The Life of Major Israel McCreight: A Case Study in The Cultural Appropriation Debate

I’ve written many times before on the controversy surrounding what the Left calls “cultural appropriation”. As a recap, cultural appropriation is this idea of “stealing” another culture’s material culture as well as customs and traditions as an outsider who has no claim or right to use any part of a certain culture. People accused of such are often alleged to be insulting and exploiting often deep and meaningful cultural customs and traditions and making them superficial and misrepresented. Accusations of colonialism also come up as this charge is mainly exclusive to white people, claiming white people who do this are also exerting their “white supremacy” and subjugating minorities.

These arguments seem okay on the surface, but looking deeper it’s not always so black and white. I’ve written about how many simply want to dress up for Halloween and have no intentions of insulting anyone. Or about how experiencing ways different from one’s own can foster empathy, not mockery or contempt for another’s way of life. Or those who truly do want to honor a culture on a deeper and meaningful level, and have true appreciation for the richness that culture brings to the world. To illustrate this point, I want to introduce you to this man:

Yes, this is a white man in Native American regalia. Complete with that sacred war bonnet (gasp!). He even is holding a peace pipe! Look at his picture carefully and without knowing anymore about who he is or what he did what comes to your mind? Do you think he has any right to wear these things? How do you think the Native Americans felt about him doing this? What do you think his motives are for wearing Native American clothing, and ceremonial regalia? What do you think the implications are of a white person like him doing this?

Now what if I told you in his house, he has a massive collection of sacred Native American objects? War bonnets, arrows, coup sticks, sacred clothing, pipes, etc… How do you think he obtained all these things? Does he have any right to own them? What if I told you he took on a Native American name in his later life and even signed documents with it? It seems like this man is really into Indians! But do you think all of this is okay for someone who is not a Native American?

After you answer these for yourself, and think what the Left would say about this man what comes to your mind? I’ll share what comes to mine: I believe that many who cry cultural appropriation would condemn that man for wearing Native American attire. Say he was exploiting their culture, and defiling their sacred objects. They would wonder why he has all those Native American objects in his house, and probably assume they were war trophies, or stolen even indirectly from Indians. He should give them all back! They’d say he was just another white man who played a role in subjugating Native Americans and then gloating over his victory using those cultural objects as war trophies in a sense. That by using that native name, he’s just “playing Indian”, while becoming a white man with all the privileges it endows whenever it suits him again.

Indeed, his page on Wikipedia was taken down not too long ago. There’s no solid proof to confirm it for sure, but considering the circumstances, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone took it down for those reasons. However, the page taken down and censored had the relevant information that answers all of our questions about this man and his motives.

The man’s name was Major Israel McCreight. He was born in 1865 and died in 1958. He grew up in Pennsylvania raised by pioneer parents and several other siblings. As a young man, at only 20 years old, he wanted to branch out and traveled all the way to Devil’s Lake in the Dakota Territory. This is where his lifelong adventure with Indians began. In fact, it was when he first arrived and stepped off the train platform he was greeted by a band of Sioux.

“They were a fine healthy lot; and as the travel-worn youth with his carpet-bag and lunch basket looked about for someone from whom he might ask directions, the Chief stepped up and with extended hand, said: “How cola!” Half in fright and with a puzzled hand-shake, the boy made his way toward what seemed to be the white man’s town… That kindly greeting by the old Sioux Chief quickly dispelled much of the prejudice that had filled his heart through childhood, and soon the youth began to think that Indians were not such terrible folks as Eastern people believed they were.” (McCreight, 1939)

During McCreight’s years there, he worked supplying food to the Indians, and also in an army garrison. He got along so well with various Indians that others called him “the Indian man”, and he fully earned this title when amazingly, he prevented a potential conflict between the settlers there and some Ojibwe Indians who has a grievance over white settlers not adhering to a treaty they made and hunting on their lands and stealing their timber. A band of them came early one morning to settle the score and McCreight managed to talk them down and persuade them to go back to their reservation and avoid bloodshed.

“It was all over before the town folks stirred about after their late Sunday morning breakfast; and over their own late breakfast, the doctor and the writer decided it best to say nothing, to avoid publicity, for it might interfere with business, and perhaps bring the wrath of General George Armstrong Custer‘s troops at the fort, against the suffering natives, and so the incident was closed and soon forgotten — forgotten except for the life-long humiliation at failure of the Bureau of Indian Affairs to intercede for and protect the rights of these abused natives.” (McCreight, 1943)

He also developed deep personal friendships with many Indians, including Chief Wa Ta Na who gave him his prized peace pipe, as a token of their deep friendship. This was the first object given to him in his vast collection. As McCreight went through life, he went back to DuBois in Pennsylvania and took up banking, and married his childhood sweetheart and raised 7 children and they had over 70 years of marriage. However, he retained his connections in the Dakotas, and became friends with the far more well known Buffalo Bill Cody and other famous Indians in the Wild West shows like Flying Hawk and Chief Iron Tail. When the Wild West shows would travel around the country, they would often stop at the McCreights to relax and catch up with friends. A special place McCreight had in his later life was a big house and estate called “The Wigwam”.

