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

The Science Is In: Political Correctness Doesn’t Work!

Conservatives have known this intuitively for years: Political correctness doesn’t work! As described in great detail in my post Several Reasons Why We “Resist” Political Correctness, some major reasons for backlash against it has to do with the Left’s double standards and hypocrisy in applying it, the denial of safety issues, attacks on our identity and culture, and simply the fact that many people are fed up with the constant edicts and demands that never seem to stop! Now, scientific studies have given us yet another reason why we don’t respond to PC demands: They don’t appeal to our internal motivations to change.

Many on the Left emphasize actions they feel ought to be taken to create a less prejudiced society. Don’t say these words. Don’t say this as a compliment. Don’t ask that question. Don’t wear that outfit. Don’t listen to that music, watch that show, read that book. Shun anyone who thinks differently and declare them persona non grata. Put this sign on your yard. Vote for these candidates. Use this hashtag. Boycott this store, or that brand. Say these catchy slogans and buzzwords. Hold these ideologies and don’t deviate from their worldview. Think conservatives are backwards. You see this repeated in workplaces and schools through every class “dialogue” (which is really a Leftist monologue) sensitivity training, diversity orientation, safe space training, racism seminars promoting white guilt, among others.

Yet, does this even work? It certainly doesn’t for us conservatives! The Left declares you a racist, sexist, homophobe, etc. if you aren’t fully into their little teaching sessions as many have experienced. We’re not any of those things they accuse us of, yet we don’t embrace their narrow view of how “good” people should act. Sadly, to protect our careers, reputations and social connections, sometimes, we play along and parrot their edicts back to them while holding true to our own views privately. In essence, the Left’s indoctrination sessions in the classroom or the workplace merely foster social pressure to conform rather than internalized beliefs that they are correct, and morally superior.

This is where the science comes in. We all have intrinsic and extrinsic reasons for why we believe in and conform to certain things. Intrinsic motivators are our deeply held values. If we do something for intrinsic reasons, we want to do it. If we do something for an extrinsic reason, it is often because we want to conform out of social pressures or fear of some imposed consequence, or conversely, have an external reward to gain from it. Research shows what conservatives knew already: Appeals to extrinsic motivators to be more “woke” or PC such as intense social pressure and cancel culture does not work. Nor does giving out a laundry list of arbitrary rules make anyone more desiring to become less prejudiced.

In a paper published in 2011 called “Ironic Effects of Antiprejudice Messages: How Motivational Interventions Can Reduce (but Also Increase) Prejudice” by Lisa Legault, Jennifer Gutsell, and Michael Inzlicht, they studied the effects of more extrinsic, or “controlling” messages and more intrinsic, or “autonomy focused” messages on reducing prejudice. Controlling messages do just as expected, they are meant to control one’s actions. Autonomy focused messages also as expected, focus more on the person’s autonomy to make a choice not to be prejudiced as a personal moral value. The researchers hypothesized that autonomy focused messaging would have a greater effect at reducing prejudice than controlling messages.

To test this, Legault and her research partners designed two experiments. In the first experiment, participants read a brochure on the topic of prejudice. They assigned the participants to one of three conditions:

  1. Read an autonomy focused brochure.
  2. Read a controlling brochure.
  3. Read a neutral brochure to use as a control group.

Those assigned to read the autonomy-brochure read information emphasizing one’s choice to embrace values of non-prejudice. Those assigned to the controlling-brochure read the message that one needs to comply with social norms, (a.k.a political correctness) to fight prejudice. The control group only read about defining the concept of prejudice.

Afterward, the researchers used surveys to measure prejudice and screen for intrinsic or extrinsic motivations. Results showed those who read the autonomy-brochure had decreased prejudice, and those who read the controlling-brochure emphasizing social norms had increased prejudice. Even more shocking, those in the controlling-brochure condition had more prejudice than those in the control group!

Believe it or not, their second experiment had even more striking results! In the second experiment, they used surveys to measure participants’ agreement with statements about prejudice that were either more autonomy focused or controlling in nature. After, participants were asked to write a few sentences with prompts that emphasized an autonomy focused approach or a controlling approach depending on which condition they were assigned to. Results showed the same pattern as the first experiment, but even more dramatically, as there was a greater difference between the autonomy condition and the other two. Legault’s research clearly supports evidence that extrinsic motivators are not effective, and may actually decrease motivation to become less prejudice than having no motivation at all!

