In an essay entitled, Joseph Brant Compares Indian and White Civilizations, 1789, Mr. Brant describes his feelings of disgust and contempt for some Whites and why he had those feelings. The essay seems to be the answer to a question that asked him to compare the civilizations of Native Americans (then known as Indians) and Whites. He discussed how his life changed when he was sent to live amongst the White civilization to be educated when he was an adolescent. Although his people were thought of as savages, he never lost pride in his culture and came to view the White world with contempt.
He statesed, “We do not hunger and thirst after those superfluities of life, that are therein of thousands of families among you. Our ornaments, in general, are simple, and easily obtained. Envy and covetousness, those worms that destroy the fair flower of human happiness, are unknown in this climate” (Hoffman & Gjerde, p.198).
From his words, Mr. Brant obviously felt that although the Indians were not rich with material wealth, they were happier than Whites because they were not consumed with the greed that comes with money. The Indian nation wore no crown jewels and owned no land, but they were filled with the spirit of their God and their ancestors. They had no need for anything else. He also expresses great disdain at how Whites treated other Whites because of class differences.
He states that, “The palaces and prisons among you, form a most dreadful contrast. Go to the former places, and you will see, perhaps, a deformed piece of earth swelled with pride. Here descriptions utterly fails! Certainly the sight of an Indian torture, is not half so painful to a well informed mind”(Hoffman & Gjerde, p.199). It was hard for him to grasp the concept of a society that claimed to be so God-fearing and holier than thou but could treat its inhabitants so shabbily based on material worth. He had a deep disgust for penal system used by America and Europe. He felt that because the majority of prisoners were confined for debt, White culture had a lot of nerve calling Indian nations cruel because of their different cultural beliefs. At least they were not locking up people for stealing food.
European and American civilization as seen through the eyes of Joseph Brant was a cruel place where gaining material wealth was the only thing that matters and the rights of its citizens meant little. The estates of widows and orphans were often swallowed up by the court system, most of people that were in prison were there because of debt, and the worship of God was second to worship of money. Hypocrisy and greed were its greatest components. The Native American civilization from which he came from was a place where everyone was treated equally. Materialism did not exist, so there was no need to compete with others over who had the most possessions. Their allegiance was to the Great Spirit and to the land.
In European society, what one owned determined one’s lot in life. People were imprisoned because they owned money. Land was confiscated and whether someone else was living on it did not matter. The Indians had no concept of money and had no need for the glitter and gold of White civilization. They had no laws except what was written in the hearts of its people. They had no prisons because crimes such as robbery did not exist. There was no need to steal. Everyone was equal and they shared their resources. Although their lives were simple, their lives were richer because they had what many in European civilization did not–a nobility of spirit that could never be crushed. Joseph Brant knew this and that is why he looked upon Whites with contempt.
After much thought, and without prejudice, Joseph Brant felt that his civilization was better than White civilization and he gave some sound advice to Whites that can be used in today’s society. There is a biblical saying that goes, “Ye without sin cast the first stone,” and that was the point of Joseph Brant’s words. The White society that he lived in had to clean up its own backyard before trying to clean up someone else’s. How could a society that claimed to be Christian treat their inhabitants and other cultures so dishonorably? White civilization in the 1700s and in today’s society still have not learned to practice what they so piously preach. How can true liberty for all exist when monetary gain is placed above everything? Those with money and power are the ones with liberty. Freedom should not have to come with a price tag attached to it.
The words that Joseph Brant spoke two hundred and fifteen years ago still ring true. “Cease then, while these practices continue among you, to call yourselves Christians, lest you publish to the world your hypocrisy. Cease to call other nations savages, when you are tenfold more the children of cruelty, than they,” (Hoffman & Gjerde, p.199). In the case of the dominant civilization, the pot is still calling the kettle black and it’s sad that its inhabitants have not learned a thing.