The Native Americans Skraelings case study



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Gretchen M. Bataille
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gretchen m. bataille
Columbus arrived in the New World in 1492, but America has yet to be discovered.
Jack McIver Weatherford, in Indian Givers: How the Indians of the Americas
Transformed the World
On August 6, 1996, the Wall Street Journal (Aeppel A1, A6) had a front-page article about ‘‘tribes of foreigners’’ visiting Indian reservations, remarking that
Germans are particularly taken with Native Americans. A Zurich tour company offers $3,200 package tours to Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota,
and a Munich agency has a tour called Lakota Tipi and Travel. The Journal article describes a Japanese tourist being indoctrinated into the dress code of the
sweat lodge before beginning his two-day fast on a hilltop for the ‘‘vision
quest’’ part of his tour.
These stories are not isolated, nor is international interest in Native Americans unusual. Over 85,000 Germans belong to clubs devoted to learning about
Indian tribes and cultures, this generation’s version of the world created in the
writings of nineteenth-century novelist Karl May, who wrote a series of novels
about Old Shatterhead and his sidekick Winnetou, a fictional Apache chief.
American interest in Native Americans is manifested in different ways and frequently in waves reflecting current politics, student unrest and protests, and,
for literary scholars, various critical theories. The misrepresentation, commodification, and distortion of indigenous identities have existed from the moment of first contact.
The Norse in Newfoundland in 1004 are generally ignored in the history of
European and Native relations because they simply killed those people who
were in their way. They called the Native Americans Skraelings, a term that has
been described as an untranslatable expletive. As a result, October 12, 1492, re1







mainsthe official date of the firstrecorded ‘‘discovery’’ of America and the first
documented interactions with the people of the New World. To label the Taino
Indians, Christopher Columbus used the term Indios, variations of which have
remained since the late 1400s. In his journals, Columbus wrote, ‘‘They should
be good servants and very intelligent, forI have observed that they soon repeat
anything that is said to them, and I believe that they would easily be made
Christians, for they appear to me to have no religion.’’ Later he added, ‘‘They
have no religion and I think that they would be very quickly Christianized, for
they have a very ready understanding’’ (Gill 3). When Columbus arrived, he
carried two flags, the flag of Spain and the flag of the Catholic Church. He
planted those flagswhere indigenous peoplesfor generations had planted corn,
beans, chile peppers, and potatoes, and the systematic obliteration of Native
American religion and sovereignty began.
Columbus had goals — for god, for glory, and for gold — but he was only the
first of many to encounter the Native peoples and to describe those meetings
through European eyes. Indians were brought to Europe for study and for exhibition, and Indians were displayed in Portugal as early as 1501. Several years
later, in 1508, Canadian Indians were brought to France. Hernan Corte´s
brought Indians from Mexico to Spain in 1528 to perform, and in 1529 the German artist Christoph Weiditz created what may have been the first drawings of
Indians in Europe. That same year some of the Indians brought to Europe by
Cortes performed for Pope Clement vii.
Europeans were fascinated by the exotic New World and by the people who
inhabited that world. Early explorers took back colorful birds and flowers as
well asincredible stories about the inhabitants of the New World. Travel narratives as early asthe 1500s depicted the Native American as a fierce, cannibalistic
creature, and the woodcuts accompanying the stories portrayed the Indian as
less than human — naked, violent, warlike, and, frequently, more animalistic
than human. Early travelers heeded the warnings that they might be seduced
into savagery by the demonic Indians, and accounts of unrestrained sexuality
and immorality represented by images of nakedness influenced European attitudes.
By the late 1500s maps were appearing that portrayed ‘‘America’’ as a Native
American woman in a bucolic and Eden-like setting or, conversely, as a hostile
enemy carrying the body parts of white explorers. This duality was difficult to
reconcile, but it presaged the ongoing ambivalence of the Europeans and later
the Americans about the people of the New World. The story of Pocahontasintroduced the Native woman as loyal to the white explorers who had invaded
hertribal land, and the account gained wide circulation. The saga of the Native
2 Gretchen M. Bataille


