Thought I’d introduce a brand new topic today — I know that I still have clothing to talk about on the Survival theme. But this has caught my attention today.
Now probably the first thing to know about Native American history is that there was very little crime. Perhaps crime and punishment go with Western Industrial-type nations. I don’t know. But this I can say — in all my research, time and time again travelers to the outermost regions of Native America commented on how honest and how little crime existed.
Probably the first thing to realize is that there were no jails. I once saw a Native American movie where the Indians put a white man in jail for crimes involving shooting and killing and such. Hilarious! Sorry, they didn’t have them.
So what did they do if one of their own committed a crime — like murder?
All tribes were different, but in matters like murder, the family or the clan usually dealt with the murderer. Often the person guilty of the crime was “sentenced” to go away from the tribe and try to make it on his own — which in the long ago past, was almost a testiment to a death sentence. In the Lakota tribe there is a reference in the book, WATER LILY, about the offender having to make restitution with the family by taking the place of the dearly departed. Usually such people were so happy to not be put out of the tribe, that they became the best family members of all. Imagine if this were so in our society today? That the offender had to make restitution with the family for his acts of violence? What do you think might be the result? Less crime, perhaps?
This is one of the closest pictures I could get to an actual jail — which Native Americans didn’t have, by the way. Anyway, there were other punishments, some of them performed by various societies. In the Creek society, as well as the Blackfeet, the crime of adultery (for women only) was a cut off nose — the tip of the nose. This was usually performed at the request of the offending husband and was done by the society that he belonged to. There are several accounts on file of what happened to Indians who were forced into jail for the first time. Because such things were unknown to them, it seemed unusually cruel to them.
You might ask what in the world does this picture have to do with crime and punishment or even Native America. Well, not much, except that I believe this man is on the covers of many Historical Indian books. He sure is terrific, isn’t he? As far as stealing is concerned, it was almost unheard of. George Catlin remarked that in all his travels in Native America he had never had one single thing taken from him, or even a hand lifted against him. In truth, one young man made quite a journey to join Catlin in order to return to him some of his property. However, if stealing had been done, the offending party again made restitution with the “victim” by supplying them with whatever they needed in return. Seems a much simplier process, doesn’t it? Make up the damage one has done to the person who has been harmed, himself.
This doesn’t say that there was not savagery in Native America. Tales are ripe in the New England areas and Texas areas of the crueltry that can be played upon a victim. To one’s enemies, honesty, forthrightfulness, integrity was not shown, nor given, nor ever expected. In truth, fair game might describe the way Native Americans treated the enemy. Occasionally mercy was shown to an enemy victim and there are many, many stories to this in our accounts of history. But as far as crime to one’s fellow tribe members or one’s family, it truly was a rare occurrance. So much so that often such accounts were used to tell the passing of the years.
One more comment I should make before we close this subject. Besides almost non-existent crime, there was also no poverty. Some people were more prosperous than others — such has always been the case amongst a people. But no one went hungry when there was food to be had within the tribe, nor did anyone go without. And if a culture is known by its humanity towards others and the material condition of its people, then I would have to say that Native America was, indeed, a culture to be proud.
So, tell me, what are your thoughts on crime and punishment? What do you think of jails? Of common law? Of justice? Can man be trusted with justice? Oh, and don’t forget, if you haven’t yet got your copy of my latest book, THE LAST WARRIOR, please be sure to pick one up today. Just click on the link below.