Individuality Incorporated: Indians and the Multicultural Modern

Individuality Incorporated: Indians and the Multicultural Modern

by Joel Pfister

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Spanning the 1870s to the present, Individuality Incorporated demonstrates how crucial a knowledge of Native American-White history is to rethinking key issues in American studies, cultural studies, and the history of subjectivity. Joel Pfister proposes an ingenious critical and historical reinterpretation of constructions of “Indians” and…  See more details below


Spanning the 1870s to the present, Individuality Incorporated demonstrates how crucial a knowledge of Native American-White history is to rethinking key issues in American studies, cultural studies, and the history of subjectivity. Joel Pfister proposes an ingenious critical and historical reinterpretation of constructions of “Indians” and “individuals.” Native Americans have long contemplated the irony that the government used its schools to coerce children from diverse tribes to view themselves first as “Indians”—encoded as the evolutionary problem—and then as “individuals”—defined as the civilized industrial solution. As Luther Standing Bear, Charles Eastman, and Black Elk attest, tribal cultures had their own complex ways of imagining, enhancing, motivating, and performing the self that did not conform to federal blueprints labeled “individuality.” Enlarging the scope of this history of “individuality,” Pfister elaborates the implications of state, corporate, and aesthetic experiments that moved beyond the tactics of an older melting pot hegemony to impose a modern protomulticultural rule on Natives. The argument focuses on the famous Carlisle Indian School; assimilationist novels; Native literature and cultural critique from Zitkala-Sa to Leslie Marmon Silko; Taos and Santa Fe bohemians (Mabel Dodge Luhan, D. H. Lawrence, Mary Austin); multicultural modernisms (Fred Kabotie, Oliver La Farge, John Sloan, D’Arcy McNickle); the Southwestern tourism industry’s development of corporate multiculturalism; the diversity management schemes that John Collier implemented as head of the Indian New Deal; and early formulations of ethnic studies. Pfister’s unique analysis moves from Gilded Age incorporations of individuality to postmodern incorporations of multicultural reworkings of individuality to unpack what is at stake in producing subjectivity in World America.

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Editorial Reviews

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Individuality Incorporated is a real contribution to American cultural studies. Its reexaminations of the Carlisle School, John Collier, and the Taos bohemians produce a detailed picture of the uses of ‘Indianizing.’ The book is of real service to discussions of race, assimilation, and individualism in the twentieth century.”—Tom Lutz, University of Iowa

“Joel Pfister’s book shows how Indians served as subjects for quite specific American ideological projects, in this case, projects involving different conceptions of the ‘individual.’ Pfister’s extensive archival research makes a significant contribution to our understanding of Richard Henry Pratt and the Carlisle Indian School and of John Collier and the Indian New Deal. He pays careful attention to such earlier Native writers and activists as Gertrude and Raymond Bonnin, Luther Standing Bear, and D’Arcy McNickle as well to contemporary Native writers like Leslie Marmon Silko, Jimmie Durham, and Sherman Alexie, among several others. This is a wide-ranging and important book.”—Arnold Krupat, Sarah Lawrence College

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Duke University Press
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New Americanists
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Individually Incorporated

Indians and the multicultural modem
By Joel Pfister

Duke University Press

ISBN: 0-8223-3292-2

Chapter One

Carlisle as Individualizing Factory: Making Indians, Individuals, Workers

[White invaders] were only men who could be killed with their own weapons. -James Welch (Blackfeet and Gros Ventre), Fools Crow, 1986

Word by word these men were disposing of him in language, their language. -N. Scott Momaday (Kiowa and Cherokee), House Made of Dawn, 1968

Every time I work my way up-say I'm next in line for promotion -they shaft me.... Stuck down at the bottom with the minnows.... the big fish eats the little fish and the little fish eats the littler fish. The one with the biggest mouth eats any damn old fish he wants. -Louise Erdrich (Chippewa), Love Medicine, 1984

