As you may know, I was in La Crosse last week. I did a presentation on American Indians and children's literature in Murphy Library at U Wisconsin La Crosse. It was a terrific gathering and I met a lot of wonderful people.
A reporter from the local paper was there to do an interview. Her article ran on Saturday in the Tribune. It is titled "Activist eyes cultural accuracy in kid's books." Here's the first two paragraphs:
The classic children’s book “Little House on the Prairie” portrays American Indians as primitive and less than human, said an expert in American Indian studies.
Yet the book is set in a time when the U.S. government had about 800 treaties with American Indian tribes, said Debbie Reese, assistant professor of American Indian studies at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. These were men protecting their families, not bloodthirsty Indians,” she said.
Trib readers offered comments to the article. "Sad Sally" said:
I can hardly take it anymore. DON'T WE HAVE ANYTHING BETTER TO WORRY ABOUT????? MY GOD, WE ARE AT WAR, OUR ECONOMY IS IN SHAMBLES, OUR PRESIDENT IS OVER SEAS CALLING US ARROGANT, THOUSANDS OF BABIES ARE BEING ABORTED AS WE SPEAK, GAYS CAN MARRY IN IOWA, and we are worried about how Laura Ingalls perceived the Indians? This is downright stupid MY GOD!!
And "wiseup" said:
Too many times 'activist' means complainer. Native's routinely killed other tribes and forced them off their own lands before the white man came here. Few were taught this tragic history. If you go back far enough, EVERY race has committed genocide, mass murder, etc against their fellow man! No one with a brain sees any side as ALL GOOD or ALL BAD. You can't change what happened in the past! Get over it and look to future!
I doubt that either Sad Sally or wiseup were at the talk I gave. Perhaps "activist" cued them to respond as they did. I do, in fact, consider myself an activist scholar, which is a way of saying that I use the knowledge I gain during my research by sharing it with others, and I encourage them to share it with others, too. I suggest they be active with that knowledge by asking bookstores to order copies of books that do not stereotype American Indians.
Most of the comments to the article are like Sad Sally's remarks. Comments by Jaxx are different:
I am currently reading "Lies My Teacher Told Me" by James W. Loewen, which I highly recommend for people. Not only do public schools not teach about the genocide that Native Americans have experienced, but they also make Christopher Columbus into a hero!
Negative comments are the norm, but worth noting because they tell us what think. They tell us what the teachers who attended my talk are up against...
I read those negative comments and think about "The Big Indian" statue in La Crosse at Riverside Park. Formally known as "Hiawatha," the statue is controversial. Minnesota Public Radio did a piece on it in 2000. Called "A Dilemma in La Crosse" it includes voices of those who want to keep it, and voices of those who want it removed. The photograph above is "The Big Indian." It's a tourist draw for the city. The Marriott, for example, lists it under "Recreation Information" on their webpage. They list it as "The Big Indian."
In the article, an art history professor who studies roadside statues says that it should stay in place because statues like it serve as reminders of how far the country has come. She can view it that way, but reading the article, it is clear that the public does not see it as she does. By them, it is revered and they see nothing offensive about it. The art history professor also says that it is an important marker for American history. I think it is evidence of America's arrogance, power, and ignorance. It makes it possible for people to comment, as they did, to the article about my talk.
Who, in fact, was Hiawatha? Is, for example, Hiawatha by Susan Jeffers an accurate portrayal of the person who was Hiawatha? Or are they about Longfellow's fictive Hiawatha?