On Indian History and Blankets

Interesting article on blankets and American history, homophobia, and Indian history. An excerpt:

In his 2001 installation “Deep Down, I Don’t Believe in Hymns” conceptual artist Dario Robleto turns a blanket back on itself. He infests a military-issued blanket from 1862 with vinyl record dust, specifically the particles of two songs: Neil Young and Crazy Horse’s “Cortez the Killer,” and Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love” (which was originally recorded and performed by Gloria Jones in 1965 — Soft Cell, a UK band, covered it in 1981). Neil Young and Crazy Horse’s “Cortez the Killer” imagines the colonizer with galleons and guns, “dancing across the water” looking for the new world, while Montezuma basks on shore, surrounded by abundance: cocoa leaves, pearls, gold, beautiful women, strong men, and secrets. While the title itself critiques discovery (so-called) and conquest, Neil Young and Crazy Horse cannot resist falling back on the very colonial tropes they wish to send up. In the song “Cortez [was] the killer” — but there are also the beautiful Natives, and a beautiful Native woman, specifically, “who still loves me to this day.” The song is infected with tainted love.

This military-issued blanket is likely from the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862, an intense six weeks of Dakota resistance against settler encroachment and the U.S. nation’s broken treaties. At the end of those six weeks, a military commission tried nearly 400 Dakota men accused of participating in the war. 303 of those were sentenced to death and 16 were given prison terms. President Lincoln (who was deeply embroiled in the Civil War) reviewed the trial transcripts and “anxious to not act with so much clemency as to encourage another outbreak on one hand, nor with so much severity as to be real cruelty on the other” he decided to execute those who had “been proved guilty of violating females.” But since only two men were found guilty of rape, he expanded his charge to include those who had participated in “massacres.” On December 26, 1862, 38 Dakota men were hanged in present-day Mankato, Minnesota — this remains the largest government-sanctioned execution in U.S. history.

Throughout the 1860s and 1870s, the Dakota people were removed to reservations where many of them starved because of scarce game, drought, and unsuitable soil. Others died of disease or exposure because, despite its promises, the U.S. government failed to supply clothing — and blankets. Blankets were a matter of life and death on the Plains. The blanket meant survival, but also communicated a sense of dependency on the U.S. People died without blankets. And then blankets retroactively covered the dead.