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Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto

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In his new preface to this paperback edition, the author observes, "The Indian world has changed so substantially since the first publication of this book that some things contained in it seem new again." Indeed, it seems that each generation of whites and Indians will have to read and reread Vine Deloria’s Manifesto for some time to come, before we absorb his special, ironic Indian point of view and what he tells us, with a great deal of humor, about U.S. race relations, federal bureaucracies, Christian churches, and social scientists. This book continues to be required reading for all Americans, whatever their special interest.

278 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1969

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About the author

Vine Deloria Jr.

54 books271 followers
Vine Victor Deloria, Jr. was an American Indian author, theologian, historian, and activist. He was widely known for his book Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto (1969), which helped generate national attention to Native American issues in the same year as the Alcatraz-Red Power Movement. From 1964–1967, he had served as executive director of the National Congress of American Indians, increasing tribal membership from 19 to 156. Beginning in 1977, he was a board member of the National Museum of the American Indian, which now has buildings in both New York City and Washington, DC.

Deloria began his academic career in 1970 at Western Washington State College at Bellingham, Washington. He became Professor of Political Science at the University of Arizona (1978–1990), where he established the first master's degree program in American Indian Studies in the United States. After ten years at the University of Colorado, Boulder, he returned to Arizona and taught at the School of Law.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 262 reviews
Profile Image for Traci.
29 reviews3 followers
June 14, 2013
I read this when I was about 16 and it changed my life. I know that sounds hokey, but this book, "God is Red," and "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee," flipped a switch in my head that I have never wanted to turn off. I was raised by civil rights activists, and my dad was born on an Indian reservation in the Midwest (he is not Indian) so I had some sort of context for what Deloria was talking about...where my dad grew up he said the word "Indian" was like the N word in the south...Deloria lit the fire of Indian Pride, Brown Power and AIM...and while it took me a few more years and a lot of conversations with indigenous friends to decide to spend my life studying indigenous cultures prior to European contact rather than the modern period...these three books are where it all began. P.S. The pre-contact period is easier to manage than the modern history Deloria recounts...I choose the easier context because its so beautiful and less painful...but I will always love an angry brown person and Deloria is at the top of that list.
Profile Image for M. Kei.
Author 64 books58 followers
April 5, 2010
Hilarious and truthful, you never knew history could be this entertaining--and this horrifying. Vine Deloria is a Native American author who explains why American Indians are not quietly vanishing the way conquered people are supposed to. The absolutely horrible things that are still happening to Native Nations in the United States are repetitions and replays of what has been going on for hundreds of years, and if one is gifted with a dark and surrealistic sense of humor, it's incredibly funny, too, in the way that it's funny when you watch somebody crack his nuts on the board when he flubs a dive off the high board. You have to laugh... but ow.

If you want to know more about Native Americans than the highly sanitized and stereotyped images on greeting cards and t-shirt, start here. It's a Must Read Before You Die Book.
Profile Image for Lyn.
1,867 reviews16.5k followers
February 3, 2022
Vine Deloria Jr.’s 1969 manifesto stays relevant half a century after its first publication.

I read the 1988 edition, with an updated preface, and this continues to be a go to book for an illuminating but also frequently humorous tome on race relations, government bureaucracy and first and foremost Native American culture.

The author keeps this sometimes dry recitation of broken treaties and case law moving with personality, wit and some scathing dark comedy. It’s no secret that the United States has not treated our indigenous cousins well, but Deloria explains and examines the result of decades and decades of failed policy with a warmth I did not expect.

And he can be funny.

My favorite chapter is Deloria’s section on Indian humor. He correctly opines that a good way to truly understand a people is to learn what makes them laugh. He goes on to say that the stereotypical image of a scowling savage is far from the truth and that most tribes are filled with people who love to smile and tease each other. This section goes on to describe a wealth of jokes and hilarious anecdotes, the most fun are the ones that make fun of Custer or the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The title comes from a tongue in cheek bumper sticker.

Another indigenous writer cited this as a first on a short list of books that needed to be read about the North American tribes and I enjoyed learning more and from a talented writer.

Profile Image for Virginia Arthur.
Author 4 books85 followers
June 5, 2020
Recently I read an interview with a Native American academic. The interview, written by a white journalist, was all about the ways Native Americans appreciate the earth, in other words, the kind of bullshit that drove Vine up the wall.

Here we go romanticizing the Indian again.

When I worked as a biologist in Alaska and we went to Tongass, there were sections of Tongass that were clearcut to nothing, including the riparian areas--down to dirt, nothing left. It looked like a nuclear bomb. I thought it was the USFS that did it but it wasn't. It was the native Alaskan tribal corporation that raped the forests on this island. It is the Native Americans that have put heinous and horrible casinos all over San Diego County including one massive hotel and parking lot IN the floodplain of the San Luis Rey River. They destroyed acres and acres of pristine habitat, endangered species. Native American tribes in Montana mine and damage their lands and their relationships with one another--for coal. I had a native American woman in my ecology class a few years ago that talked to me about it. It was tearing the res' apart and still is.

