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Six Nation Indian’s Intellectual Gifts
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The Indian has little hope of occupying a sphere, where the discipline and cultivation of the mind shall be essential to the proper balancing and developing of its powers, and shall render it equal to the collision with other keen intellects. It would, therefore, be equally idle and unprofitable to attempt to measure his mental capabilities, until we shall have experience of his intellectuality, with proper stimulating and inciting influences in play, or under circumstances, conducing, generally, to mental strength and vigor, to note; and which we may employ as a reliable basis for judgment; and it would be manifestly unfair to argue weak mental caliber, or to presage small mental capacity in the Indian, from his present deplorable state of inertness, a condition which has been sadly impressed and confirmed by repressive legislation, and of which that legislation, by practically denying him occupation of improving fields of thought, and, indeed, scope for any enlarged mental activity, seeks to decree the melancholy perpetuity.
In some of the few cases where supervenient aid has enabled him to qualify for, and embrace, a profession, I have perceived a tendency to subordinate its practice to the demands of some less exacting calling, which has rendered nugatory any efficient mastery of the profession. Memory is, undoubtedly, the Indian’s strong point, and I can myself testify to exhibitions of it, truly phenomenal. The interpreter will placidly proceed to translate a long string of sentences, just fallen from a speaker’s lips, to engraft which upon our memory would be a performance most trying and difficult; and to have their repetition. even with a proximate adherence to the sense and the expressions used, imposed upon us, in the peremptory fashion in which it is sprung upon the interpreter, would carry the wildest dismay to our mind. Those understanding the Indian tongue have frequently assured me that the Indian, when interpreting, reproduces with minuteness, if he be granted, of course, a certain latitude for differences of idiom, the speaker’s thought and expressions. It is said by one of his own writers that the Indian is much more prone to follow the evil than the moral practices of the white; and there can be no doubt, I think, that, if habitually thrown with a corrupt community, or one where a low order of morality should obtain, the acquisition of higher knowledge would tend to make him better skilled in planning works of iniquity, than to give him higher and purer tastes. Actual experience of the Indian, in one or two cases, where there has been a more than common accession to his mental accomplishments, rather gives color to the notion of the misdirection of those accomplishments (even without the baneful white influence) that has been hinted at.
I should think the Indian would, probably, even with proper discipline to bear, lack powers of concentration, with the kindred faculty of being able to direct the mind to the achieving or subserving of some one grand purpose or aim, and would, likely, be deficient in other allied ways, by which a gifted and powerful mind will be asserted; and would imagine, on the whole, that there is slight ground for thinking him capable, under the most favorable circumstances, of imperiling the eminence of the white in respect of intellectual power and attainments.
The Indian’s musical taste is conceded on all hands. He is a proficient in the use of brass instruments, the Mohawk Brass Band always taking high rank at band competitions. He has usually fine vocal power, and is in great request as a chorister. He has a full repertory of plaintive airs, the singing of which he generally reserves for occasions, resembling much the “wakes” that obtain with Roman Catholics, where he watches over night the body of some departed member of the tribe.
As an artist in wood-carving, the Indian, I should say, stands almost without a rival. He will elaborate the most beautiful specimens in this kind of work; though he generally directs his skill to the embellishing of walking sticks and the like articles, which (their ornate appearance alone precluding their practical use) the white only buys with the view of preserving as ornaments. The Indian, therefore, would do well to allow his skill in this line to take a wider range, since, by so doing, he would not only bring about larger sales to enrich his not over-filled money-chest, but he would also extend his fame as an artist. The pencil, in the hand of the Indian, is often made to limn exquisite figures, and to trace delightful landscape-work. I am confident that he would, with appropriate training, cause his fame to be known in this line also. The Indian woman is a marvelous adept at bead-work, though her specimens disclose, usually, finer execution, than they do a tasteful or faultless associating of colors.
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