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  • Refiguring Legacies of Personal and Cultural Dysfunction in Janet Campbell Hale's Bloodlines:Odyssey of a Native Daughter
  • Jordana Finnegan (bio)

Janet Campbell Hale's Bloodlines: Odyssey of a Native Daughter employs the motif of captivity to depict contemporary Native American experience in the American West. Hale's text challenges nineteenth-century American captivity narratives that portray "Indian capture of whites as a mindless, brutal, and savage act" (Namias 15). Bloodlines instead represents the brutal colonial domination of Native peoples and shows the multiple forms of "captivity" that entrap American Indians both physically and culturally in the post–World War II West. The memoir explores the process through which Native peoples internalize dominant assumptions of disappearance and defeat. Through "the telling and hearing of communal stories" (Weaver 45), Hale attains a deeper understanding of the legacies of dysfunction that shape the relationships connecting her "bloodlines."

The memoir retraces the "bloodlines" that link Janet Campbell Hale to her ancestry in order to come to terms with the legacy of racial ambivalence and internalized prejudice that haunts Hale's mixed-blood family. Hale was born in 1946 in Riverside, California, to Nicholas Campbell, a full-blood Coeur d'Alene Indian, and Margaret Sullivan, a Kootenai Indian with Irish and Chippewa ancestry. On her mother's side Hale recounts the history of her great-great-grandfather Dr. John McLoughlin, the officially proclaimed "Father of Oregon," and his daughter-in-law, Hale's Kootenai grandmother, Annie Grizzly. On her father's side Hale identifies with her Coeur d'Alene grandmother, Pauline, who was caught in the infamous Nez [End Page 68] Perce flight from the U.S. cavalry in 1877. As the only one of five siblings to be born off of the Coeur d'Alene reservation in northern Idaho, Hale's alienation from her tribal homeland is initiated at birth, although she discovers that patterns of exclusion extend far back along her bloodlines, beginning with the discrimination suffered by McLoughlin's mixed-blood descendants.

Bloodlines examines the personal and cultural struggles that plague mixed-blood Native Americans who are cut off from tribal land and traditions in the postwar, urban West. As an estranged member of the Coeur d'Alene tribe, Hale traces her family's history in an effort to recover ties to her people. Bloodlines contains eight autobiographical essays, each of which focuses on the different branches of Hale's bloodlines that shape her sense of identity. These essays depict her father's first wife's struggle with gender oppression; Hale's own harrowing upbringing with an abusive mother and her later struggles as a single mother on welfare; and the cultural prejudice endured by all members of Hale's family, including those (like her mother's relatives) who consciously reject their Indian heritage. These meditations on family history culminate in Hale's eventual return to the Coeur d'Alene reservation with her daughter in the concluding essay, "Dust to Dust."

Like Hale's earlier works of fiction, The Owl's Song and the Pulitzer Prize–nominated The Jailing of Cecelia Capture, Bloodlines earned generally favorable reviews and received the American Book Award. While Bloodlines reflects the tendency in much of Hale's work to express "Native American thoughts and concerns . . . in thoroughly Euro-American forms" (F. Hale, Janet Campbell Hale 17), its autobiographical focus marks a significant departure from Hale's earlier fiction. In light of these autobiographical concerns, Bloodlines emphasizes the ways in which Hale's individual identity remains "broken-off" from her people (Bloodlines xxxiii). This approach remains foreign to Native American personal narratives such as Leslie Marmon Silko's Storyteller and Simon J. Ortiz's Fight Back: For the Sake of the People, For the Sake of the Land, since autobiography "is not an indigenous form of literature for American Indian peoples" (Sands, "Indian Women's Personal Narrative" 270).1 Hale [End Page 69] writes in the tradition of autobiographical individualism in order to emphasize the loneliness of her childhood and its alienating effects on her adult life. At the same time, the text challenges conventional autobiographical notions of unique and autonomous selfhood by locating Hale's individual identity within a collective context. Hale thereby laments and...


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pp. 68-86
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