Vine was ahead of his time, ahead of these developments, but he foresaw the inevitable capitalistic conversion of the Native American, and in this book sets us up for it. What our ancestors did was cultural genocide. They wiped out the indigenous people of this continent in the most brutal of ways and now we want to go back and "appreciate" the Indian way only after we stripped the Native Americans of everything they had: their land, their way of life, their language, and yeah, now they are capitalists too. What the hell choice do they really have at this point? Maybe whites need the myth of the "Indian way" for some reason but how fair is this? How dare we hold the Indian to higher standards than we hold ourselves, Vine would say. I had the chance to hear him speak a few times. He had a way too of making us all laugh--at ourselves.

Vine had a huge influence on me. Mention of this book, along with the TMWGang, is in my own novel.

Vine was a Truth Teller.

How I miss our Truth Tellers.
Profile Image for Steven Yenzer.
908 reviews1 follower
November 16, 2013
Meandering and often vague. Along with the wit, there is a heavy dose of theory, which is not particularly compelling. I learned a lot about Indian culture, but I also learned that white culture either doesn't exist or is founded on violence and exploitation.

A good chunk of the book is taken up with Deloria Jr.'s elevation of Indian culture above white (and specifically, American culture). For him, there is little (really, nothing) wrong with Indian culture, which is infinitely wise, holistic, and eternal. On the other hand, America and American culture are meaningless and have accomplished nothing.

It's not that I mind criticism of America — I just mind it when it isn't based on facts and history but rather, theory and ideology. Deloria Jr. essentially declares himself arbiter of culture and philosophy, with the power to crown Indian culture as the greatest of all human cultures in history.

Along with this is his less-than-subtle, somewhat prophetic declarations that Indians will one day drive whites out of America and retake their land. Again, I don't have a problem with the sentiment. But it's the "evidence" Deloria Jr. uses to back it up that is problematic. For example, he cites the restoration of Israel to the Jews as evidence that, like them, Indians will eventually retake their homeland. Not only is this an obviously fallacious argument, but it also relies upon "white culture's" artificial creation of Israel.

So the violent, destructive, possibly non-existent culture seems to have produced at least one thing upon which Deloria Jr. can hang his hat — Zionism.
January 27, 2019
I went in looking to understand the Native American, and finished with a greater understanding of the world.

I got something different out of this book that I wasn't expecting. Jane Elliot, the creator of the infamous 'Green Eye / Blue Eye' test (look it up if you on YouTube haven't already, be ready though, it gets rough) has a recommended reading list on her website, and this book was on it. Going in, I wasn't sure what the meat and bone of the book would detail, and I certainly didn't know the nuances of modern Native American culture. On one hand, I had the vague knowledge that Native American culture, above western culture, understands that there is a spiritual aspect to life that transcends monetary value. The earth is not so much ours, so much as WE belong to it. This, along with a few other impactful statements, quotes and general history (thank you Mr. Howard Zinn) had been the extent of my knowledge before being introduced to Vine Deloria Jr .

For anyone reading this, Custer Died for Your Sins will inform you on a number of topics. These range from disseminating the real and unreal perceptions of Native Americans; dismantling the 'The Anthropologist' (laugh out loud chapter); breaking down the Native view on western religion and the missionary situation; understanding the government agencies dealing with the tribes; shedding light on Native humour; contrasting the civil rights movement with the wants and needs of natives; and, last but not least, how Native Americans can move forward from their current situation. However, the most astonishing realisation the reader will have as he/she explores the native world, is how the above mentioned will have the profound ability to make you simultaneously understand the native view, and see your world in a completely different light. I marked the below quote out as an example:

"But the understanding of the racial question does not ulti­mately involve understanding by either blacks or Indians. It in­volves the white man himself. He must examine his past. He must face the problems he has created within himself and within others. The white man must no longer project his fears and in­ securities onto other groups, races, and countries. Before the white man can relate to others he must forego the pleasure of denying them. The white man must learn to stop viewing history as a plot against himself.

It was more than religious intolerance that drove the early colonists across the ocean. More than a thousand years before Columbus, the barbaric tribes destroyed the Roman Empire. With utter lack of grace, they ignorantly obliterated classical civiliza­tion. Christanity swept across the conquerors like the white man later swept across North America, destroying native religions and leaving paralyzed groups of disoriented individuals in its wake. Then the combination of Christian theology, superstition, and forms of the old Roman civil government began to control the tamed barbaric tribes. Gone were the religious rites of the white tribesmen. Only the Gothic arches in the great cathedrals, sym­ bolizing the oaks under which their ancestors worshiped, re­mained to remind them of the glories that had been."

A note on all of the above mentioned topics (especially the final one). It's a shame this book hasn't received an update on the various issues discussed in its pages. Apart from a preface written in 1987 from the author- something I would recommend reading before AND after finishing- there's little more to find that will sate the interest of the reader (believe me, you'll want to know how certain aspects of the communities spoken of are doing now). I do feel this is important specifically to this book (it is a manifesto after all), as I felt at times I was reading something solely stuck in it's time period, with no additional notes added in it's pages. As such, this does make for slower reading as you feel you may be taking in information that actually doesn't hold precedent in the 'now'.

