Saturday, February 16, 2008

American Indians in Fact and Fiction: LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE

Classic and award-winning books of historical fiction suggest---powerfully---that American Indians were primitive people. Through these books, children are allowed to think that Indians were less-than-human. Primitive in lifestyle. Primitive in intellect.

But, that is not the case.

Here's a few facts to consider next time you read Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House on the Prairie.

Charles took his family into "Indian Territory" in 1868.

By then, about 800--yes, that's right 800--treaties had been negotiated between the tribes and the federal government.

Let's think about that word a minute...


Treaties are legal documents. They are contracts whose terms are negotiated between two (or more) states.

In order to enter into a treaty, one state has to recognize the other as a state.

States are entities comprised of people with territories that are recognized by the other state, and, these state entities have systems of government. Both states have leaders who enter into diplomatic negotiations.

So. Laura Ingalls Wilder is giving you an image of Indians that is a disservice and an insult to who they were. I think you could say she does you (the reader) a disservice, too, leading you to believe something that is not true.

She isn't solely responsible for this disservice. She had help in preparing her manuscripts. And, she had an editor, too.

You might want to take a few minutes to peruse lesson plans teachers use when they teach this book in their classrooms. If you find one that challenges the ways that American Indians are depicted, let me know! I'd love to see one. Is there a lesson plan out there, that helps children see the errors in these images?


tiselfar said...

Debbie, have you ever written anything about Peter Pan? I partly and enjoyed and partly suffered through a new staging today. I would love to read anything you may have written about Peter Pan.


Debbie Reese said...


I wrote about the newer one here:

Debbie Reese said...


On the right side of my page is a series of links, including one that is called "Peter Pan in Scarlet."


Rob said...

How about Robinson Crusoe, The Last of the Mohicans, and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer? These "classics" featuring Indians deserve our scrutiny too.

For more on Peter Pan, see Tiger Lily in Peter Pan:  An Allegory of Anglo-Indian Relations.

American at birth said...

The truth is, these stories were based on her life and her perspective. Not yours, not mine, but here's... And she is entitled to her perspective whether you find it distasteful out not. At the time of these "memories" she was a child... And most stereotypes start with some hint of truth.