THE POLITICS OF REPRESENTATION
A response to the publication of Ann Rinaldi's My Heartis on the Ground
Portland Oregon, May [GB1]1999
It is the summer of 1991, one of those days when you thinkthe light will never end, and you have forgotten what it is like to becold. It was one those days, when the fire flies seem to fall out of thesky and everything smells green. It was one of those days, when I firstwalked in the cemetery at Carlisle and it took my breath away. It droppedme to my knees, and I wept there in the late light of July for the rowsand rows of headstones that marked a battle, disguised in neat brick buildings.
It is hard not to be moved by the cemetery at Carlisle.It sits there on the edge of the neatly trimmed military barracks of theArmy War College - a shocking reminder that the War College has a set ofhistories that run deeper than the building facades would suggest. However,it is much harder to remember that the story of the Carlisle Indian schoolis not contained with the wrought-iron fence-line of that cemetery. Theschool lives still, in the names of its students, in their lives, in thelives of their families and their communities. Carlisle is an integralpart of the way indigenous peoples in this country talk about their history.
I first heard of the Carlisle Indian Industrial Schoolwhen I was in college, writing my senior honors thesis on the history ofcolonial/Lakota relations. I read Elaine Goodale's passing references toan eastern school for Native American students. I read Luther StandingBear's accounts of being taken to school. I read letters and notes fromCharles Eastman and Carlos Montezuma. I read George Hyde. And I formeda picture in my mind of a place long past, a place of great violence andpain, a place that inflicted scars still troubling 100 years later. Butuntil I walked through the gates of the cemetery, Carlisle was a placethat occupied my historical imagination, not my present thinking.
In June of 1998 I received a phone call from Melissa Jenkins,an Assistant Editor at Scholastic Press. She told me that she had a manuscript-- My Heart is on the Ground: The Diary of Nannie Little Rose, a SiouxGirl - in the Dear America Series, pertaining to Carlisle and hoped thatI would check it for accuracy. In the intervening seven years, betweenmy first visit to Carlisle's campus and the phone call from Scholastic,I had completed my PhD in anthropology at Stanford University. The focusof my doctoral research had been the Carlisle Indian Industrial Schooland I had spent those years engaging in ongoing research.
The bulk of the written records attendant with Carlislearenow housed in the National Archives in Washington DC and for the bulk of1995, I reviewed the 70 linear feet of records that have been preserved.These records contained individual file folders relating to more than 6,500students who attended Carlisle - letters, photographs, newspaper clippings,telegrams, bank books, death announcements, birth announcements, diplomas,expulsion papers, and government documents. I spent time reviewing thecollections at the Cumberland County Historical Society and the archivesof the US Military History Institute at the Army War College, both in Carlisle.I was also extremely fortunate to locate several survivors of the schoolwho were extremely generous with their time and their memories.
In the process of this research, I developed a databaseof all the students I could document who had attended the school. Thisdatabase helped convince Barbara Landis at the Cumberland County HistoricalSociety that I was a serious scholar, and thus began a long and importantfriendship and collaboration. Together we have posted a variety of differentsorts of information to the world-wide-web, and through that presence,I was also able to talk to a great, many descendants of Carlisle students.
My dissertation, "Telling Stories out of School: Rememberingthe Carlisle Indian Industrial School, 1879-1918" attempted to bring allof these disparate memories about Carlisle together, honoring the voicesof Native American students and their experiences, while providing a criticalre-reading of that period's federal policy. It was a complicated task.Although I am not an indigenous person, I was raised in an Aboriginal communityin Australia and have a particular set of politics and sympathies. I amalso a university-trained academic that brings another set of considerationsand training into play. I am not, nor will I ever be, qualified to talkabout what it means to be an indigenous person. However, I am qualifiedto talk about the ways in which the nation-state acted, and the consequencesof those actions for native people, and of the ways in which historicaldocuments have narrate these experiences. So when Melissa Jenkins profferedScholastic's Carlisle manuscript, I accepted the task of checking the Carlislecomponent of the diary with a sense that I knew enough to do the job, anddo it reasonable well.
On June 9th, 1998, I received a letter from Scholasticstating that I would be paid $300 for fact-checking the manuscript. MelissaJenkins wrote the following: "As far as the fact checking goes, we needyou expertise to make sure that the diary is authentic and all historicaldetails are true. The diary should read like an authentic diary but notbe weighed down by history" (Melissa Jenkins 6/9/1998).
