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  • “[W]orthy the imitation of the whites”: Sarah Winnemucca and Mary Peabody Mann’s Collaboration
  • Heidi M. Hanrahan (bio)

At first glance, Mary Peabody Mann’s Juanita: A Romance of Real Life in Cuba Fifty Years Ago (1887) shares little in common with Sarah Winnemucca’s Life among the Piutes: Their Wrongs and Claims (1883). The first work is a novel set in Cuba, featuring a New England heroine who observes both the horrors of slavery and a doomed romance between the beautiful title character and a wealthy planter’s son. In many ways, it is a sort of Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852), relocated to a more tropical environment and published about thirty years too late to make much of a splash.1 The second work is the increasingly well-known autobiography of the Northern Paiute leader who served as interpreter between some American Indians and the encroaching and duplicitous government.2 Hailed by critics today as the remarkable achievement of a female cultural broker, Winnemucca’s text has found a place of prominence in the growing Native American canon. There is, though, a clear connection between these two very different books: their authors. Mann served as editor of Winnemucca’s text, writing a preface, providing footnotes, assembling an enormous appendix of testimonials, and attaching a petition. Moreover, Winnemucca influenced Juanita, a text Mann only completed after her collaboration on Life among the Piutes.

Winnemucca and Mann’s relationship surpasses that of editor and writer. In fact, their relationship was a model of productive, mutually beneficial, and mutually enriching collaboration between writers of different ethnicities. Just as Winnemucca and Mann both consciously shape Life among the Piutes to make its author and the Northern Paiute cause acceptable and important to white readers, so too does Winnemucca influence Mann’s worldview, stretching over to Juanita, where Mann echoes Life’s ethnographic scope and Winnemucca’s belief that white society has much to learn from oppressed peoples.3 Finally, in their shared call for female leadership of reform movements, both writers invite their women readers to join the causes of equality and justice. While each writer had previously invoked ideas of such female-centered reform, it is only through their collaboration that they are able to imagine more fully those leaders stepping forward. In other words, each woman benefits from what the other brings to the collaboration, including an appreciative understanding of ethnic differences, and together they create something that would not have existed had they acted alone. There is a long history of critical commentary on relationships between Native authors and white editors, including [End Page 119] Winnemucca and Mann, yet often these assessments take the form of debates over just how much the Native writer loses, gives up, or sells out, or how she manages to subversively resist white expectations.4 While such discussions are useful illustrations of the risks and challenges of multicultural collaboration, my analysis focuses on the potential benefits to both partners in such relationships. Although Winnemucca and Mann’s collaboration was not without tension or challenges, ultimately, their relationship emerges as one of mutual influence, construction, and cooperation, and provides readers with a more complicated understanding of the dynamic, dialogic interactions between Native American authors and their white editors.

“My reputation has been assailed”: What Mann Brings to Winnemucca

Before we can understand the connection between Juanita and Life among the Piutes, we must first understand what drew Winnemucca and Mann together—what each brought to their collaboration. Years before she met Mann, Winnemucca was writing and speaking to advance her people’s cause. Moreover, the United States government’s “Peace Policy,” formally begun in the Grant Administration, provided an opening, albeit problematic, for her voice. As Francis Paul Prucha explains, the policy implicitly acknowledged that previous government initiatives toward Native Americans had failed. The government’s new goal was deculturalization, a wiping out of Native cultures, though such initiatives were cloaked in the rhetoric of Christian charity, calling on Christian organizations to work with the government to civilize and educate Natives in white ways (481). In the face of such policy, writers such as Winnemucca made a calculated decision to fight against relocation and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1946-3170
Print ISSN
0163-755X
Pages
pp. 119-136
Launched on MUSE
2013-04-18
Open Access
No
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