Tuesday, October 16, 2007

"The only good Indian is a dead Indian"

Did you know...

the phrase "the only good Indian is a dead Indian"

appears in the acclaimed Little House on the Prairie three times?

Could you/would you hand that book to a Native child?

Could you/should you hand that book to a non-Native child?

How would you/could you/should you use that book?


Jody said...

Sigh. I read the Oyate piece on the book, so I knew wanting to share it with my kids was problematic at BEST -- and have you considered the minstrel show in Little Town on the Prairie? or the depiction of the (obviously starving, probably due to Indian-Agent malfeasance post-removal) Indian in The Hard Winter?

But these were the books with which I learned to read, so I plowed ahead anyway. Because my children are six, I've managed so far simply to skip all the worst passages. Also, because we've been reading aloud, I've been able to stop and talk about the huge problems with the story line. We've talked about how Laura just got the history wrong. How Mom's fear/hatred was a cover for her land-grabbing. And so on.

These books probably should disappear from the culture. I doubt they're going to do that, though, especially when even people who know about the problems keep introducing them to new generations. (For Anglo women in the States, I think these books are touchstones, some of the books they look forward to sharing with their own children. That's been the evidence I've seen whenever I write about them.) So, to repeat myself, I've edited the stuff I simply cannot explain adequately, and I've tried to criticize and contextualize the rest.

I know these answers aren't going to satisfy you, nor do I think they should. But you did ask the question.

(I don't know what I'd do if my children were American Indians. The books are out there in the culture, and part of a culture that's filled with errors and mistakes and problems. I know friends who won't read picture books about slavery to their [African-American] children until their children are much older, and maybe there are parallels with that choice. I do think Anglo/White US citizens have an obligation to teach their children about their historical responsibilities. We live on stolen land.)

Trisha said...

I don't think that sharing these books with children, Native American or otherwise, is the issue. I think that the issue remains in discussing these books with children, and making sure to explain that 1)this is the attitude people had during that time period, and 2)this attitude is wrong.

Mark Twain's books have been banned from some schools due to their use of a racial slur for African Americans. Does that mean we shouldn't teach them? No. It means that we need to discuss, openly and honestly, the use of this word and how inappropriate it is.

I would certainly agree that the phrase in the Little House on the Prairie is offensive. But I don't think we should quit reading the book simply because of it.

(Just my humble opinion though.)