Recently I had a casual conversation with a historian about Carlisle. If there is a common view of Carlisle, this historian probably expressed it in something like these censorious words: "It was a prison camp. Pratt's first experiments in Indian education took place in an actual prison camp at Fort Marion, St. Augustine, Florida. Carlisle was no different, except that the prisoners were children." I am sympathetic to this view. Linda Hogan's (Chickasaw) novel Mean Spirit (1990) features one character who had escaped from a Carlisle fully capable of breaking bones in its efforts to break and remakespirits: "At school, Calvin had been hung by his thumbs as punishment for 'insolence.' The result was that his skin and nerve had torn away from the bone. He lost the use of his thumbs." Not only did Native "emotions [run] so high" in the Carlisle era, as Berenice Levchuk (Navajo) observed in 1997, they frequently still do when Natives reflect on the scholastic imperialism that too often prevailed during that "phase of our Native American holocaust." From 1876 to 1878 Captain Richard Henry Pratt supervised the Fort Marion prison camp and it was indeed the testing ground for what many students called Carlisle Barracks.

Yet the camp quickly evolved into what was known as a "prison school" for the inmates. Pratt's "Florida boys" also became an attraction in Florida's burgeoning tourism and leisure industry-the prisoner-students often had the run of the town, gave boat rides to tourists, and made and sold paintings as well as bows and arrows and polished sea beans (shells). Robert Perkinson observes that two kinds of "Indian" performances drew tourists, visitors, and reformers to Fort Marion: wild "Indians" reenacting war dances, battles, and buffalo hunts (the before being "civilized" phase) as well as stagings of the "Indian" undergoing schooling, Christianizing, and army routinization (the after phase). These seemingly contradictory performances, Perkinson suggests, "relied on each other for their cultural and ideological meaning." Pratt, not unlike Buffalo Bill, made himself the focus of attention as the star of the show (wild Indian tamer). Thus even Fort Marion was more multifaceted-as an experiment in institutional domination, a school, a theater, a tourist site, a boot camp, a factory-than what can easily be classified as a prison camp.

Carlisle too was more complex and polyvalent than the historian's impression of it, which was based in part, this scholar acknowledged, on a PBS television documentary, In The White Man's Image (1993). There is much evidence that supports critiques of Carlisle's campaign to remake students in "the white man's image." Yet a good deal of evidence I will present suggests the limitations of such critiques.

Two images, worth keeping in mind as I range over the Carlisle material, exhibit aspects of this complexity. These images begin to demonstrate, as others will below, that the student experience of Pratt's Carlisle was multidimensional not only because of the backgrounds the students brought to the school, but because of the institution's own design. The first image is Mr. See All (figure 1), who appeared in the first issue of Carlisle's publication The Indian Boys' and Girls' Friend on July 31, 1885. Beneath the drawing is a description of him: "Mr. See All is old and not pretty, but when he looks through that glass, Oh! My! He can even look into the minds of people and tell what they are thinking about!" The drawing shows a tiny man, with furrowed brow, smiling, who replicates the stereotype of the Victorian schoolmaster. He is eagerly looking through a spyglass and standing on binoculars facing down. Another pair of binoculars, resembling cannons, is to his right.

This image can be read as confirming the historian's Carlisle stereotype-Mr. See All's mind-seeing abilities, ascribed to him in the description, make him seem downright nefarious. Was he concocted to frighten students and keep them in line? Yet Mr. See All has a toylike quality. His smile and the hyperbolic "Oh! My!" in the description convey an element of self-parody, a gamelike tone. The title of the publication, The Indian Boys' and Girls' Friend, printed directly above his image, may be taken as a caption that guides readers how to read Mr. See All: as minuscule, as somewhat ridiculous, maybe even as a friend. Mr. See All might in fact have provoked more student laughter than student anxiety about invigilation. In doing so Mr. See All may have drawn notice to the limits of the school's ability to survey its students' minds and hearts. Could this cartoon figure have been invented for this purpose? It is telling that he is a White man-made diminutive, odd, funny. Students who were being recast into "the white man's image" would have had to think about this playful White man's image and wonder whether White self-surveillance "individuality" always took itself so seriously.