Americanwomanwhowaswilling to give up herlife for awhite man continues
to captivate audiences, if the Walt Disney movie is any indication.
Art and literature portrayed imagesthatranged from benign to hostile. Artists from John White to George Catlin, Alfred Jacob Miller, and Frederick
Remington were fascinated by the Native Americans and frequently chose to
portray them as domestic or even regal. In many cases, costumes and settings
were more important than historical accuracy in the artistic depictions. In
late-nineteenth-century literature, the captivity narratives had given way to
dime novels and books with lurid covers and titles such as The Death of Jane
McCrea and The Murder of Lucinda, tales that warned readers of menacing Indian males who would attack white women.
Clearly, contact between Europeans and Indians did not guarantee understanding.In 1693William Penn remarked: ‘‘These poor people are under a dark
night in things relating to religion, to be sure. . . . Yet they believe in God and
immortality. . . . I am ready to believe them of the Jewish race, I mean of the
stock of the Ten Tribes’’ (Gill 10). Cotton Mather saw the influence of the devil
on American Indians: ‘‘The natives of the country now possessed by the NewEnglanders had been forlorn and wretched heathens eversince their first herding here; and though we know not when or how those Indians first became inhabitants of this mighty continent, yet we may guess that probably the devil
decoyed those miserable savages hither, in hopesthat the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ would never come here to destroy or disturb his absolute empire
overthem’’(10). All these generalizations about Indian religion orthe lack of it
are clearly misleading and inaccurate; however, these early views are echoed in
later assessments that perpetuated the idea that Native Americans lacked religion orspirituality.
The Native American presence moved easily from the printed page and portrait to the stage to became a stock figure in drama, with the roles played by
whites, anticipating what wasto become standard practice in the movies. Indians did get to ‘‘play themselves’’ in the popular Wild West shows, however. All
of the shows had the same theme: the victory of the European — now American — over the Native Americans. The shows further spread the distorted image of Indians to Europe, and the images and storylines became the basis for
the first films with Indian themes. The images of Native Americans that had
been developing for nearly four hundred yearswere transferred to the screen in
the early twentieth century,reaching an even wider audience than before.
The twentieth century began with visual images of Native Americans that
had been evolving over four centuries. At the same time, Native American
writers such as Charles Eastman, Gertrude Bonnin, and Simon Pokagon were
introduction 3

writing about their lives and culture. It took nearly seventy more years,
though, before Native writers were taken seriously by scholars, and then it was
because N. Scott Momaday’s 1968 novel House Made of Dawn had received the
Pulitzer Prize. At a time frequently referred to as the ‘‘renaissance’’ of Native
writing, critics, scholars, and students began to pay attention to Native American writers.
Throughout the years from first contact, if European countries did not have
real-life Indians, their writers and artists created imaginary ones. In France,
Chateaubriand created fictional Indians, and in Germany Karl May created
Winnetou. ‘‘The Noble Savage’’ perpetuated the contradictions that had existed from the beginning, and eventually both Europe andAmericawere struggling with images created and perpetuated by writers, artists, missionaries, explorers, and, in perhaps the most dramatic popular presentations, the creators
of Wild West shows and movies.
The backdrop of centuries of misrepresentation has taken its toll. Woodcuts, paintings, explorers’ journals, and missionary accounts provided early
images to Europeans, and movies, western novels, and cartoons have perpetuated the myths and stereotypes. Germans live in tepeesin the Black Forest, and
children worldwide play with Pocahontas dolls with Barbie bodies.
Native Americans have been mythologized by anthropologists and ethnographers, by tourists and the tourist industry, and through art and literature.
Both the popular media and scholars have participated in creating the ‘‘Indian that neverwas.’’ Indian imagesreflected the creators of those images more
than the people themselves, and the images have changed through time, with
portrayals of vanishing Indians, primitives, half-breeds, squaws, warriors,
and militants taking their turn in the foreground during various historical
In her book about images of Indians in the Southwest, Leah Dilworth analyzes the politics of representation within the framework of collecting. Ethnographers, museum directors, dealers, tourists, and private collectors preserved those objects that, for them, represented Native American cultures.
Similarly, Bohemianssuch as Mabel Dodge Luhan, Millicent Rogers, and Mary
Austin sought to appropriate Indian culture and make it theirs in costume,
lifestyle, or art. More recently Carlos Castaneda, Gary Snyder, Lynn Andrews,
Jamake Highwater, and othersin academia have done the same thing by appropriating ceremonies, languages, and history. These practices objectify Native
peoples, resulting in strained relationships between the representer and the
represented ratherthan any real communication (8).
Language, and our use or misuse of it, has frequently defined how Native
Americans have been perceived. Naming itself has varied — Indians, Native
4 Gretchen M. Bataille