When I initially received the manuscript, I spoke withMelissa Jenkins, and recall telling her that I was struck, and not in agood way, by the fact that the names Rinaldi used came principally fromthe cemetery. I simply couldn't believe that this was a good idea. I alsoremarked that the use of diaries at Carlisle was unheard of, and thus problematic.Jenkins told me that this was the style of the series "Dear America". Atthat point, I had not heard of this series, so I let it pass.
I was asked also about the painting on the cover. Andalthough I never responded in writing, I had a conversation with MelissaJenkins in late June, in which I indicated to her that I was not comfortablecommenting on Lakota culture that specifically and that it would be bestif they found a Lakota person with whom to speak. I made the same request/remarksregarding the use of Lakota vocabulary throughout the book. I made it abundantlyclear, or so I thought, that I was not an expert on Lakota culture. AndI was left with the impression that they would find someone who was. (Inmy comments onto the manuscript, I suggested that Rinaldi read Ella Deloria'sWaterlily).
I read the manuscript in New Mexico, sitting on a verandahin Jemez Springs, waiting for my friends to return from making bread fortheir upcoming feast days. It was a depressing read. Perhaps naively itnever occurred to me to tell them that they shouldn't or couldn't publishthis book. In retrospect that is exactly what I should have said. At thetime however, I felt like the most I could do was attempt to correct themost egregious and outstanding errors. I am embarrassed that I failed tocatch the reference to Sitting Bull as Cheyenne. I do know better, butI was so focussed on the Carlisle material itself that I missed a numberof things like that, which I should have caught.
I wrote all over the manuscript. Then I composed a lettersummarizing what I took to be the biggest problems of the text. Hereis the letter I wrote, in its entirety, typos and all, dated July 8 1998.(The page numbers [p] refer to the manuscript pages).
Please find enclosed the manuscript My Heart is on theGround: The Diary of Nannie Little Rose, a Sioux Girl. I am sorry thatit took me a little longer than I anticipated to get through the wholething. It was an interesting read. I think that Ann Rinaldi has captureda great deal of the world that must been for those early students at Carlisle.
As you will see, I have made various notations throughoutthe text regarding specific innaccuracies and problems. My biggest concerns,however, are not with the specific points of history, but rather with thepracticing of naming throughout the manuscript, the use of the Lucy PrettyEagle character and the overall tone.
As I mentioned on the phone, I think it is a little problematicthat the vast majority of student characters in this manuscript are takenfrom names in the cemetery. I understand that you are interested in preservinga historical feel to the diary, but I think you run the risk of upsettinga great many indigenous peoples, as well as creating the impression thatalmost everyone who went to Carlisle died. (In fact, only 230 studentsdied out of a total of close to 10,000, and while that is a significantnumber it is not the common experience for even the majority of students).I think you might be better using fictional names for almost all the characters.I realize that characters like Pratt et al. are recognizable historicalfigures and I am not suggesting that you change their names. And I especiallylike the punning with teachers names. [pg5] However, I do think it couldbe construed as disrespectful to appropriate the names of children whodied to make a saleable work (ie: Susie King [p.1], Almeda Heavy Hair [p5],Dora Morning [p1,5], Ada Fox Catcher [p5], Frances Bones [p5], CharlesWhiteshield [p6]).
At several other points in the manuscript, names of studentsare given, however, these students would not have been in attendance atthe time the book is set (ie: Charles Whiteshield [p6] and Leana Blackbear[p6] did not enrol until 1883); furthermore, there are several such studentswho are given the wrong tribal/national designation (ie: Charles Whiteshieldwas Cheyenne, and Leana Blackbear was Arapaho). Unless you want to findout more information on these students, I think you are better off usingfictional names for almost all of Nannie's playmates, friends and peersrather than using names inaccurately.
