Color Me Red: Communicating Indigenous Cultural (In)Visibility In Children's Literature 1682 To 1824
Adare-Tasiwoopa ápi, Sierra Sterling
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In addition to being designed to entertain, children's literature educates by exposing young people to diverse cultures and experiences. Dating back to the 1600s, American children's literature also promotes Eurowestern worldviews and societal norms, while sanitizing or erasing "Other." This is especially evident in depictions of Indigenous peoples and cultures. Historically, children's stories with Indigenous themes most often promote a mythical America in which a unified colonizer identity renders the reality of Indigeneity invisible. In this instance, the term invisible refers to the ways in which authors, illustrators, and publishers of materials between the 1682 and 1824 that juveniles read sanitize or eliminate Indigenous peoples' cultural realities and/or contributions to history and/or the then contemporary lives of real Indigenous peoples by deleting, ignoring, or negating information and/or representations that might diminish or contradict the American master narrative or Eurowestern cultural norms. This study provides background for and insight into such erasures. With this in mind, the study situates North American Indigeneity within an intersectional framework of American colonialism and transnational influences, centering on Indigenous peoples, cultures, and traditional knowledge's convergence with or divergence from settler ideology, history, and imagination in literature ostensibly for children. Famed collector of rare and early American children's books Abraham Simon Wolf Rosenbach contends that children's books serve as mirrors of the attitudes, ideas, beliefs, and philosophies of the authors, illustrators, and publishers who generated the books, making juvenile literature the perfect window into the history and culture of the nation that created it. Without a doubt, on the surface, literature remains a prevailing way to access history, and children's literature provides a cultural barometer for society. Nonetheless, when it comes to Indigenous themed stories, America's first and continuously popular genre, the "Indian" captivity narrative, with sensational plotlines and heavy-handed morals flowing hand-in-hand with righteous rationalizations for invading Indigenous peoples' sovereign lands and the stories' tawdry adventurism that de-evolve into outright anti-"Indian" propaganda manifest themselves throughout thirty generations of American youths. Much of the research on colonization reduces Indigenous peoples to the status of two-dimensional facilitators of or impediments to Manifest Destiny. In order to examine this early children's literature, several theories and methods were considered, including Critical Race Theory (CRT), the Peoplehood Matrix, TribalCrit, and visual social semiotics. By blending these with Said's close reading against the grain, it illuminates hidden agendas, however, this combination still poses gaps in the examination of the literature. Therefore, these theories and methods were extended and developed into the Critical Hubble Focus. Through its four tenets—Camouflaging Indigenous Reality, Eurowestern Universal Truth, Problematic Eurowestern Decolonizing Paradigms, and Indigenous Praxis—they allow the conjoining of elements of Indigenous storytelling with theoretical perspectives to bring to light the lived lives of Indigenous people who elected to take on the role and responsibilities entailed in becoming cultural bridges between Indigenous communities and Eurowesterners in order that Indigenous peoples, cultures, and histories might survive and make visible the impact these cultural bridges had and continue to have in the American imagination. Ironically, scholars and historians consider Eurowestern men, women, and/or children who assimilate to a greater or lesser extent into Indigenous societies, such as Daniel Boone, Mary Jemison, or Eunice Williams to be transculturated, however, this state of transculturization only applies to whites adopting Indigenous ways. This term does not apply to Indigenous people who adapt or appear to adapt to Eurowestern cultural norms. Historians and scholars tend to see this as assimilation, which Eurowesterners assume is the goal/desire of all societies that they deem to be primitive, uncivilized, or inferior. With this notion of assimilation comes the expectation of erasing all traces of the "savage" in the assimilated individual. In other words, "kill the Indian" to "save the man." Ultimately, this study argues that "Indian" stereotypes arise out of international appeal and political purpose and that Indigenous peoples did and can take agency over such typecasting in order to educate and incite change, in other words creating cultural turns within settler, as well as Indigenous, societies in order to fuel social justice.