The only other reason this has four stars is due to a disagreement I had with Delorias on the concept of Corporations, and how he believed the infusion of a Native American tribalism could be combined with the concept of the White Mans attempt at tribalism to make Indian lives better. I won't go into detail seeing that as a white male living in London, I really can't judge concepts being thought up by a man 4,477 miles away, who was trying to better the lives of his people, and who, in turn, were very well aquatinted with the difficulties experienced (and still experienced) on a daily basis with the once imported, now mutated capitalist juggernaut that is the United States government. However, I will say that I found it weirdly contradictory that he mentions Native Americans rising again to their former glory (in some form), only to then talk about the above concept, which, to my eyes, seems like a massive compromise on the behalf of the Native American people to take a white concept, and turn it into something good for the original people of the American land. Another discussion for another time I think.

However, this will not ruin the effect this book will have on the reader, and you will come out a better person for having opened it.
Profile Image for Gina.
Author 5 books22 followers
April 10, 2012
My feelings are very mixed on this book. Deloria is an interesting thinker, and his view of how the future would work out, and his contemporary situation was interesting. His scathing humor was often enjoyable, including his section on anthropologists. At the same time, I disagree with much of what he says, especially his feelings about separatism and certainly his characterization of whites. Certainly he had reasons for feeling that way, but prejudice towards the majority isn't exactly more commendable than prejudice towards the minority. I suppose its wholesome to see how being prejudged based on your color feels every now and then.

At times I would think that the book is now outdated, which would make it less important, but some of his points are still very relevant. Definitely not everyone's cup of tea.
Profile Image for Kusaimamekirai.
652 reviews216 followers
March 2, 2018
I don’t think that many would argue that the United States has repeatedly and violently suppressed and lied to Native Americans over hundreds of years. Land was stolen, treaties were broken and even to this day Native American land is still expropriated and exploited. The question is for any group with this history, what are you going to do about it? Treaties that were broken aren’t going to be retroactively honored. Land that was stolen isn’t going to be given back. So what are you going to do about it?
Reading Vine Deloris’s “Custer Died for Your Sins”, I didn’t get any sense that there was any real ideas about what needed to be done to right historical wrongs. He cites a litany of injustice and seems slightly envious of other minority groups such as African Americans who organised and saw some advancement during the the 1960’s when this book was written. He criticises the March on Washington and the Poor People’s March as being pointless so he keeps his people at home and chooses not to participate. But surely being there and the visibility it would have given the issues he discussed would’ve been more productive than staying at home and sulking? He argues that demonstrating for middle class rights from the White Power structure is meaningless because Native Americans don’t want any part of the White world. They are as he writes, nationalists:

"As nationalists, Indians could not, for the most part, care less what the rest of society does. They are interested in the progress of the tribe."

When he sees a few young Native Americans at the Poor People’s March on TV discussing Native fishing rights, he is dismissive of them. But why? Surely raising awareness of this issue, a vital one to the Native American community, can only be a positive rather than retreating into isolation.
Indicative of this isolation is his support for Barry Goldwater. He writes:

“Politically, most minority groups have shifted to the Democrats and remained loyal through thick and thin. Margins compiled by blacks, Indians, and Mexicans for Democratic candidates have been incredible. In 1964 it took a strong Indian to support Goldwater in spite of his publicized heroic flights to the Navajo and his superb collection of Hopi Kachina dolls.”

Leaving aside the bizarre idea that because Goldwater collects Hopi dolls he would be sympathetic to Native issues, he supports Goldwater because unlike LBJ, he won’t make unpredictable changes, good or bad, to Native American policy. It’s such shortsighted and almost selfish attitude of not caring what the War on Poverty might do for Black, Hispanic, or other minority groups in the cities. We don’t live in the city so screw everyone else. It’s all well and good to argue that your land was stolen and trying to get that land back from the thief is outrageous and demeaning. But what is the alternative?
Delorias’s whole argument seems to be “leave us alone”. Which is fine. But then he is highly critical that the federal government doesn’t do enough to provide money to the reservations. In an ideal world yes, the government would give you money with zero oversight and never interfere. But we didn’t live in an ideal world in 1968 and we don’t live in one now. You can accept federal money and accept that there will be some input as to how it’s spent, or you can eschew all funds and go on your own. You can’t have it both ways.
Ultimately that was what I found frustrating about this book. He is sarcastic about the feds abandoning Native Americans on one hand, then sarcastic about just wanting them to go away. There are some interesting chapters here on history which I enjoyed and found interesting, but the mental gymnastics and inconsistencies in his arguments are frustrating and ultimately extremely short sighted.
Profile Image for Kurt.
563 reviews54 followers
November 15, 2021
I remember seeing this book when I was a youngster. It was published in 1969 when I was 10 years old, and I remember thinking that the title was sort of sacrilegious or disrespectful -- and I remember being very curious about it.

