Thursday, September 11, 2014

Was Paul Goble adopted into the Yakima and Sioux tribes?

Within the framework of children's books, one thought that comes to mind when I hear the word "adopted" is Paul Goble. Let me preface this post by saying that I find his children's books highly problematic. See Paul Goble's The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses for background.

For years, I've read that he was adopted by Chief Edgar Red Cloud. Here's an example from the World Wisdom website:
Paul Goble was adopted into the Yakima and Sioux tribes (with the name "Wakinyan Chikala," Little Thunder) by Chief Edgar Red Cloud.
I've been skeptical of such statements and have started some research into that statement. I kind of doubt he was adopted into either one. Maybe Chief Edgar Red Cloud adopted him into his own Lakota family, but I doubt it was an adoption into the nation itself, wherein Goble's name was put down on the tribal census. The Oglala Lakota tribal constitution says members are those who are born to a member of the tribe.

The Yakima and Sioux are two distinct nations, by the way, and using both in that sentence tells us that the person who wrote it doesn't understand that they are two different nations.

I did some searching using "Paul Goble" and "Little Thunder" and found this at the website of the Central Rappahannock Regional Library:
His interest in Native Americans was so deep and genuine that he was adopted into the Yakama (Yakima) tribe by Chief Alba Shawaway and into the Sioux tribe by Chief Edgar Red Cloud.
Alba Shawaway was Yakama and maybe he did adopt Goble into his immediate family, but again, I doubt he would have been adopted into the tribe itself. 

Doing some research on Edgar Red Cloud, I came across Phil Jackson's book, Sacred Hoops: Spiritual Lessons of a Hardwood Warrior. Jackson is a big name in the National Basketball Association. Edgar Red Cloud gave him a name, too in 1973: Swift Eagle.  Jackson writes:
Call me Swift Eagle. That's the name Edgar Red Cloud gave me during the 1973 basketball clinic that Bill Bradley and I conducted at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Edgar, the grandson of the famous chief Red Cloud, said I resembled an eagle as I swooped around the court with my arms outstretched, always looking to steal the ball. Swift Eagle. Oknahkoh Wamblee. the name sounded like wings beating the air. 
In the next paragraph, Jackson writes that Edgar Red Cloud gave Bill Bradley a name, too: Tall Elk.

But let's get back to Goble. I haven't found anything he's written himself that says he was adopted. Here's the dedication in his Adopted by the Eagles: 

See that? He says he was given a Lakota name and called son by Chief Edgar Red Cloud, but Goble doesn't say he was adopted. He doesn't say anything about it in an interview at the Wisdom Tales website.* And he doesn't say anything about it in his autobiography, Hau Kola-Hello Friend published by Richard C. Owen Publishers, Inc. in 1994.  

So... what is the source of information that says he was adopted? I'll keep looking. If you find something, do let me know.

Why it matters: Having his work cloaked with an adoption story suggests that he's got an insider perspective. As my post on The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses indicates, I find his work problematic, and so do Doris Seale, a librarian who is Santee, Cree, and Abenaki, and Elizabeth Cook-Lynn, an American Indian Studies professor who is Crow Creek Sioux. At the bottom of that post, you'll see a link to a post where I quote them. That post is About Paul Goble.

1 comment:

Beverly Slapin said...

Although I’ve read all of Paul Goble’s “Indian” children’s books (and disliked them intensely), I’ve never looked closely at the Lakota language in his books. My knowledge of Lakota is, at best, rudimentary. But, after carefully reading and researching the passages that Debbie quoted, it appeared to me that Goble’s use of the Lakota language here is, at the least, problematic. I then discussed all of this with a friend (who knows far more Lakota language than I do), and she agreed.

Depending on the context of what you’re talking about, Lakota language has many different meanings. It’s apparent, my friend said, that Goble just took some words from a Lakota dictionary and put them together, maybe figuring no one would notice. In any event, the Lakota words and phrases in these sections are clunky, awkward and just plain wrong.

(1) World Wisdom’s website says, “Paul Goble was adopted into the Yakima and Sioux tribes (with the name ‘Wakinyan Chikala,’ Little Thunder) by Chief Edgar Red Cloud.”

“Wakinyan Chikala” does not mean, “Little Thunder.” “Wakinyan” means “Thunderbird,” who is a sacred Being, and “Wakinyan Chikala” means “Little Thunderbird,” which would probably not be a name given to a Lakota person, much less to an adoptee. “Little Thunder” would be correctly translated as “Wakina Chikala.”

(2) Goble writes, “He (Chief Edgar Red Cloud) gave me a Lakota name and called me ‘Son.’” The term, “son,” from an older to a younger person, is a term of endearment, as in “bring me the telephone, son.” It doesn’t mean a whole lot and, in and of itself, does not have anything to do with being adopted.

(3) And then Goble writes, “Woplia ate,” which he probably meant as, “Thank you, father.” Except that’s not what it means. “Wopila” is a noun and means “gift.” So, “wopila ate” would mean, “gift father,” which is just a joining of two unrelated words. “Pilamaya,” which is a verb, means “thank you.” (And, what is in print as “woplia”—and can be found in several places on the Internet, originating from the same source—is a typo that seems to have gone unnoticed.)

So I’m left wondering how much more Lakota language Goble didn’t even bother to get right. It’s just more disrespect heaped on all the other stuff he’s done.

(4) And finally, about the passage in NBA player Phil Jackson’s SACRED HOOPS: SPIRITUAL LESSONS OF A HARDWOOD WARRIOR, in which Chief Edgar Red Cloud allegedly names him “Swift Eagle,” or “Oknahkoh Wamblee,” during a 1973 basketball clinic: I could find no word for anything like “oknahkoh” in the Lakota lexicon, but the Lakota word for “swift” in the lexicon is “kahwoke,” pronounced “kah-ghwoh-kay.” And the Lakota word for eagle is “wanbli,” pronounced “wam-blee,” but spelled with an “n,” not an “m.” And. Most of the Indian elders I know have great good humor, and are quick to tease and joke around. It’s quite possible that Red Cloud might have been less than serious when he said (if he said, as Jackson writes): “that I resembled an eagle as I swooped around the court with my arms outstretched, always looking to steal the ball.” It’s unlikely to me that Red Cloud would have used those exact words. Rather, maybe he called Jackson “swift eagle”—as a nickname—which Jackson misinterpreted as Red Cloud’s conferring an Indian name on him.