Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Review of "An Indian Woman of Many Hats"

The article "An Indian Woman of Many Hats" by Christina Stanciu, has a slow start outlining the background of Laura Cornelius Kellogg, an Oneida writer, thinker and activist.  Cornelius Kellogg was a founding member of the Society of American Indians who worked to share her idea about how to make a better future for indigenous peoples starting at the turn of last century.  As the article  moves on from the background sections it gets more interesting. 

Image result for Laura Cornelius KelloggCornelius Kellogg was known as an "Indian princess" and "Indian Joan of Arc" by the media.  She also traveled extensively through Europe and thought seriously about how to find a way through colonization.  It is amazing to think of this woman pushing forward at a time when women did not yet have the vote, facing racism and the damage to her culture.  There is a kind of hope that comes through her actions.  This was before the entrenchment of the policy of disappearance and the introduction of residential schools and she was putting forward an alternative vision.  How different the last 100 years if people had been listening.

Cornelius Kellogg asked to be presented to the British court and was denied, called out Buffalo Bill on his stereotyped performances of Indian people and wrote a novel about the lives of her people before Columbus came.  She fought for implementation of her idea of industrialized Indian villages where people would own lands, work as they could and receive as they needed.  She wanted to introduce a modern economic system for indigenous peoples where the value of the people was the most important thing.  She envisioned an economy where the Indian could labor to his best advantage and where, "Tribal economies ... were no longer static, isolated in remote parts of the country, but active players in modernity's new industrial demands."  She did not want to copy the capitalist modern vision, but rather to interpret these ideas while maintaining indigenous ways of being and values.  She noted that this could even be a model to teach the white man.

Cornelius Kellogg was proud of being an Indian and commented often in the media about the harm that had been done to indigenous peoples.  While she wanted to be a writer she decided that actions were going to be more important than words and she would defer her writing until things were better for her people.

She appears to have been a clever rhetorician, in her rebuttal speech to the official speech at the unveiling of the Black Hawk statue she wrote, "...the race is not here to-day.  The race is not here to rejoice with me for this great moment..." (the race being Indians) and continued her speech by challenging the trope of the vanishing Indian, noting that, " it is to the mind of the artist we must turn to for justice to the American Indian..." noting that the statue was turned towards the East, from where the Indians had been driven from their home.  In closing she highlighted that while the statue might be mute, she hoped that it might nevertheless be an instructive piece of history rather than something only passively admired.

Cornelius Kellogg refused the label as a "new Indian" given to her by the media, as she saw this as part of the rhetoric of the vanishing Indian, instead describing herself, "...I'm not the new Indian, I'm the old Indian adjusted to new conditions."  The descriptions of her work and thoughts helped me to better contextualize some family stories.  My great uncle was accepted to Oxford and I always wondered how that would be for a man from rural Alberta, at the "edge of civilization", but though they were farmers they were not uneducated, but were Metis people trying to find a healthy and sustainable blending of the older and newer worlds.  This uncle decided against more schooling as he too felt it was more important to take action.

Cornelius Kellogg also worked on education reform, and spoke about the need for balance, to learn from the white man, but with a self respect which maintained and utilized the strengths of the indigenous peoples in areas such as, "..profound thought, literary merit and logic."  She appeared before the League of Nations in 1919 calling attention to the ongoing oppression of the indigenous peoples in contrast to the efforts that were occurring to help others oppressed under European regimes. 

She also worked towards women's suffrage and, I loved this line, "Besides her oratorical skills, she used her social capital and calculated fashion statements to attract public attention, so she could be heard speaking about her life's work: her plan of Indian self-government and sovereignty."    So over a hundred years ago, you had an indigenous woman who was managing her media image in order to share her message.  It is pretty humbling really. But also an inspiration, to get writing, to share our ideas, to be proud about who we are and maybe get some fabulous hats.

No comments:

Post a Comment