Wild Westers needed a place to relax, and The Wigwam was a warm and welcome home where Indians could be Indians, sleep in buffalo skins and tipis, walk in the woods, have a hearty breakfast, smoke their pipes and tell of their stories and deeds. On one occasion 150 Indians with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West camped in the forests of The Wigwam. (Wikipedia)

He also made “The Wigwam” a cultural heritage center for Native American culture and educated tourists and schoolchildren. His Indian friends gave him many gifts of prized objects as tokens of their friendship which McCreight treasured until he died. McCreight’s constant and enduring connections with many Native American communities and those from the old days of the Wild West eventually earned him what he considered his highest honor: His native name, Cante Tanke which means “great heart”.

McCreight was forever moved by the solemnity of the occasion, and carried the honor proudly and with distinction the rest of his life. McCreight later remarked that the title, honorary Chief of the Oglala Lakota, was a far greater tribute than could have been conferred by any president or military organization. McCreight celebrated and honored Oglala Lakota culture, signing correspondence Tchanta Tanka or Tchanti Tanka, the phonetic equivalence of “Chann-Tey-Tonk-A”, the Lakota pronouncement of his adopted name Cante Tanke.

And that’s certainly not all! He was supported by the Sioux people and others to be nominated for the position of U.S. Indian Commissioner in 1929. He unfortunately was not chosen by President Hoover, however the significance of support from Indians, when many bureaucrats were corrupt and did not have the Indian’s best interests at heart, was that they trusted McCreight. In his elder years he wrote many books highlighting not his voice, but those of his Indian friends to honor their stories and kept The Wigwam up as a cultural center until 1958, the year of his death. Perhaps the most touching expression of his devotion to the Indians, and their love for him was in this letter sent near the end of his life by a friend:

“Brother your message tells us that soon you will take the Sunset Trail where our ancient Fathers will welcome and greet you as one of themselves. It will make our hearts unhappy when you leave us. You will be remembered by the truths you have written in your many books and articles about the Indians and though your body may pass on your thoughts will continue to live, will speak for us. During your life on this Earth, you have done many good things and our hearts are with you. You are an Indian born again in a white body, sent here by our creator to tell the world today the true story of our people. When you leave Mother Mother Earth and the Ancient Ones will welcome you with outstretched arms. The prairies and forests will look golden and green to you and your moccasins will walk on smooth grasses. The sky will be blue and from the bark lodges you will see smoke rising into the sky. Your ears will hear the good music of singing and the tom toms and those you see will be smiling at you as you walk to greet them. Remember this, Brother, this is how it will be for you. Your brother, Aren Akweks.”

Now go back to that photo and answer for yourself those questions I posed to you again knowing what you know now of the man. In light of all he contributed to the betterment and advocacy for Native Americans, would you still think he has no right to what he did? Is this still “appropriation”?

The reason I dove so deeply into one man’s biography was to present Major Israel McCreight as a case study in dismantling this notion that white people can’t possibly have a deep and lasting connection, one of advocacy for another race or culture and any absorption of another’s culture is an insult and oppressive. Maybe many SJW’s would dismiss him as a “white savior” and disregard all he did despite using his “privilege” to help those who didn’t have it. Obviously whoever deleted his wonderful page up on Wikipedia didn’t read his legacy. They didn’t read how he was embraced as one of their own by Indians, how his collection was not stolen but given to him by lifelong friends, how his native name was bestowed to him as his highest honor, how his war bonnet could symbolize how he was a warrior for the betterment of those people. And much much more. Nor did whoever took his page down appreciate the devotion and care the writer took to honor his life.

The implications of this censorship goes beyond this one man though, and the biggest one: There are more McCreights out there today, but they will never get the chances he did at truly embracing and advocating for a people with the Left’s restrictive “hands off and stay away” approach to connecting to others outside how they dictate whites must act. He saw the Native Americans he bonded with as his equals. But one can’t do that with another if you’re told to stay away and merely cave to every demand blindly due to some past history without having mutual understanding and respect. This isn’t merely about the censorship of the story of one great man, but the social censorship of the development of more great men and women who will go on to honor countless cultures to come…

Please take the time to read the censored article in its entirety as it covers so much more than I can in one post! I found the trick was to type the url into the WayBack site which can let you see deleted pages 😉 Major Israel McCreight

10 thoughts on “The Life of Major Israel McCreight: A Case Study in The Cultural Appropriation Debate

  1. Thank you for sharing about this amazing man!

    Sadly, in the world of wokeness and “White Fragility”, white people are being told they are born racist and will always be racist, no matter what, and the only thing they can do is make constant public contrition for their original sin of racism. Meanwhile, non-whites are being told that, no matter how much they *think* they are friends with a white person, they aren’t. Because it’s not possible for there to be genuine friendship between them and white people.

    Meanwhile, not only are histories like this being wiped out, the histories if First Nations peoples are being rewritten, turning them into bland, pacifist “one with nature” illusions, as if the different tribes and their cultures were homogeneous. It’s worse than what they accuse “colonialist” white people of doing.

