Custer Died for Your Sins

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CUSTER DIED FOR YOUR SINS appeared in 1969 with the subtitle An Indian Manifesto. On the one hand, it represented a continuation of Indian writing evaluating Indian-White relations going back at least to George Copway in the early nineteenth century. On the other hand, the book was the defining document marking the relationship of Native Americans to the civil rights movement.Custer was the first major publication of Vine Deloria Jr., the scion of a distinguished Sioux family that included his grandfather Philip, his father Vine Sr. and his aunt Ella. Custer and a series of later books that included We Talk, You Listen: New Tribes, New Turf (1970), God Is Red (1973), and Behind the Trail of Broken Treaties: An Indian Declaration of Independence (1974), defined Deloria as the most prominent Indian public intellectual of his time.

Custer argued fervently against the federal policy of termination, advocating self-determination and the upholding of treaties. The book exposed callousness and hypocrisy on the part of white specialists such as anthropologists, government bureaucrats and the missionaries who ministered to Indian people. Custer also argued that the agendas put forth by the African American leadership of the civil rights movement were not appropriate for Native Americans.


Biolsi, Thomas, and Larry J. Zimmerman, eds. Indians and Anthropologists: Vine Deloria Jr. and the Critique of Anthropology. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1997.

Deloria, Vine, Jr. Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto. With a new preface by the author. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1988.


See alsoLiterature: Native American Literature ; Race Relations .