Friday, March 27, 2015

Book Review: Native Heart

A Fair Trade Book

Title: Native Heart
Author: Gabriel Horn
Date: 1998
Publisher: New World Libvrary
ISBN: 1-880032-07-4
Length: 291 pages
Quote: “I’m not a Cuban refugee from Florida! I am Indian.”
Well, for starters, he’s not very sensitive to people from India. “American Indian” is not a demeaning term, but it is a confused and confusing term.
And it’s my painful duty to tell you that this is a confused and confusing book. At no point in the book is it clearly explained exactly what Gabriel Horn is—genetically or otherwise. The book doesn’t even include any pictures. It does, however, include some self-discrediting statements.
He’s from Florida. Of that he convinces me. He cites a vision in which he identified with the Calusa people, who no longer exist as a separate nation. It’s not impossible that Calusa genes could survive either in Florida or in Cuba or Haiti. Horn carefully doesn’t tell us where his parents and grandparents were. He describes growing up with a foster mother who regretfully helped other women load him into a car and take him away, but that wasn’t the way young Seminoles were sent to school; that was the way children were removed from inadequate foster mothers. One can understand his reluctance to provide any details about this foster mother, but did the boy Gabe even know who his parents were, where they lived, what had become of them? Is his self-identification with Calusa people based on any known facts whatsoever, or only on a vision that reflected sympathy with their loss?
Three of Horn’s close friends are positively identified with Native American nations. No genealogy is given for his wife or for a possibly multiracial, fair-skinned, blue-eyed “uncle.” Many people whose legal identity is Cherokee have visible European ancestry, but people like that who are related to me are usually willing to give a genealogy rather than belligerently claiming that “one drop of Indian blood could overpower anything that Europe ever produced!” (Page 55.) They also have active, ongoing relationships with family groups, which Horn does not mention his uncle having.
The genealogy given for his teacher is confused: Horn claims that she was “the direct descendant of the Massasoit Osamekun and his two sons, Wamsutta and Metacomet.” Being a direct descendant of two brothers would be difficult. The teacher was controversial because she wrote and taught about what had been the oral traditions of her ancestors. The controversy was more about her exposing these secrets to outsiders than about her use of the name “Princess Red Wing.” Native Americans did not have royal families. The English called Metacomet “King,” so they would have called his daughters or granddaughters “Princess.” Red Wing was several generations past that title.
Horn was of course involved with a group called the American Indian Movement (AIM). Like the majority of social groups, including some purely social clubs, all political parties, all civil rights groups, many religious organizations, and many youth groups, during the mid-twentieth century, AIM was influenced by the atheistic religious thought of Karl Marx. Marxists who wanted immediate, violent revolution saw their best chance in reaching out to the less educated, less wealthy minority groups, in which people would not necessarily recognize how regressive and European Marx’s ideas were. They didn’t succeed in corrupting Martin Luther King, although they tried. They did succeed in corrupting more “radical” groups led by younger, less devout individuals.
Sadly, one of those groups was AIM. Gabe Horn doesn’t talk about this at all. He expresses sad bewilderment (on page 62) that “I could hardly find a person in this country who’s known about Leonard Peltier in the sixteen-plus years he’s been in prison. In Russia, they know about Leonard Peltier.” I knew about Leonard Peltier. Some have questioned Peltier’s conviction for murder, but whether he was the one who killed the two federal agents, he was definitely a revolutionary who encouraged others to try to overthrow our government by violence; Peltier really was what Randy Weaver and David Koresh were wrongly accused of being. Whether there could be any just cause for such efforts is another question. Peltier may be “a chief in the old tradition” who “led by example,” but if so he was a chief in the doomed tradition of Metacomet or Tecumseh. Horn does not explain why Soviets were more sympathetic to Peltier than Americans were; because Peltier was more sympathetic to the Soviets than to his fellow Americans.
Again, on page 264, he finds it “strange” that he received hate mail, saying that “All reds are better dead,” “the day after my picture appeared in the Minnrapolis Star with the vice-premier of China.” Did Horn really imagine that, while the Tiananmen Square incident was still fresh in people’s minds, anyone was going to believe that Deng Xiaoping was interested in promoting the freedom of speech among indigenous people? I don’t think so. Some people who had dealt directly with members of the American Communist Party, the Chinese Communist Party, or the Soviet Communist Party, as had Nelson Mandela and Ronald Reagan, were able to persuade even right-wingers that they were genuine liberals willing to communicate with anybody...but they did not accomplish this by pretending they hadn’t noticed what a tyrant Deng was, or how “tainted with red” AIM had been from its beginning.
No, I’m afraid that not only was Horn influenced by Marxist “Communist” thought, as most of his contemporaries were, but he became so emotionally involved with it that he’s never even dared to own the enormity of the mistake he was trying to make.
Another piece of irony appears on pages 193-194, where, as a teacher, Horn “talked about...the books that they needed: Lame Deer, Black Elk Speaks, The Education of Little Tree, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, The Way to Rainy Mountain... ‘This is the literature and history of all our people,’ I said. ‘Fill this place with books of truth!’”
The Education of Little Tree was, very unfortunately, not a book of truth. It’s not far from being one. It’s a very nice, idealistic story about a little multiracial boy who spends some time with his Cherokee grandparents in the Blue Ridge Mountains. It’s a great nostalgia trip for Cherokees and for residents of the Blue Ridge Mountains alike. Little Tree isn’t going to be part of the Cherokee Nation; he’s taught very little of any non-English language, and what he's taught isn't Cherokee, but he’s taught some of his grandparents’ country-living skills and ethical wisdom. Anyway they are very authentic mountain grandparents. The trouble is, there's some question, and the complete facts may never be known, whether they were physically related to Forrest Carter at all. Many now believe the book to be pure fiction.
Native Heart may be fiction too; if fact, it's one-sided. “I was told how the early colonists slaughtered Red Wing’s ancestors in their sleep,quartering the body of Metacomet and severing his head...for twenty-seven years, [Metacomet’s head] was impaled on a spike and displayed in a glass case in the quaint Pilgrim town of Plymouth.” And why would anybody, even those mean old Pilgrims, do a terrible thing like that? Well, it seems, Metacomet had formed a nasty habit of murdering and terrorizing them...but you will not find any account of Metacomet’s own murders and treacheries in Native Heart. And when Gabe Horn tells the world about people’s hostility and inhumanity to him, he carefully omits any mention of why people opposed him so. 
This book is recommended to anyone interested in researching the controversy among certain Native American groups about so-called teachers such as Horn. Further than that, this web site cannot go. However, Horn is still living, so we can still offer Native Heart as a Fair Trade Book. Send $10 for the book + $5 for shipping to salolianigodagewi @ yahoo, and we'll send $1.50 to Horn or a charity of his choice.