Thoreau and the American Indian
By Tim Hazell
“The Indian’s earthly life was as far off from us as heaven is.”– Henry David Thoreau
Throughout his life, Thoreau maintained a deep and abiding interest in native cultures of the Americas. There was real urgency in his mission to uncover indigenous “roots” when oral histories were becoming extinct as quickly as tribes and Indian confederacies themselves. His observations were put down in his Indian Notebooks, burgeoning into a massive compilation of eleven volumes.
Nature for the Indian was, to Thoreau’s reckoning, an embodiment of simple and monumental perfection. Closeness to nature implied living on the razor’s edge in a kind of heroic pas de deux. This passage encapsulates Thoreau’s idealism and precognition of doom as recurrent waves of settlement and industrialization pushed aboriginal nations to the brink:
“The time will come, we fear, when the history of the Indians will be the history of a people of which no living specimen shall exist upon the earth; too soon will the places that now know them know them never again. Even the prairies and mountains of the far West will cease to be their refuge from the rushing march of civilization.”
Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862) was descended from French Huguenots who fled to America to escape persecution in Catholic France. Famous for his “Walden Experiment,” the two years he spent in the Concord woods, the visionary’s body of work and voice in literature is distinctive, one of the most original in American thought.
Thoreau’s sojourn by Walden Pond honed his ardent pacifism and reverence for living things, later to have a profound influence on Walt Whitman and Mahatma Gandhi. His articulation of the principals of civil disobedience—passive resistance—later became one of the cornerstones of the civil rights movement. This excerpt is as relevant and anti-status quo today as it was when Thoreau penned it in 1849:
“Most of the luxuries, and many of the so-called comforts of life, are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind.”
Native peoples today are active participants in the revitalization of their cultures, including producing traditional foods on their lands to sustain themselves and their communities. The Native Agriculture & Food Systems Initiative (NAFSI) provided this intriguing recipe.
Corn, Blueberry, and Wild Rice Salad
1-1/2 cups frozen corn
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and finely chopped
1 cup fresh blueberries or any diced fresh fruit
4 tbsp. lime juice
1 cup cooked wild rice
4 tbsp. olive oil
1 small cucumber, finely diced
2 tbsp. honey
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 cup chopped fresh coriander
Bring water and corn kernels to a boil, turn off heat and drain. In a serving bowl combine corn, jalapeño, fruit, wild rice, cucumber, red onion, and coriander. For the dressing, whisk together lime juice, oil, honey, cumin, and 1/2 tsp. salt. Add to the salad and toss. Cover and refrigerate several hours before serving.