My second image, from Pratt's collection, stages Indianness as a theatrical performance. The photograph shows two Native girls, probably Carlisle students, standing, attired not in Carlisle uniforms but in "Indian" costumes, waiting to be photographed (figure 2). They are smiling, especially the girl on the right, perhaps ironically, and are holding hands, presumably waiting for the photographer to place them in their pose. The photograph is self-reflexive-the "Indian" props are exposed as props, along with other props including a classical bust. Both girls are obviously modeling. In this instance the photographer chose not simply to photograph their marketable Indianness but rather to shoot their Indianness in the process of its being posed, staged, and framed as a commodity for consumers.

If Mr. See All may prompt one to reflect on how Carlisle produced "individuality," via instructors who knew that they never really saw it all, the photograph of the girls moves one to contemplate how Carlisle's occasional self-conscious staging of Indianness may have influenced students. Some students who were expected to enact an Indianness that helped Carlisle advertise its ostensibly transformative powers-especially in before-and-after photographs-may have responded by smiling ironically or even tolerantly between scenes. Both images suggest that some of the experiences, authorities, costumes, poses, and roles students encountered at Carlisle and its environs made them aware of and in some cases probably critical of the ways in which they were directed to perform "individual" and "Indian."

The writings produced by and linked to the Carlisle Industrial School for Indians (1879-1918) are of broad historical interest partly because they foreground key assumptions built into the ideological making of late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century Americans: the social production and organization of their emotions, incentives, fears, sense of purpose, and identity. Some Gilded Age Americans praised Americanization as a form of selfhood manufacturing. As one prominent theologian put it in the 1890s, American culture at large could be viewed as an innovative and praiseworthy experiment in the "manufacture of men and women." Others criticized this manufacture. Mark Twain, for example, satirized it in his dystopian novel A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889). Twain's cocksure yet earthy and often humorous Yankee, Hank Morgan, is a Hartford arms factory superintendent who, when knocked unconscious by a refractory worker, wakes up in King Arthur's Camelot. Morgan's mechanical know-how and Barnumesque flair for self-promotion get him appointed The Boss, the King's right-hand man. He soon defines his managerial goal as the Americanization of "savage" Britain-comparing the knights to Comanches. To pull this off, he establishes covert "civilisation factories" to teach boys technological skills, the work ethic, and the idea that the industrial and commercial transformation of everyday life into capitalism constitutes democratic progress and individual freedom.

Carlisle, in some ways a subtle, in other respects a crude institutional microcosm of the American experiment in manufacturing citizen-workers' self-perceptions, was characterized by its founder as a "civilization mill." As I indicated above, this mill branded the U.S. product it tried to manufacture-from the material of Native youth-individuals. The school's pedagogical rhetoric transformed nouns into verbs to explain its mission: to civilize, Americanize, citizenize, and individualize Indians. Carlisle's "individuals" were educated-and proletarianized-as skilled or semiskilled manual workers if they were male and skilled domestic laborers and future homemakers if they were female. As my analysis and narrative take shape, I will argue that the students' "manufacture," and their recorded resistance to and reencoding of this enterprise, makes visible an attempted cultural and governmental structuring of selfhood deemed essential to the production of a compliantly aspiring American working class. At the same time I will also suggest that the manufacturer or mill metaphor does not quite capture either what the students experienced with one another at Carlisle or what the school itself taught the students.

I will be drawing mainly on the many Carlisle school publications-newspapers, magazines, pamphlets-for my analysis. In Pratt's era (1879-1904) the school newspapers I have read are School News, Eadle Keatah Toh (which became The Morning Star), The Indian Boys' and Girls' Friend, The Indian Helper, The Red Man (the latter two merged as The Red Man and Helper). After Pratt was fired (1904-1918), the school's newspaper was The Arrow (retitled The Carlisle Arrow in 1908) and its more elaborately produced paperbound magazine was The Indian Craftsman (which soon readopted the older title, The Red Man). The two publications united in 1918 as The Carlisle Arrow and Red Man.