Since that time I have read dozens of books about Indian history. It's become a subject I am very interested in. One time while I was reading an enthralling account of red vs. white warfare I even felt an overwhelming intuition that in a previous life I was, in the flesh, a certain valiant warrior who had fought victoriously in several battles only to die a hero's death while defending his family and his people in their final armed struggle. I have always admired and respected those Indians in the past who stood up to the aggression of those who sought to take away their lands and their way of life. Likewise, I admire those Native Americans and other indigenous people all over the world today who fight the ongoing battles for their people and their culture.

Custer Died For Your Sins details the plight of Native Americans in the modern day -- describing how the same governments and agencies that defrauded them and forced them out of their native lands and stole or destroyed their resources years ago continue to plunder them today.

While meticulous in its detail and accuracy, the book seemed unnecessarily heavy handed to me. The author seemed to want to offend or pick a fight with all white people regardless of their sympathies or philosophies. The book was also quite dated. A lot has happened in the past 50 years that would possibly add to the author's complaints in some ways or alleviate them in other ways. But even though this book was quite educational, it was just not very enjoyable or interesting to me.
Profile Image for Guy A Burdick.
44 reviews1 follower
August 16, 2010
Deloria's perspective on U.S. history was both discomforting and eye-opening. Whenever someone (clearly caucasian) tells me about their Cherokee princess great-great grandmother, I think of Vine Deloria's book.
Profile Image for Cheyenne.
29 reviews15 followers
July 29, 2019
I picked up this book at the home of my aunt right before taking a week long beach vacation. The same aunt gave me Deloria's God Is Red for my birthday, and I hadn't read it yet, so I figured this might be a good primer before taking on the other book.
Deloria hits the nail on the head with a lot of things in this book. The Indian Humor. The rise of traditional religions. With his scathing sarcasm, his voice radiates off of the page. He also gets a lot of things wrong, however, in a way that almost made me want to stop reading several times.
His treatment of "black militants" and the Black Power movement in general leaves something to be desired. Do I understand what he's saying? Yes. It's not that I don't get it, it's that I don't think we should use words like "ape" when discussing the way black people in the 1960s attempted to gain rights and recognition in the settler state. Additionally, I don't think the corporate mindset is good for indigenous communities. Yes, holding property in common while keeping personal property is good. Yes, working towards the greater good of the community is good. But I think the word Deloria was looking for and was probably adverse to using during the time the book was written was something along the lines of communism. I disagree with his capitalistic outlook on how tribes can advance themselves, especially when it's coupled with his own knowledge that Indians tend to be removed from US politics and economy. In but not of the settler state. Why dive headfirst into settler economy if the goal is recolonization and eventually a red North American continent?
Deloria contradicts himself quite a few times, but the book was still a good read. I finished Nick Estes' Our History is the Future the same day I started this book, so I was primed for the talk of treaty rights, especially with regard to the making and breaking of specific treaties, as well as talk of Task Force reports, that the average reader may not be prepared for. Even with my qualms, I think I will still read Deloria's other works, especially considering how large of an impact he has had on so-called Indian Affairs.
Profile Image for Amaru.
2 reviews
January 6, 2011
This book shed alot of light on the history of Native Americans in the U.S. I learned quite a bit that I didn't know previous. Deloria's mix of humor and factual information had me laughing and nodding my head as I read many of the chapters.

He's brutally honest about European/white treatment of Native Americans but the truth hurts.
Profile Image for Almira.
545 reviews2 followers
April 20, 2022
There are so many thoughts swirling around in my mind about this book, where to begin?

So, this review will be a hodge-podge of thoughts and not necessarily in any particular order of the Manifesto itself.
This book was first published in 1969 and republished in 1988.
There are many references to events that many younger readers may not have "lived" through, maybe never even heard of in their history studies.
As a 72-year-old "white" woman there are many events that I had never been taught.
I will add that this is not an easy book to read, for many reasons -- terms used, thoughts expressed by the author, the disgraceful treatment of the original occupants of the North American continent.

Ok, so the reason I decided to read this book, having read "We Had a Little Real Estate Problem, The Unheralded Story of Native Americans & Comedy" by Kliph Nesteroff (see my earlier review), "Custer Died for Your Sins" was mentioned in nearly every chapter, it seemed to me that I should understand the relevance to the Native American community.
Vine Deloria, Jr, (1933-2005) was an activist, historian, theologian, who taught history at U of Arizona and U of Colorado and served as the Executive Director of the National Congress of American Indians.

Vine writes " Easy knowledge about Indians is a historical tradition. After Columbus "discovered" America he brought back news of a great new world which he assumed to be India, and, therefore filled with Indians. ..... The absence of elephants apparently did not tip off the explorers that they weren't in India" page 5.
And so the misnomer of the word to describe the Native Americans became a term used even to this day.

Vine describes how "white European Settlers" basically decided that the land was there for them to take, and how the Indian population was to be sorted out.

One term used many times throughout the book "termination" which defined is
"Termination of a tribe meant the immediate withdrawal of all federal aid, services, and protection, as well as the end of reservations. Individual members of terminated tribes were to become full United States citizens and have the benefits and obligations of any other United States citizens."
Many tribes chose this path, most did not.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs, at the time of this writing, did not really have the interests of the Indian in mind, rather more what the government could do to thwart the Indian population.

