Monday, November 06, 2006

Nathaniel Philbrick's Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community and War

Recently, someone asked if I had read Nathaniel Philbrick's book, Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community and War. I have not, but there is an article about it in Indian Country Today.

The article, "Correcting history: Telling 'our' story" is by Paula Peters, who is Mashpee Wampanoag. For those of you interested in a Native perspective on Philbrick's book, take a look. It was posted November 3rd, 2006 in the Front Page section on the on line paper.

Also in Indian Country Today is an article about a forum, "Forum examines colonization mythology" that took place at U of Massachusetts, Boston, on October 10th. Philbrick was one of the participants. The moderator, Joan Lester, posed these questions:

"Are historians obliged to represent all participants? Lester asked. Where does an author go when there are no written sources? Does the reader have a responsibility to develop the critical thinking skills needed to recognize bias? And how do authors and readers move beyond longstanding stereotypes and misconceptions to a fuller, more accurate and respectful telling of the American story?"

Both articles are helpful as we think about the ways children are taught about Thanksgiving, and the ways that story is told in children's books.


Ben Smallwood said...

First of all, I want to thank you for your research in general, and your work with this blog in particular. As an English Lit. Ph.D. candidate (Illinois State) specializing in American Indians in children's literature it is nice to know that I am not completely alone in academia. And as a member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma I was delighted to see that you posted that generally positive review of Tim Tingle's book.

Like you, I have not read Philbrick's text, but I did read Peters' article and Toensing's report on the forum which included Philbrick. Both Peters and Toensing raise good (though certainly not original) points about the colonization and fetishization of American Indians. Yet I was a bit stupified by a statement made by Maurice Foxx (Mashpee Wampanoag) as paraphrased by Toensing:

"But Americans in general are not inclined to learn about Indian history because the country's early history is an embarrassing narrative of slavery and injustice."

For this to be true most Americans would need to conceptualize American Indians as human and not as fetishized objects. I do not believe that most Americans shy away from actual Indian histories because they are embarrassed that people were horribly misused. Most Americans still understand the American Indian in terms of Mark Twain's "Injun Joe," sports mascots, and historically extinct figures who exist today in Halloween costumes and Thanksgiving mythologies.

I personally think that it would be a gigantic step forward if we could confidently assert that most Americans were embarrassed by America's historically and contemporarily oppressive relationship with American Indians. Then at least I would know that popular constructs of the Indian as object were also invested with some humanizing features.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Debbie for creating a discussion site where all viewpoints are examined. This is the way that learning, (and change) takes place.

I believe that we need to tell the story of what colonization meant to the American Indians whose villages and fields were stolen. We are still suffering the effects of our history.

We need to explain that the first slaves in this country were American Indians, and that under "conservatorship" some tribal groups remained in bondage even after the Civil War.

The "first" American inhabitants were the last to be able to vote in the United States. Our voice has been silent long enough.

I can remember even in the early 60's that the police would be called if you were out in town after 7 PM without a pass from the Indian school, even if you were with your parents.

I say this not to fuel resentment, but to cause people to reflect on what unconcious discrimination practices are still on-going. What assumptions are made that rob American Indians of their voice?

We become accustomed to a set of rules and after a while don't question them. Many reservations are full of examples of the psychological toll created by surviving within the rules and low expectations that were originally created during colonization.

Even the American Indian community is not immune from propagating discrimination. They do so when they fail to speak up and write in defense of their ancestors and culture.

One practice in early colonial days was to give hostages as a promise of peace. Sometimes I feel as though a hostage situation still exists that prevents us from exercising our free speech.

We are held hostage by stereotypes both within American Indian communities and outside of them. Often Indian families have little appreciation for the empowerment given to their children by a good education. They don't see that education gives them a voice to begin to change stereotypes and opinions.

At the very least, books that portray American Indians in a non-authentic manner, should carry a disclaimer to help readers evaluate what is truthful. We have lost so much, this is an important issue in re-establishing cultural identities that extend outside tribal communities.

Anonymous said...

After watching Nathaniel Philbrick and many, many Wampanoag and other Native scholars on the History Channel's "Desperate Crossing: The Story of the Mayflower", it is clear that once again, thou dost protest too much.

That was one of the most even-handed depictions of the landing of the Pilgrims in North America, and yet it goes simply unmentioned in this blog that finds only what is wrong with the world, and nothing about what is right.