A second study published more recently in 2017 called “Training away bias: The differential effects of counter stereotype training and self-regulation on stereotype activation and application” by Mason D. Burns, Margo J. Monteith and Laura R.Parker reinforced Legault’s findings about intrinsic motivation being a stronger force for less prejudice. Burns and his team researched whether conscious means to retrain the mind to associate counter-stereotypical words with certain groups instead of associating them with negative words would reduce implicit bias. Counter stereotype training consists of learning to pair positive words such as “intelligent” or “competent”, with various races that are often negatively stereotyped with negative words such as “unintelligent” or “incompetent”. The goal is to eventually out compete the negative implicit associations by retraining one’s mind to associate new positive words with various racial groups. Burns hypothesized that counter stereotype training would reduce implicit bias more than having received no training.

The experiment was to have participants look at a computer screen with pictures of either white or black people and click on words that were counter stereotypical for them as fast as possible. Participants were assigned to three conditions:

  1. A group who read a list of counter stereotypes before doing the task.
  2. A group who was only warned to be aware of stereotypes but received no counter stereotype list.
  3. A control group who just did the online task with no further instructions.

Results showed that despite some positive effects of counter stereotype training, it was not effective overall contrary to Burns and colleagues’ initial hypothesis. Those who were given the warning not to think stereotypically but not trained had less biased responses than the counter stereotype condition. The researchers theorized this was because the warning was a prompt to activate participants’ intrinsic motivation not to be biased through increasing their awareness of how bias conflicts with their values. The implications of Burns’ research is that those mind-control training seminars at work or in the classroom the Left likes impose on us don’t work!

The findings of these two studies easily highlight yet another reason we resist political correctness and the Left’s agenda. In addition to being hypocritical, a threat to safety in some cases, an attack on our culture and values, and simply annoying, scientific evidence shows the Left has gone about it all wrong. If they truly wanted to make change, they would have more luck appealing to our values over dictating what we must do to appease the Left. Then again, what values do they really have? From what I’ve seen, it definitely is not about equality for all, just who they pick and choose.

This is just my own theory, but perhaps they don’t appeal to our values because we’d discover theirs and ours are not alike at all! The evidence the Left gives for their arbitrary pronouncements points to a different motive: Power and control.

So when do we decide it’s time to act on our internal values, and not their external pressures?

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Unpacking Our Cultural Knapsack: Taking A Closer Look at the Attack on Western Culture

If you have ever taken a college course in recent years, or even have been through the public school system, you may have come across terms like “political correctness”, “social justice”, “diversity”, “systematic racism”, “decolonization”, “white privilege” and others like it. These terms while describing different things, all have an interconnecting thread: The argument that US society, politics and culture, and more broadly Western culture in general are deeply flawed and immoral at the core. In this worldview, we live in a society surrounded by systematic racism, white supremacy, colonialism, and every other negative word in the book! It’s a society where “black and brown people” are oppressed, subjugated, dehumanized and cannot succeed in a system stacked against them at every turn, and where some lives don’t seem to matter. Indigenous peoples were subjugated through colonialist forces, and the country was built on the backs of those we enslaved. In this cultural dystopia, the only winners are (gasp!) white people, and more specifically white males. For the privileged class, our stolen privilege permeates every fiber of our being and while the underclass feels its sting everyday, the lucky few go about completely unaware of how simply being born into this country makes them complicit in this horrendous affair. Or so we are told to think. 

But to use a metaphor from the Left, let’s “unpack” some of these assertions. For those unfamiliar with the metaphor, it comes from an article written by Peggy McIntosh called “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” where she compares one’s unearned privileges with handy items in a knapsack to help you get through life easier such as money, maps, extra snacks etc… She argues that white people have more items in their knapsacks than others, and made an extensive list of so called privileges only whites enjoy. That metaphor has now been extended to mean closely analyzing and critiquing what is seen to be taken for granted or is problematic. The Left says we need to unpack our cultural biases, but has anyone unpacked their assertions about our society? I want to help unpack a few major criticisms of our society and the West, (as in Western Culture) at large.

A common one heard echoed throughout the halls of academia and even at protests, is that we need to “dismantle” and “decolonize” the country and the Western World. They argue that the US was founded on stolen land, taken away by genocide from Native American peoples. In other places, they evoke the imperialism of many European countries. Because we conquered various peoples around the globe, and often treated them harshly, those who argue for decolonizing say we’re still oppressing them to this day and need to back off big time! Now, on its face it seems right, and many Western powers have let got of the vast majority of these formerly colonized territories. However, this decolonization movement has gone far beyond simply giving back certain places their independence.