Vine goes into detail regarding the various "rounding up" of tribal members and forcing them unto lands that were not familiar to them.... Think "Trail of Tears" where the tribe(s) started from and where they ended.

This is a book that should be considered in higher education American history courses to create a better understanding of the importance of living in a unified country.

Profile Image for Elle.
296 reviews8 followers
January 20, 2016
I really wanted to love this book, and most aspects of it are great, but some of the history is factually wrong. In essence, it's mostly true, but there is some conflation of historical leaders (Henry VIII for one) that made me raise an eyebrow occasionally. This could have been solved with better editing, as it was mostly irrelevant information at didn't change his point. It didn't subtract from the overall message, which was well carried out. But it did make me doubt some of what he said about facts, places, dates, and people, so take that for what it's worth. That said, it is essential reading for every American, because we're still swallowing the propaganda against Indians from our literal fathers, and this will take a massive swipe at that. That's a pretty big necessity in the land of the Greatest (Genocidal, Hypocritical) Country On Earth.
Profile Image for Jessica.
220 reviews
October 4, 2010
In response to questions posed in the class for which I read this:

“Indians are alive” seems like such an obvious statement, but as Deloria evidences time and again, it was necessary to blatantly state this in his 1987 preface and would probably still hold true if he were to write this today. This statement, “Indians are alive” can be taken literally and figuratively. Indians, in fact, do exist. Though they’ve been on a rollercoaster ride of relocation, termination, legislation, and misrepresentation, they continue to rally and make the best of whatever their situations.
By 1834, the tribes in the Eastern United States who had fought alongside the Americans as allies had been relocated further west (p. 42) Deloria states in the context of the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 that Indians realized that to have a voice, they had to band their tribes together (p. 17). It’s within this same discussion that he mentions two active groups run by Indians: the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) and the National Indian Youth Council (NIYC). Actions from both groups, perhaps the NCAI more than the NIYC, have proved that even if not well, the Indians are at least alive; however, they still need to band together in a show of tribe solidarity to remain (p.21).
Even though the white man knew of the Indian’s physical existence, he had be able to subjugate them through legislation that essentially rendered the Indians nonexistent (p. 7) Then lo and behold, White Man learns that Indians own 135 million acres of valuable land and “Welcome to existence, my Indian friends!” Land ownership made the Indians relevant to the white man, so now he is willing to recognize the Indians as “human-beings” capable of owning, and thereby selling, land (p. 7) The Dawes Act of 1887 made this official as Indians were granted their own private property at 160 acres per Indian which left more than enough left over for them to sell (p. 46).
Deloria proposed throughout his manifesto that Indians were only “alive” to the white man when he had something to gain from them, be it land, prestige, a congregation, or funded summer trips to the reservations. Regardless of the motivation behind the legislation, the Citizenship Act of 1924 gave all Indians full citizenship status (p. 76).
It’s been established that Indians are alive, and as a corollary, they have dreams and goals of their own devising. The fact that there exists two active organizations mentioned above, the NCAI and the NIYC trying to make better lives for their constituents by focusing on strong tribal membership and short-term projects demonstrates their desire to achieve a state of their own determination (p. 17). Another example of their intentional desires is the continued existence and active participation of the oldest Indian-run organization: the League of Nations, Pan-American Indians (p.18).
As mentioned earlier a central theme running throughout Deloria’s manifesto is that tribes need to unite together to achieve their goals. He addresses one of their dreams in his discussion of tribal religion. He notes the years from 1870 to 1930 as a period of conversion from the long-standing tribal religions to Christianity (p. 109). The Indians, as a group, were content with their spiritual practices before the missionaries began meddling into their practices. In fact, they became such a thorn in the sides of the Indians that some “obediently followed the way of the white man because it was the path of least resistance” (p. 109). Despite this, they still desire their age-old practice of religion that includes dances and celebrations of religious expression (p. 119). It seems that they will achieve their dream of tribal religious customs and beliefs as long as they can let the white religious experiment run its course.
Finally, Deloria argues in his preface that Indians “are being overrun by the ignorance and the mistaken, misdirected efforts of those who would help them.” This final point of his triad is perhaps the most open to argument. On one side, there are genuine people out there who truly want to help the Indians, even if their sincere efforts have negative effects. On the other side, it is pretty obvious that there are also individuals or groups that have never had the best interest of the Indian at heart. The next two paragraphs offer a few pieces of evidence for each side.
Deloria writes on page 173 that “There was never a time when the white man said he was trying to help the Indian get into the mainstream of American life that he did not also demand that the Indian give up land, water, minerals, timber, and other resources which would enrich the white man.” Evidence offered in his manifesto would suggest otherwise. Deloria alluded to a “number of white organizations that attempted to help Indian people” but because he felt they offered no merit, he didn’t mention any by name or even say anything more about them (p. 19). Obviously with the near total lack of information, the intents of these organizations or individuals cannot be examined here so the reader must take Deloria’s word, for whatever he or she thinks it is worth. The Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 appears to have been conceived in good conscious (though my knowledge is limited to Amy’s lecture, the brief mentions in Deloria’s book and some definitions found on the Internet). It allowed for reservations to practice self-government, manage their land, have land returned to them, and involved rehabilitation programs (p. 48). The discussions around page 112 about missionaries also indicate that they were honestly trying to share their religion with the Indians, even if they were misguided themselves. A final example of good intentions gone wrong involves the anthropologists Deloria hates so much. It doesn’t seem likely that anthropologists would intentionally set out to mislead the Indians. It’s hoped that their intentions of studying the Indians for the Indians’ benefit were genuine and driven by scholarly advancement. Although as we read we discovered that actions of the anthropologists appeared to influence young Indians to drink and older Indians to give up their summer activities of small gardening and livestock care in exchange for pow-wows in attempts to meet the anthropologists’ expectations (pp. 86 & 87).
In direct contrast to the genuine instances above, there exist examples of corrupt groups or individuals only looking out for their best interests. For example, bills were introduced that seemed to be in favor of the Indians, but riders were attached that either undermined the bill at hand or proposed some other radical idea that certainly wasn’t in the best interest of the Indians (p. 37). A more obvious example of deliberate deceit involves the stipulation in the treaty with the Chippewas that granted the United States access to and ownership of the copper reserves on their land (p. 44). A third example features Indian Subcommittee leader Arthur Watkins who disregarded the four points that determined a tribe was ready for termination in an effort to quickly terminate a mass amount of tribes before the upcoming Presidential election brought in someone who would realize what he was doing (p. 62).
Deloria presented many arguments and selected evidence throughout his manifesto that supported his perspective, however, after giving myself a night to process the book, I still feel that the evidence offered to support his statements was tailored or at the least very carefully selected and interpreted to lend credence to his views. He made his case through personal examples, interpretations of legislation, and reported accounts, but it seemed very one-sided to me. In a way (and he would absolutely hate this!) he approached this subject much like the anthropologists that he claimed already had the answer before they came out to observe. He seemed to have a conclusion and all of the evidence included was destined to support it.
In Custer Died For Your Sins, Deloria’s views, motives, and intentions are transparent. He doesn’t leave you guessing where he stands on any issue and provides the reader with many examples to either support his points or to help the reader see his point of view. He writes with an authoritative voice, provides additional evidence in support of the facts he presents, and certainly doesn’t try to hide his thoughts or feelings.
Is it a successful and persuasive manifesto? Yes and no. It’s successful in the fact that it meets Merriam-Webster’s definition of a manifesto and continues to sale. It’s persuasive, in my opinion, but only to a degree. As I mentioned earlier, he seems to be omitting important details. In order for me to be persuaded, I have to believe that the source I’m basing my information on is unbiased, has addressed the pros and cons of each side of an argument, and then I like to take the information I’ve learned and formulate my own conclusion. Deloria is certainly biased and I don’t get the sense that I have all of the information. He also lost credibility in my opinion in Chapter four on the anthropologists and some statements he made were oversimplified or too generalized. All things considered, I learned a lot from reading his manifesto, and would like to continue reading more on the subject in order to gain perspective and to have something with which to compare Deloria’s work.
Profile Image for Mary.
290 reviews18 followers
June 6, 2020
I picked up this classic 1969 work at an exhibition on treaties at DC's Museum of the American Indian. Some parts of the book haven't aged super well in the 50+ years since it was first published, but other moments--such as these--seem only too current:

"But the understanding of the racial question does not ultimately involve understanding by either blacks or Indians. It involves the white man himself. He must examine his past. He must face the problems he has created within himself and within others. The white man must no longer project his fears and insecurities onto other groups, races, and countries. Before the white man can relate to others he must forego the pleasure of defining them. The white man must learn to stop viewing history as a plot against himself" (174-75).

"Everyone understands that 'law and order' are synonymous with repression of the black community."

It's been over 50 years since Deloria wrote these words.
Profile Image for Graham Cifelli.
76 reviews
December 8, 2020
Surprisingly funny! Writing has a real wit and a lot of info but some of the portions read a little dated (it was published in 1969 though so I can't fault it too much there)
264 reviews1 follower
December 3, 2019
Holy smokes. Not at all what I expected, and I loved every minute of it. I laughed audibly a number of times and was just blown away by the honesty and humor of the author. If you are looking for a historical account, kindly look elsewhere. This is an Indian account of how they feel they have been treated/wronged by the US government and how they should be treated. It says "manifesto" in the title. I kept thinking about how my husband, who teaches Russian/Soviet history, tells students at the beginning of the semester that he will present the Russian side of the story whenever possible since students already know the American side. And so it is with this book - a presentation of the Indian mentality by and for Indians. I appreciate the brief peek into Indian lives that this book offered.
Profile Image for Claudia.
2,440 reviews86 followers
January 10, 2021
I have read two other books recently that led me, finally, to this one...the first book articulating issues from a Native perspective: There, There, by Tommy Orange (a novel about urban Indians), and Lakota Woman, by Mary Crow Dog (a memoir of the struggles of AIM in the 70s). Add to this, the appointment of Deb Haaland, a member of the Laguna Pueblo, as Sect of Interior, which oversees the federal relationship with all Natives. Deloria got some things right, I think, in 1969, and others wrong...but Haaland's appointment can open a new chapter to our sorry relationships with the first Americans.