    I remember having a conversation with one of my daughters, after the Moana movie came out. There were children’s costumes of Maui that were being pulled from the shelves for being racist “cultural appropriation.” Sadly, my daughters have started to fall for this BS, and she thought this was a good thing. I pointed out that kids like to dress up as their heroes. It wasn’t cultural appropriation, but cultural *appreciation*. She brought up the cultural and religious importance of tattoos, and it was wrong for kids to be wearing skin suits with those tattoos. I questioned how kids are supposed to dress up as their hero, when that hero wears nothing but a leaf skirt. I got a horrified ‘but they’re wearing his skin!’ sort of response.

    *sigh*

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for the wonderful post! I had never heard of Major McCreight before and it’s great to read about such a fascinating person! One of the pleasures of the study of history is that, now and then, one learns of extraordinary people who receive little mention in most history books. They are the hidden gems of history and one is always delighted to find them.

    I enjoyed reading the article that you linked to and it’s an black mark on Wikipedia that they chose to remove it, essentially making McCreight an “unperson” in their world. Of course it’s not out of character for them to do so. That was a practice in the old Soviet Union as well. Those whom the regime disfavored or whose accomplishments didn’t fit the official narrative had to be removed lest people learn unapproved facts and start thinking for themselves. After all, truth is defined as that which forwards the cause of the socialist revolution and although something might be factually correct, if it isn’t politically correct, it isn’t truth.

    I do question whether the charge of “cultural appropriation” actually applies to Major McCreight even using the SJW’s definition. Given his relationship with the Indians, it appears that he was at least a de facto adoptee if not adopted officially. As such, that would mean that it was his culture as well. Indians had a tradition of adopting people into the tribe, giving them the full rights of a member. Certainly, the Indians at the time did not begrudge McCreight’s actions and indeed encouraged them. One cannot steal that which is freely given.

    Beyond that, I disagree with the notion that “cultural appropriation” is a bad thing. From the standpoint of evolutionary biology, primates are naturally imitative. That gives them an advantage in that they do not depend on instinct and are not limited to discovering things on their own. They can learn from each other and from observation of how others do things. Richard Dawkins, the evolutionary biologist, coined the term “meme” for a unit of imitation that evolves and is transmitted akin to the way that genes are. What we call culture is composed of memes that we have transmitted to each other and have evolved over time.

    Archeologists can trace the transmission of such memes as pottery styles, agriculture, tool making and animal husbandry through time and across continents. Essentially, humans have been engaging in the transmission of memes or “cultural appropriation” from before they evolved into humans through today. Even the most basic hunter gatherer societies survive using the skill that they learned from others. Far from an offense, cultural appropriation is both beneficial and ubiquitous.

    The concept of “stealing” something implies that one is depriving the owner of it. It is hard to see how imitating someone deprives the of anything. When Major McCreight, or anyone else for that matter, dresses up as an Indian, it does not interfere with the Indians doing so also. If one is up to the aggrieved parties to demonstrate that they have suffered a tangible injury. If they fail to do so, their claims are frivolous and I dismiss them as unserious.

    The notion that some “cultural appropriation” is insulting and offensive is suspect as well. Certainly one cannot reasonably consider Major McCreight’s dressing up as an Indian to be insulting given his life long relationship with Indians and their appreciation of his actions. Although various sports teams have come under fire for using Indian names, they chose those names to emulate peoples whom they admired. By comparison, many sports teams call themselves the Vikings and no one would argue seriously that they do so to insult those of Scandinavian descent.

    Indeed, if someone chooses to feel insulted by someone’s Halloween costume, I am offended by their claim to the right to censor our choices. The SJWs seek to impose a balkanized system of artificial cultural borders forbidding anyone to cross without their permission. Those SJW wannabe political commissars just want to be in control so they whinge about fabricated complaints such as “cultural appropriation” or “microagressions.” One expects small children to be upset about silly things: “Mommy, little Joey is making faces at me. Make him stop!” On the other hand such infantile behavior is unbecoming to anyone past grade school. Nevertheless, as long as they are coddled and encouraged, the snowflakes will continue with their constant war cry of: “Whaaaaa… Mommy make them stop!”

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Thanks for the wonderful post bringing attention to a forgotten pioneer. But at the same time I’m saddened to see our history slowly being scrubbed and rewritten to accommodate a totalitarian political agenda; and it astounds me how enthusiastically is being embraced and supported by those who claim to be living in the land of the free.

    According to their revision page, the article was taken down on 15 December 2019 due to “copyright problems”. However links leading to the the associated discussions detailing those problems no longer exist.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Major_Israel_McCreight&action=history

    I did manage to find a very short biographical stub article, however:

    https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Major_Israel_McCreight

    I’m no legal expert, but it seems strange that the article was removed entirely instead of rewritten to eliminate the copyright violations.

    I would encourage everyone to visit archive.org and download the browser extension allowing you to archive any important web pages you wish to preserve for posterity before they get removed.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Indeed it is very sad!!! The Left can come up with all sorts of excuses so I wouldn’t put it past them to take down the entire site instead of delete the few passages due to political correctness!

      Like

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