Regarding the deaths of students specifically. The firststudent that is contained within the diary [p17] dies on February 2nd ofscrofula. Unfortunately this is simply not true. There is no such student.Likewise other students who are reported as dead throughout the manuscript[pg21,22, etc]. Causes of death for these students is unknown. Though itis likely that the majority suffered from tuberculosis (and to the bestof my knowledge, scrofula was not fatal, just unpleasant). Again, the deathsof children at Carlisle are extremely painful and powerful memories formost Native people, and it strikes me that this somewhere you want to getit right. The first student to die was Amos La Framboise [Sisseton Lakota]who died on Novermber 26th 1879, aged 13. Abe Lincoln [Cheyenne] whosefather's name was Antelope died on January 17th 1880. He was 16. HenryJones [Iowa] died on March 20, 1880, aged 16. Zonekeuh [Kiowa] died onApril 27, 1880. Albert Henderson [Sac and Fox] died on September 15, 1880,aged 12.
Lucy Pretty Eagle is a wonderful story. I think it isover exposed in the accounts of Carlisle and every retelling invests itwith new problems. It is also unfortunate here that Lucy represents (oris a cipher for) traditional cultures, and in the end she dies. As faras metaphors go, it is disturbing. Factually, we do know the following:when Lucy arrived at Carlisle, her father's name was Pretty Eagle, hername was "Takes the Tail." She was 10 years old at the point of her arrivalin November of 1883. She died on March 9th 1884. Her obituary which appearsin March 1884 (thus confirming her date of death) reads "Died, at our school,on the 9th inst. Lucy Pretty Eagle, a Rosebud Sioux. She came to use aboutfour months ago, and was not in health then. Her father having heard shewas sick, wrote to us that he was very much concerned about her because'she had died the year before, but had come to life again'." Chances arethat Lucy was epileptic, and had had a fit in 1882. I think it is extremelyunlikely that such a young girl would have been told about traditionaland spiritual practices. Furthermore those trance-states that people fallinto on the prairies are not a form of suspended animation, more heightenedawareness of the world around them. Vision questing, sweat lodges and sun-dancingdo not result in death-like trances, but rather profound hallucinations.A doctor, even a bad one, would have been able to tell the different betweena young girl in an altered state (a fit, a hallucination, or a comma) andone that was dead. Carlisle was in no hurry to increase its mortality rateby burying live children. I know it is a romantic story, but it is alsoreally unlikely. Her ghost haunting the campus is another matter altogether,as are the violets that still appear on her tombstone, albeit plastic ones.
There is something about the tone of this diary that Ifind troubling. I think the author here needs to particularly careful aboutthe nature of these initial encounters between white and native americanindividuals and cultures. I was especially struck by the comments [p4,December 13] that Miss Campbell smelt good. This strikes me as unlikelyon several levels. Firstly, americans of this time were not know for thefabulous hygiene (bathing more than once a week was considered vergingon compulsive). Secondly and more importantly, Miss Campbell would havesmelt strange and unfamiliar to Nannie and not necessarily good. "Good"implies so many things, and in this instance, it firmly locates the authoras white, not Native American. Likewise, the remarks about Little BigHornare troubling, as are the comments about polygyny (having several womenmarried to your father would not have been the troubling thing it is describedas here, it was a common cultural practice that did not have moral implications).And Spotted Tail is seen here a the penultimate bad-guy for wanting totake his own children home! Carlisle was not the "only change for a future"these kids had.
At some points the diary reads almost as an apology forassimilation, as though being at Carlisle, while painful and unpleasant,was ultimately a good thing. I am not sure that this is the tone that AnnRinaldi wants to strike, nor am I certain it is the experience of mostCarlisle students. This sense of Carlisle is reinforced in the Author'snote which I think probably needs some more work and better structure.Carlisle was a federal project, it was part of the federal agenda to assimilateIndians into American culture. This was a project and an agenda that manyNative Americans actively resisted at the time and remain highly criticalof today. I think perhaps your author's note needs to acknowledge thatAnn Rinaldi is not Native American, and that there were many differentways to be at Carlisle of which Nannie's is just one. Many students didnot want to be school teachers, they did not want to be pilgrims, theydid not want to be in school. They wanted to be in their homes, in theircommunities, with their families. And many of their descendants are veryangry about the ways that parents and grandparents were denied their ownculture. Most Native Americans would not like to see their ancestors' experienceswritten about this way. Carlisle, and schools like it, are now viewed asbeing destructive both at an individual and community level. Certainlythere were things about Carlisle that were fun (roller skates in the 1890s,skating on the ponds, seeing the ocean, meeting new people, etc), and thingsthat were instructive (literacy, and vocational skills). However, the consensusis that this was not a good place and that the best we can do about itnow is celebrate the students who survived with their cultural identityintact and mourn those who did not. I am not sure that this diary doeseither of those things.