Sometimes it seems clear that the writing published was principally collected and edited by students. In the inaugural issue of School News, the first Carlisle newspaper, one finds the notice "Samuel Townsend, Editor. A Pawnee Indian boy." His initial editorial asserts: "We put everything in this paper that the Indian boys write for us. Not any white man's writing but the Indian boy's [sic] writing." Issues of The Morning Star also list student editorial boards. Many articles were written by students. Other publications do not list student editors, and many pieces-some indicate the author, some do not-are patently by either Pratt or his staff. Mr. See All edits The Indian Boys' and Girls' Friend. Often Carlisle newspapers reprinted articles from newspapers and magazines around the country or addresses made by congressmen or bureaucrats thought relevant to Carlisle or its ideologies. In the post-Pratt era every page of The Red Man magazine boasted that its articles were "by Red Men." This elaborately decorated magazine featured the writing of Native luminaries. But many were not by Red Men (for example, pieces by Bureau of Indian Affairs commissioners) and most were not written by students. The students, however, probably played a major role in creating the decorative artwork for the magazine's design. School publications-presumably considered evidence of Carlisle's success in Americanizing, individualizing, and citizenizing-were often distributed to Friends of Carlisle sympathizers, fund-raisers, and powerful authorities in the state and private sectors as well as to students and former students.

As I noted in the introduction, my work on Carlisle differs from that of other scholars in part because of the literary-critical attention I place on these publications as multifaceted ideological representations whose language, narratives, style, images, repetitions, tone, contradictions, and changes from 1879 to 1918 exhibit much about the school's aims and about the students' discursive agency. Most of the work published by students about Carlisle and related matters appears not in former students' autobiographies-which Michael Coleman, in particular, has shown to be immensely important-but in the voluminous school publications. 12 Material that the staff published and articles that were reprinted also provide significant evidence of the strategic flexibility of Carlisle's attempts to establish control. Overall, these publications suggest aspects of the multiple histories that made up "Carlisle."

Richard Henry Pratt (1840-1924) came from humble pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps beginnings. He was born in New York's Genesee Valley but at age six moved to Logansport, Indiana (Potawatomi country, before the tribe was exiled to Kansas a few years prior to Pratt's arrival). His formal schooling concluded when he was thirteen. Pratt's father, on the verge of striking it rich, was murdered in the California gold rush. Committed to helping support his newly widowed mother and three brothers, Pratt spent most of his teens as a printer's devil and then apprenticed as a tinsmith. Thus he had approximately the level of education that Carlisle made available to students who matriculated for about eight years and graduated.

When the Civil War erupted he enlisted in the Union army and was promoted to sergeant. Pratt realized that his best opportunity for career advancement was with the army (his retirement in 1903 entailed his automatic promotion from colonel to brigadier general). When that war ended, many more troops, including Pratt, were redeployed to serve in the intensifying Indian wars in the West. The military land-clearing forces spearheaded the gold rushes and land rushes of the 1860s and 1870s. In 1867 Pratt was commissioned second lieutenant in the Tenth Cavalry, a Black regiment comprised primarily of ex-slaves. Having demonstrated expertise in leading Native scouts often used in battles against Native resistance in the West, Pratt was promoted to first lieutenant. In 1875 he was given command of allegedly hostile Kiowa, Comanche, Cheyenne, and Arapahoe prisoners, who were transported by train from Oklahoma to Florida. Then for three years at Fort Marion Pratt experimented with how to "civilize" and "Americanize" his prisoners and, of crucial importance, how best to make them their own jailors.

The inmates not only took classes in subjects such as English, impressing the likes of Harriet Beecher Stowe, they created and sold "Indian" art and crafts, helped put out a fire in St. Augustine, and cleared fields for agriculture. They were so productive and cheap to hire that a U.S. senator from Florida attempted to introduce a bill in Congress that would limit their work for pay. One prisoner, uninterested in such new opportunities, was chained in solitary confinement for most of the time before he died. Several Kiowas tried to escape in 1876. Pratt made his apparent successes in Native education, self-incarceration, and worker training known to his supervisors. His dramatic move from control-through-coercion to administration-through-hegemony earned him a transfer to Hampton Normal and Industrial Institute, which, under the direction of General Samuel Chapman Armstrong, prepared Black students for "civilization." To whet Armstrong's appetite, Pratt informed him that his prisoner-students, some of whom were superb artists, had netted $5,000 from their art sales.


Excerpted from Individually Incorporated by Joel Pfister Excerpted by permission.
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