This books is a series of essays, each focusing on an aspect of Native life, and Native relationship with White America...His book foresees the struggles of the 70s when AIM arose.

He mocks how, even as the dominant society marginalizes, attacks, and ignores Indians, nearly everyone wants to claim ancestry from an Indian Princess. Elizabeth Warren comes to mind here...but, in OK, sometimes it's hard to really get at the truth in some families. He analyzes the federal program of 'termination', essentially breaking all reservations, all Native governments...all identity. After 400 years of broken treaties, they tried to obliterate the tribes.

He criticizes the anthropologists who get big money every summer to 'study' the tribes, and to go home and write papers with lots of footnotes. He slams the missionaries and religious leaders who tried to take Native religion away in the name of 'civilizing' people. Those mission schools were brutal places for children...and that is on us.

In 1969, Deloria compares and contrasts the struggles of the Civil Rights movement of Black leaders with the Native American nationalism movement (see AIM and Native American Church. Blacks had been excluded from American society...Natives were being forced to be assimilated. The situations and goals of the two groups of oppressed people were different enough that he supports Native withdrawal from the Civil Rights movement...His essay on Indian leadership shows the tensions of trying to unify all the tribes into one movement or not...of working together even tho goals for tribes may be very different. He speaks here from experience as a leader.

His vision of the future is optimistic. He predicts urban Natives will become new leaders of the movement...he sees termination ending, tribes allowed by the feds to chart their own futures, according to the needs and strengths of the tribes.

Now...back to those other three books. Orange gives us a heartbreaking look at urban Natives...they have not grown the way Deloria hoped. They have lost their tribal identity, and all those programs have not actually helped Natives who are cut off from their heritage. Crow Dog's memoir takes place just a few years after Deloria's book...she was deeply involved in the AIM struggle. Deloria would be happy, tho, to see Native religion become important again, as Crow Dog tells us.

And Haaland...my God. What an opportunity. What a task.
Profile Image for Dale.
15 reviews
February 14, 2021
Wow! And now a little back story...I was adopted shortly after my birth in 1969. I found my birth mother in 1998 and at that point I found out that I am Native American and that Vine Deloria is my great uncle. My birth mother recommended this book to me and it had been a total eye opener. I loved the stories and the humor and the sarcasm and the culture in the face of some of the worst treatment and injustice on the planet. Even though this was written 50 years ago, it’s still very relevant today.
Profile Image for Troy.
406 reviews4 followers
February 12, 2012
I can see why this is a highly regarded book, but it just didn't hold my attention very well. He is definitely highly critical of politics in the U.S., but can you really blame him? The tone took away from the book for me, but anyone looking for a good historical perspective of native Americans would likely enjoy this book.
Profile Image for Vannessa Anderson.
Author 1 book170 followers
March 6, 2012
Custer Died for Your Sins is a powerful and believable accounting on the treatment of the American Indian.

Custer Died for Your Sins should be required reading start at the middle school level.
2 reviews
April 23, 2023
I’ve been wanting to read this book for years. However, I couldn’t ever find it at any of the local bookstores. Suffice to say, when I finally got my hands on it, I was eager to learn about the contemporary Native activist stories and Deloria’s thoughts on a pathway to a better Indian Country.

This book was crammed with the histoires I was looking for. It was insightful to read about all the thoughts and mores of Indian Country over fifty years ago. And despite this work being written over fifty years ago, many of the insights presented by Deloria are still present today. I thoroughly enjoyed Deloria’s writing style, and found it funny and accessible. Knowing Deloria was a formidable scholar, I worried I’d get lost in the rhetoric quickly. Alas, I didn’t, and was happy with all the wisdom gained.

There were only two shortcomings of the book (or should I say of Deloria’s philosophy) that I found disappointing. Firstly, Deloria emphasized heavily the importance of economic independence through capitalistic means. I can understand this take. It’s a realistic and immediate path towards success within Indian Country by engaging with the non-Native country. There was (and is) success to be had WITHIN the systems that be for Indian County. As a manifesto, I just wish that it envisioned a future where success was OUTSIDE these systems. Rather, I wished there was success in dismantling the current systems. Furthermore, the second disappointment was in the analysis of fellow movements in different communities, especially the Civil Rights movement. I believe his analysis was shortsighted and overly simplistic. What seemed to be a basic foundation of his view on the Civil Rights movement was that Black communities didn’t know what they were truly needing — e.g. they were asking for legal change, when they really needed socio-economic change. Additionally, he seemed to be saying that the change they asked for was too abstract and goals too loose. I think the combination of both his capitalist ambitions for Indian Country and his critiques of tangential social movements by different communities disallowed him from believing (or at least sharing) a vision of intercommunal solidarity and solidarity that might transcend economic class.