If you would like any further elaboration of any of theseissues, or those that I raised throughout the manuscript itself, I wouldbe more than happy to help. I would also be grateful if you would sendme a copy of the finished work."
I federal expressed my comments and the manuscript backto Scholastic from Albuquerque, and returned to Stanford to teach out thesummer session. I had a brief conversation with Melissa Jenkins about thecorrect way to identify me in the acknowledgements, I received a check,and that was the end of it. I did not hear from Ann Rinaldi about my commentson the manuscript, nor did Scholastic seek any further elaboration or clarificationor assistance.
I am sorry to say that I really didn't give this bookthat much more thought until this last month when I was contacted by DebbeiReese and Beverly Slapin asking me about my role in its publication. Lastnight, I bought a copy of My Heart is on the Ground (the publishers neversent me one) and read the published version against my annotated manuscript.Rinaldi made some of the changes I suggested. Missus Camp Bell no longersmells 'good', now she smells like the 'prairie' [pg 13]. The remark onJanuary 1st that Nannie's father looks silly in his chief's garments isgone. Nannie's sacred tobacco pouches are now secretly hidden away so asto get around the issue of Carlisle confiscating all traditional items.
But all the macro-level problems remain unchanged - namesare taken from the cemetery for Nannie's playmates, the dates and tribal/nationaldesignations are inaccurate, sometimes just plain wrong. The story of LucyPretty Eagle runs through the book in the most alarming of ways. It isa terrible metaphor for assimilation - the most traditional of childrenin this book die, or are severely punished and change their ways. Indeedthe tenor of the whole diary remains an apology for assimilation.
It is true that much of what happened at Carlisle happenedin the name of the federal policy of assimilation. However, there was moreto assimilation than Richard Henry Pratt and more to Pratt than just assimilation,and more to Carlisle and its students than both. The Carlisle Indian Schoolhas a remarkable status as an icon in American culture. It stands in asshorthand for 40 years of federal/Indian relations. And, despite yearsof indigenous people saying something different, this picture and thisstatus remains unchanged and uncomplicated. Rinaldi's work does nothingto help us understand the nuanced ways that Carlisle impacted indigenouspeoples and their communities. I can only repeat what I wrote in July of1998: "the consensus is that this [Carlisle] was not a good place and thatthe best we can do about it now is celebrate the students who survivedwith their cultural identity intact and mourn those who did not. I am notsure that this diary does either of those things."
I find myself in a difficult space to negotiate. I completelysympathize with the critical review of Rinaldi's work that has proliferatedboth on the Internet and off it. There is much in the book that is offensive,and I did say so to Scholastic. Indeed, there is much more in this bookthat is offensive that I missed, which is why I urged Melissa Jenkins toget a Lakota person to read it. She knew that I was not Native American.However, I also contracted with Scholastic to fact-check the manuscriptand thought it only appropriate that my name by attached to that act. Again,I can only reflect on the naiveté that made me think that my commentswould be taken seriously enough to change the course of the publication.I am deeply sorry that they did not. And I apologize for the offense thatI have given, however, inadvertently.
On the very last page of My heart is on the Ground, itnotes that "While the events described and some of the characters in thisbook may be based on actual historical events and real people, Nannie LittleRose is a fictional character, created by the author, and her diary isa work of fiction." Until the facts have been published and the historicalevents made widely known, there is no room for fiction when it comes tothe Carlisle Indian School, or to the places like it. As a scholar, I havea responsibility to get the facts right. As a person, I have a responsibilityto see that those facts are reported with dignity and care. For both ofthese reasons, I want to put my voice and my words together with thoseof Marlene Atleo (Nuu-chah-nulth), Naomi Caldwell (Rampapough), BarbaraLandis, Jean Mendoza, Deborah Miranda (Ohlone-Coastanoan Esslen/Chumash),Debbie Reese (Nambe), LaVera Rose (Lakota), Beverly Slapin, Doris Seale(Santee/Cree) and Cynthia Smith (Creek).
Grave of Lucy Pretty Eagle, Indian Cemetery,Carlisle PA, May 1999