Wynema: A Child of the Forest

The illusion itself is a reasonable encapsulation of our fascination with Native Americans. And the unfortunate bigoted bullying that compels our childish attention to the sewer to and from which so much is presently flowing does also provide an opportunity to remind.
Despite even the earliest Experience of William Apess (1829) to reject the stereotyping of Indians, our wider ambivalence about native identity in the face of slaughter, genocide and Christianity (I know) has left most Americans on the wrong side of a deep divide. We need to learn so much more than our cartoon histories allow. So let’s do.

Creek writer Sophia Alice Callahan wrote the first novel written by a woman Native American called Wynema: A Child of the
Forest, which was published in 1891. The novel stresses how a white girl’s progressive adoption of an
identifiably Native American perspective enhances her relationship with a Native American girl named

By ensuring mutual comprehension and respect and, on a larger level, promoting intercultural
bonds they break down the barriers that their own cultures had enveloped them with. As the story
progresses, both the white girl named Genevieve and Wynema learn more about one another’s cultural
customs, and this cross-cultural appreciation fortifies their loving relationship.
While Wynema starts out as Genevieve’s student, she soon becomes her friend and her sister, which the novel suggests evolves not
simply with the passing of time but rather from Genevieve’s increasing understanding of and respect for Muscogee people. As
Genevieve becomes more assimilated into Muscogee life, she refers to Wynema specifically as “a friend” rather than as a pupil or
protege. Moreover, Genevieve’s acceptance of Wynema and Robin’s marriage and, thus, of Wynema as a sister coincides with a
profound shift in the way that Genevieve refers to the Muscogee. Whereas she once referred to them with the objectifying label of “this
people” (emphasis added), by the end of the story she tenderly deems them “my people” (emphasis added). The novel further
highlights that the Muscogee are “her people,” a sign of her acculturation, when they welcome her back after her return from a trip to
her mother’s home with all of the unbridled enthusiasm and “warmth” afforded to any member of the tribe, including Wynema.

Other Native American writers are listed at the link. A wonderful contemporary Native Canadian writer, Joseph Boyden, is the author of an amazing novel about World War I, Three Day Road.
Familiarize yourself. Don’t let a stupid bully hung up on a childish reference be the stand-in for anything in your consciousness. Reject the caricature, if not on behalf of its target than in solidarity with its origin.

Image of Sophia Alice Callahan via wikipedia.


There are at least a couple of things to which we might accede:

Through the twin slow-motion catastrophes of resource depletion and environmental degradation, human activity will be forced into a different scale than our post-industrial age trajectory has otherwise led us to infer.

General recognition of a need, if not regard, for a lessened carbon footprint is growing. We increasingly recognize the wisdom of native populations, for example, in being proper, long-term stewards of the earth, as opposed to our standard operating procedures. The extents to which we create fetish and fashion from some of native practices, as absurd as they may seem, often represent the initial entree some of these practices have into a society which made them obsolete. Micro-biotic is just a fancy name for eating locally, par ex.

The tragi-comedy kicks in as we try to imagine moving toward reconciling these realities, but on our terms. We want to ‘go green’ and live more sustainably, but we still want all of our stuff. The heavy contradiction here is re-enforced as some of our stuff begins to disappear as a simple consequence of the above conditions.

Not that any of it will magically be taken away. It’s painfully slow, just as absolutely everything was, from our perspective, up until about 100 years ago. The whole concept of slow is a modern artifact itself; even more, the modifier adding duress to it. But, we begin to let a few things go away here and there as we move back into the greater slip-stream of biotic activity on earth.

Sigmund Freud often remarked that great revolutions in the history of science have but one common, and ironic, feature: they knock human arrogance off one pedestal after another of our previous conviction about our own self-importance. In Freud’s three examples, Copernicus moved our home from center to periphery, Darwin then relegated us to “descent from an animal world”; and, finally (in one of the least modest statements of intellectual history), Freud himself discovered the unconscious and exploded the myth of a fully rational mind. In this wise and crucial sense, the Darwinian revolution remains woefully incomplete because, even though thinking humanity accepts the fact of evolution, most of us are still unwilling to abandon the comforting view that evolution means (or at least embodies a central principle of) progress defined to render the appearance of something like human consciousness either virtually inevitable or at least predictable. The pedestal is not smashed until we abandon progress or complexification as a central principle and come to entertain the strong possibility that H. sapiens is but a tiny, late-arising twig on life’s enormously arborescent bush – a small bud that would almost surely not appear a second time if we could replant the bush from seed and let it grow again.

The current availability of information is such that we seem to get what we can from a little news here and there and hope for the best. It’s quite a place to find ourselves – so surrounded by means and so trapped by their implications. We see these things happening in the world, but we continue on with much the same map that brought us here, altering our route slowly, because our terms dictate what we can and cannot live without, as such. Is optimism knowing just enough to keep the jury out indefinitely? Abstract issues like energy and pollution bear down on us in some ways, but with a little information, we can trust that someone somewhere is doing something about it – that, as this one runs out, technology might deliver us to the next free energy plateau that will permit our thriving to continue. The missing part of the picture, obscured perhaps by the massive amounts by which we make inferences about the smallest things, is the scale down. Living differently in ways that we require less will conjure all sorts of changes and many of them will be very positive.

I’m trying to fight the tendency to offer a summation on these points, but how does something end and continue on at the same time? In other words, this is our post-industrial age trajectory.