Overall, however, I did enjoy the book. It had me actually laughing parts and sparking journaling prompts in others. There’s a lot to be gained from reading this work and I think would be a good foundational reading into the future of Indian Country. This will definitely be the first of many Deloria readings. I would recommend this to all curious friends and families about the “Indian problem”.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Ma'Belle.
1,016 reviews35 followers
November 28, 2022
Absolutely brilliant and hilarious, Vine Deloria Jr. has to be one of my new favorite authors of history between American Indians and white colonizers.

There are so many witty and pointedly insightful moments throughout this book, but I will here simply paste the few notes I took while listening to it.

This book has me cracking up multiple times in the first chapter. He recalls from his days [as the head of an organization whose name I forget] how almost every day some white would come to his office and proudly declare they had some Indian blood. All but one person claimed it was on their grandmother’s side, leading Deloria to calculate that for the first three hundred years of colonization, these Indian tribes - most popularly Cherokee, then Mohawk and Chippewa - were entirely female. LMAO!!! He theorizes that they were uncomfortable with the idea of having a Native male ancestor because it brought notions of a savage warrior undeserving of their family history, but an “Indian Princess Grandmother?!” Perfect: genteel, graceful, beautiful, elegant, and feminine. He says after a while of hearing all the white people claiming to be part Indian, he started to affirm them and understood or sympathized with their need to identify that way. He hoped that one day they would be able to accept themselves and leave [Native Americans] alone. Howww

After listing and describing the work of various Indian organizations, he dryly says, “There are a number of white-led organizations that attempt to help Indians. Since we would be better off without them, I will not mention them, except to acknowledge that they do exist.” HAHAHAH
Profile Image for Kris.
2,933 reviews70 followers
December 13, 2021
4.5 stars. I recommend this as an insightful and hugely influential book about Natives Americans from a Native American, with a few caveats. The books was originally published more than 50 years ago, which is both amazing and sad, as so much remains unchanged, but even with the updated version, parts are dated. There is a very strange dynamic comparing and contrasting the experiences of Black people in the U.S. versus the Native experience that does not always come across as understanding or even accepting how Black Americans have grappled with their history here.

All that being said, this is a smart and surprisingly funny insight into a history that so many people remain completely in the dark about. There is political commentary, horrifying background information, and hilarious descriptions of anthropologists and how on earth every white person is seemingly descended from a "Cherokee princess". Parts meander. Parts are bitter. Parts are overly simplified, especially when it comes to commentary on Black activists. But the overall message is still so important that I am going with five stars.
Profile Image for L..
119 reviews7 followers
February 26, 2022
2.5 stars rounded up to 3. Overall, it’s an interesting book, but it’s quite dated since it was written in the 1960s. I particularly enjoyed the chapter on “Indian humour” and it made me realize that one of the reasons I enjoy reading literature by indigenous North American writers is that I like their sense of humour, it’s a lot like Egyptian humour.

The author contradicted himself in some areas, however, and seemed to be confused about whether he believed in Christianity or not. He also seemed to confuse mythology with historical fact, considering the Bible and particularly the Old Testament as historical documents. That had my alarm bells screaming, so I Googled him and discovered that Deloria did indeed have some rather bizarre beliefs about creationism and science. Now, I’m from the Middle East, and one thing I know is that people who read the Judeo/Christian/Islamic religious texts literally and believe they’re historical and scientific documents are the reason we have problems in that part of the world.

I was going to give the book 2 stars, but the dark humour was just so good I decided to add one more.
May 21, 2022
Really interesting reading this 1969 manifesto in 2022. Deloria’s tone is sarcastic and engaging. Some ideas and perspectives feel pretty outdated, but a lot still rings as very current. And when viewed through an historical lens, definitely worth reading and pondering. Some quibbles about Deloria making unilateral sweeping generalizations about other races on the same page he’s rightly affronted at Native cultures and thoughts being proscribed by others or ignored entirely. And while he briefly acknowledges the US concentration camps of Japanese Americans, he doesn’t really pursue that story line, while he does make some sweeping statements about latinx and black historical treatment and experiences in this country. But his main focus, and where he is most effective, is in shining a spotlight on Native treatment and thoughts and historical and current (for 1969) experiences. More entertaining and more casual in tone than I’d expected. And when viewed rightly through an historical lens, this was definitely worth reading.
1,146 reviews16 followers
January 16, 2021
I got this from the library based on title alone as it sounded interesting. I thought it was a recent book. So color me surprised that it came out over 50 years ago.

Anyway, I found it a really interesting look into native American life at that point in time, and seeing what has changed and what has stayed the same. The author was fantastically sarcastic throughout most of it while explaining his ideas. I can get behind some angry sarcasm. What I wasn't expecting was the large amount of talking about how native Americans have to avoid throwing their lot in with black Americans as they weren't going about the whole civil rights thing properly and they don't have the same goals as natives. I wonder if he were to look at the situation now, 50 years removed, if he would still have the same thoughts and ideas about civil rights or if they were very much of the late-1960s "moment".
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