Americans, American Indians, Amerindians, Native Peoples, tribes, nations,
The People, Dine´, Anishanaabe, Tohono O’odam, Cherokee, Chippewa, or
Ojibwa — to define the entire group or tribes or nations within the larger
group. Dime novels and movies have defined NativeAmericans as‘‘discovered’’
by Columbus, ‘‘lurking in the wilderness,’’ ‘‘attacking wagon trains,’’ ‘‘scalping
pioneers,’’ ‘‘savages’’ who hindered progress, and, usually, groups who would
‘‘vanish’’ along with the buffalo. Indians were called ‘‘braves’’ and ‘‘princesses’’;
they participated in ‘‘massacres’’ rather than ‘‘battles’’ and were frequently defined as‘‘nomadic,’’ ‘‘warlike,’’ ‘‘primitive,’’ and ‘‘simple.’’Vine Deloria Jr.wrote
in Custer Died for Your Sins that historically African Americans were viewed as
domestic animals whereas Native Americans have always been viewed as wild
animals, providing justification for their extinction. A history textbook being
used in the 1960s demonstrates that it was not just popular culture that was
perpetuating the stereotypes: ‘‘To be sure, the Indians contributed something,
butsurprisingly little, to American history. . . . Indian contributionsto American history have been so slight that one is justified in suggesting that they
might be omitted entirely without appreciably altering the main trend of development. . . . American history began therefore not with the Indians but
with the arrival of the first Europeans…. As compared with the meager contributions of the Indians, the English brought a complex, well-developed civilization’’(Harlow 1–2).
A group of scholarsresponded to this history of inaccuracies in a chateau in
France during the summer of 1997, and this collection of essays is the result of
thatsymposium and a follow-up conference atCornell University in the spring
of 1998. The interest in Native Americansfrom tourists,scholars, students, and
the media creates a dilemma for many literary critics. Movies and the popular
press are more pervasive and influential than literary criticism, and the students we teach have been immersed in a culture of inaccuracies and stereotypes.
The authors from both sides of the Atlantic address a broad topic: ‘‘Native
American Representations.’’ The symposium, the conference, and these essays
focus on issues of translation, of European and American perceptions of land
and landscape, teaching approaches, and trans-Atlantic encounters for over
five hundred years. The emphasis is on issues of representation. Who has represented Native Americans in the past? What images exist in various media on
both sides of the Atlantic? Who controls the representation? What changes in
representation have come about with increasing numbers of Native American
writers and critics?
Edward Said asked in Orientalism: ‘‘How does one represent other cultures?
What is another culture? Is the notion of a distinct culture (or race, religion,
introduction 5

civilization) a useful one?’’ (324). The essays represented here explore ethical
questions of appropriation and advocacy, of cultural sovereignty and respect
for the ‘‘authentic’’ text. We kept in mind Said’s warning to escape the temptation to define the ‘‘other’’ as if it is only a creation of our own culture and has
no reality of its own.
This collection demonstrates some of the significant changes in reality and
in academic awareness of Native studies in the United States and Europe. Native writers are communicating on their own behalf both in America and to an
audience abroad. Increasingly, Native literature is being read in English as well
as in translations into French, German, and Italian, and scholars throughout
Europe are interested in both research and teaching that includes American indigenous literatures.
Beginning this collection, Native American writers Louis Owens and Kathryn Shanley introduce the subject from personal perspectives, drawing on
their own experiences as well as their broad reading in critical theory and cultural appropriation. Both addressthe issues of misrepresentation that emanate
from critical definitions. Owens explores the perspectives of the Asian version
of ‘‘Indian’’ critics and their definitions of Native American literatures, while
Shanley examines intentional deception such as that perpetuated by Jamake
Highwater. David Moore, David Murray, and John Purdy focus on representation across many disciplines. They critique and take seriously the essentialist
arguments for cultural nationalisms. Moore and Murray explore the commodification, ownership, and rights to cultural property. Purdy compares two
Native American–produced films with Thomas King’s novel Green Grass, Running Water and in the process demonstrates the visual and textual strategies
used to counter stereotypes. In his film Imagining Indians, Hopi filmmaker
Victor Masayesva plays on the theme of representation using movie history
and white fascination with Indians to satirically make his point.
Jarold Ramsey, Kathleen Sands, and Bernadette Rigal-Cellard use specific
literary texts to address representation, with Ramsey and Sands exploring the
complex reciprocal negotiations that are necessary between cultures and languages as oral literatures move into print. Addressing the relationships between narrators and biographers demonstratesthe distance thatfrequently occurs between the real and the unreal, the original voice and the reconstructed
voice, and, for the purposes of this collection, the ambiguity of the final representations. Rigal-Cellard addresses what she calls the ‘‘hybridization of cultures’’ in Louis Owens’s The Sharpest Sight.
Finally, Hartwig Isernhagen and A. LaVonne Brown Ruoff look at other
ways of defining ‘‘representations.’’ Isernhagen analyzes the American government view as expressed through the wpa papers and addresses private and
6 Gretchen M. Bataille

public identities. Ruoff looks the other direction, describing how early Native
Americans viewed Europeans and Euro-Americans. In her conclusion, Kathryn Shanley posits the issues that are not yet resolved and leads readers to the
exploration of new directions in scholarship and criticism.
The historian Edmundo O’Gorman has said, ‘‘The native cultures of the
newly found lands could not be recognized and respected in their own right,
as an original way ofrealizing human ideals and values, but only forthe meaning they might have in relation to Christian European culture.’’ He describes
America as being invented ‘‘in the image of its inventor’’(qtd. in McQuade 11).
It isthisinvention, thisrepresentation, this‘‘sorting out’’ of the variousimages
that these essays discuss. Myths about Indians and the Westseem impenetrable
by facts, and for many peoplewho are not themselves Native American, the stereotypes and misrepresentation remain saferthan reality.
introduction 7

Tonto is the one who started it all. He was the first
really mainstream, pop culture Indian figure, the
monosyllabic stoic Indian stereotype.
Sherman Alexie [Spokane/Coeur d’Alene],
in ‘‘The Many Lives of Sherman Alexie’’

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