectual/ narrative traditions, with a play between traditions and contemporary realities being demonstrated.

Dr. Wortman’s pieces, “Telling Their Own Stories, Building Their Own Strength: Dr. Dave Warren on Framing and Imparting American Indian History” and ” ‘I Consider Myself a Real Red’ : The Social Thought of American Civil Rights Organizer John (Salter) Hunter Gray” explore the work and lives of two prominent Native Americans. Wortman in the two pieces engages in a thoughtful dialogue with both Warren and Gray with neither being an “informant” or an “object of research.” Rather, the words and thoughts of both are conveyed through the interviews which have been skillfully edited by Wortman. Furthermore, the interviews are placed within a larger interpretative framework with references to other contexts and situations which amplify the words and contributions of both Warren and Gray.

In the essay, ” ‘ I Consider Myself a Real Red’,” important points of contrast are drawn between the experience of Black Americans and the civil rights movement and the attempt of Native Americans to hold on to their identity in the wake of the pressures of assimilation: “Where Black Americans sought to become part of the broader United States society, American Indians sought to remain as much as possible apart from that sphere because of their historical and legal traditions based on treaties” (p. 7). The achievements of Gray demonstrate the challenges of trying to balance the need to maintain identity within the rubric of collective minority as well as the need to participate within the larger society. Perhaps, it is through ambiguity that emerges in this attempt to navigate various cultural and political frameworks, that Gray denounces essentialism. Instead, Gray holds that cultures are essentially an organic, fluid activity, but at the same need a real material/ physical grounding such as that found in Treaty rights (e.g. access to land base) and of the economic contexts that people find themselves in.

Roy Wortman and David Warren explore important issues of historiography within the context of Native American history in the paper “Telling Their Own Story, Building Their Own Strengths: Dr. David Warren on Framing and Imparting American Indian History.” Given the rise of more writings about Native American history by Native American writers, the discussion of these issues is certainly timely. David Warren’s contribution to the Native American history perhaps rests in seeing “oral traditions of a tribal group as a living source as a much as a document” (p. 6). Thus, instead of Native American culture and history existing only in the past as collections of relics waiting to be catalogued and preserved, Native American culture and history is rather a living process in a constant state of development. Like Gray, Warren is also suspicious of essentialistic cultural discourses, and urges historians to engage in multi-layered studies of collective historical experience.

“I Consider Myself a Real Red:” The Social Thought of American Civil Rights Organizer John R. (Salter) Hunter Gray by Roy T. Wortman, Department of History, Kenyon College, Gambier, Ohio 43022 USA

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