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The American Indian Quarterly 24.3 (2000) 456-475



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Speaking of Ella Deloria:
Conversations with Joyzelle Gingway Godfrey, 1998-2000, Lower Brule Community College, South Dakota

Susan Gardner

Joyzelle Godfrey (Teton/Yankton Dakota/Ottawa) is a professor of Lakota Studies at the Lower Brule reservation community college (an affiliate of Sinte Gleaska University on the Rosebud reservation in South Dakota). In the intricate Dakota web of extended kinship, Ms. Godfrey is a social granddaughter of Ella Deloria (1888-1971), the outstanding Yankton Sioux ethnographer and linguist whose only novel Waterlily was posthumously published by the University of Nebraska Press in 1988.

Ms. Godfrey, who lives on the Crow Creek reservation, has twice been a grant recipient at the Dakota Indian Foundation in Chamberlain SD, where a considerable body of Ella Deloria's known manuscripts (almost all unpublished) is housed. At present she is completing her preparation for publication of Ella Deloria's unpublished ethnographic manuscript Dakota Way of Life, referred to in the conversation below, as well as Speaking of Ella Deloria, which examines her grandmother's complex position within the academe that simultaneously enabled and exploited her. This explores three components of Deloria's ethnographic work: her responses to the writings of James R. Walker, his Lakota informant George Sword, and anthropologist H. Scudder Mekeel in the first third of the twentieth century. 1

Probably no one knows the Ella Deloria papers better than Godfrey does, as she was responsible for cataloguing and copying them (the originals, some in poor condition, are stored in a vault at the Norwest Bank in Chamberlain). Previously the papers had been held by the Ella Deloria Project at the University of South Dakota, Vermillion (where Ella Deloria worked as assistant director of the W. H. Over Museum during the last years of her life). After her death, her brother, the Reverend Vine Deloria Sr., granted custodianship of the papers to the Dakota Indian Foundation, a grant- and scholarship-funding agency. 2

I became interested in Ella Deloria's astonishing body of work from a nonlinguistic, non-ethnographic perspective in 1992, when attending Oglala Lakota College's Lakota Studies Summer Institute. 3 Waterlily was my airplane reading [End Page 456] en route to the Pine Ridge reservation. In August 1993, during a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH)/Newberry Library documentary seminar on Native American autobiography at the D'Arcy McNickle Center for the History of the American Indian, a comment by its convener Kate Shanley caught my attention: the Nebraska edition is known to be an abridged version of Deloria's original intentions. What would those intentions have been? What kinds of materials had been cut? Why?

Then, when my graduate students and I participated in an oral history project sponsored by the American Indian Heritage Council of Charlotte, North Carolina--interviewing Native Carolinian Indian elders in their seventies and eighties--I happened across a reference to a pageant that Ella Deloria had written and produced for the amalgamated tribe of remnant Indian peoples now known as the Lumbee Indians. Numbering nearly fifty thousand, they are the ninth-largest Indian tribe in the United States, as well as one of the most fascinating: although recognized by the state of North Carolina as Indians since 1885, they have unsuccessfully pursued full federal acknowledgement for over a century. Sponsored by the Farm Security Administration and the then Office of Indian Affairs, Miss Deloria and her sister Susan Mable Deloria lived with these Indians for six months in 1940. The pageant, "The Life Story of a People," was so successful that it excited applause from the federal and state governments; it was repeated in 1941.

But World War II turned the Indians' world upside down. Apart from a scrapbook of newspaper clippings, programs, and a few pages of stage directions, the pageant was lost for the next sixty years. After unsuccessfully searching for it from 1995-98 in Robeson County, North Carolina--the Lumbee homeland--I remembered the note on Deloria sources at the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-1828
Print ISSN
0095-182X
Pages
pp. 456-481
Launched on MUSE
2000-06-01
Open Access
No
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