Using the US as a case study, they talk about decolonizing school curriculum to tell a narrative of how evil and oppressive we were, assert that all white people are guilty of oppressing Native Americans to this day, that all of our country’s innovations are fruits of a poison tree, and academia being impartial or daring to undergo the anthropological and archaeological study of indigenous peoples, is forcing colonialism among other charges. Also, our founding fathers, the pioneers who settled the West, and pretty much every non-native American are actually immoral oppressors. Now to unpack this, no one denies we did some pretty brutal stuff in our history. The slavery of the past was wrong, and many even at the time thought so. The physical and cultural subjugation of Native peoples is also not our shining moment either.

No one is arguing we glorify these blights on our history. However, for as much as we were wrong in doing these things, have people honestly forgotten literally every human group partook in conquest and the subsequent domination over the conquered? From the great Roman Empire, to the Comanches taking over part of the Great Plains, humans can be tribal and territorial with a thirst for better resources, and power. Also, many human societies including many Native American tribes had some form of slavery. Why are these more easily overlooked? Hard to talk of “stolen land” when your group stole it from someone else. Also, calls to decolonize and reaffirm indigenous groups sound nice, but what substantive things would we do to dismantle our society for them yet still have room for us? Must we go so far as to have a self imposed exile over the lands we too now, have been on for generations? If not that far, then how far exactly must we go to atone? How much moral culpability do we have for the sins of our forefathers? Why does the West get double condemnation for what should be considered equally immoral for all who partake in it?

Changing gears a bit, one assertion a little closer to home for many is the argument that society is systematically stacked against people of color, and in favor of white people. Which means that people of color cannot achieve as much due to societal constraints while conversely, white people benefit from society’s inherent power structures so they cannot claim they “worked hard” to earn what they achieved.  I’ve touched on this one more in depth before, but I’ll summarize what I argued. Many of these claims of systematic disadvantage are rooted in historical oppression, much of which has been overturned legally and socially. For example in the past, black people were discriminated against in the job market and housing. However, there are laws now explicitly prohibiting such discrimination and programs like affirmative action and immense social pressure to hire a more “diverse” workforce and have more integrated neighborhoods. Getting denied a loan might be because you have credit card debt like the majority of America, not simply because they looked and saw you were a person of color, or someone was hired instead of you despite your stellar credentials because they were the manager’s cousin and you just didn’t know that and you concluded it was because they were white. You can’t blame every setback on “the system”.

To bring up a newer insight, many argue that white people are systematically privileged and do not deserve full credit for what they do achieve and that hard work as a way to success is a myth. The social system is the true controller of our destiny no matter what our race they argue. However, what happens when people of color do find success? They often say it was their determination and double hard work despite the oppressive forces, but wait! Isn’t that also the myth of meritocracy? That they achieved because of their individual effort, not that society allowed them to achieve success?

To highlight the absurdity and contradictory nature of this, I recently read an article written by a former minimum wage black security guard who was able to become a doctor at the hospital he worked for. Med school is super competitive, and there are countless white people for whom medical school is only a pipe dream. Yet, this lowly security guard had what it takes to climb that social ladder to a place of privilege and prestige in this country. What other countries could he have done so outside the West? And yet, the focus of his article was not on how he achieved his dream, his determination, or one iota of gratitude for the society that enabled this success, but on how he is still the victim in a society who thinks his life doesn’t matter. If social systems determine where we will end up more than our own free will, then couldn’t one argue it had to have enabled his climb up the social ladder?

On a related note, the last but definitely not the last thing to unpack is the assertion that Western Culture is built on white supremacy. The Left says that the White race built Western Civilization, and even invented the concept of race solely to oppress others, so they could twist my whole article saying I’m blowing some “white supremacist dog whistle” or something. Defending the West to them becomes about defending white supremacy. However, in that assertion, it is they who hold the racist assumptions. Ever heard phrases like the “Great American Melting Pot”? Or that historically, the vast Roman Empire was very cosmopolitan stretching from Britain to North Africa to the Middle East and of course contained people who looked vastly different from one another. My point in bringing up these examples is can you think of another non-Western culture that has such immense ethnic and racial diversity? Since the West has been so influential around the globe, people of all races and many ethnicities have been touched by it in some way, and many live in the cosmopolitan countries of today that make up Western civilization. Their stories too have helped influence and shape the West. Western does not equal White necessarily.

I’ll conclude by saying that in focusing so much on what makes our culture bad, we ignore what makes it good. Such as advanced technology and medicine. Scientific innovations. Lower mortality rates. Higher standards of living. A utopia compared to where some live and many risk everything to get here. Somewhere where hard work and determination get you further in life. Somewhere where everyone can belong regardless of class, race or any other label. No culture is all good, a perfect utopia where zero inequalities and disparities exist, but certainly no culture is 100% bad. Certainly not ours.

So why can’t some of us see it that way? Let’s unpack that… 

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