- To Be Indian: The Life of Iroquois-Seneca Arthur Caswell Parker
Some readers may assume "Porter" signifies a kinship relationship to the Seneca Nation of Indians whose over 7,200 citizens today hold [End Page 120] title to three territories in the state of New York: the Allegheny, Cattaraugus, and Oil Springs reservations. Not so. The connection is theoretical and intercontinental, not familial and indigenous. Joy Porter identifies herself as "a scholar from the Northern Ireland . . . writing about an American Indian intellectual," Arthur Caswell Parker. "[T]here are connections between the larger cultural and political contexts surrounding my life and Parker's," she tells us. "[B]oth of us have a cross-cultural heritage" and "share a fascination with the process of mediation between one culture and another" (xv).
As a biography of Arthur Parker's life, To Be Indian offers a storehouse of information on one man's existence and his relationships with and contributions to certain people, some events, and devastating policies that subsequently have shaped government-to-government relationships between the United States and Indian nations. Readers both unfamiliar and familiar with Parker will find much to treasure and even more to regret (Parker, for instance, never was a lands-rights advocate for Indian nations; he was an intellectual among the academic establishment that has worked against efforts among Iroquois peoples to speak for themselves). Especially interesting and hopeful is Porter's treatment of Parker's publications and writings for children (227–239) that, she muses, were "a way Parker could positively connect all things Indian with American patriotism, with national vigor, and with the great outdoors" (228). Also intensely fascinating—and important—are Parker's attempts late in his life, in Porter's words, "to resacralize the area around his home as indelibly Seneca" (220). In To Be Indian, Parker's closest relatives will find a confidently glowing, sensitive portrayal of their father and grandfather, uncle and cousin. Arthur Parker's daughter Martha Anne, to whom Porter extended her deepest thanks and respect, no doubt is pleased with the results of sharing her father's personal papers with the scholar from Northern Ireland.
Porter's book largely follows a chronological path through Parker's life from 1881 to 1955. The opening chapter, entitled "Beginnings," labors to situate Parker in a standard narrative of "Iroquois" history to make the odd point that "the Parker family had been structural models of the kind of Indian assimilation sought by . . . the 1887 [End Page 121] General Allotment Act" (19). Chapters 2 through 4 are Porter's attempts to identify the origins of Parker's anthropology and museum work in his acceptance of eugenics—"a natural intellectual refuge for Parker" (29)—resistance to cultural theory advanced by Franz Boas, admiration for the conjecture of Lewis Henry Morgan, and in Ely Parker whom, according to Porter, Parker found "an inspiring model of the successful, educated Indian, respected by powerful and significant whites and Indians alike" (46). She also discusses the scathing critiques Parker's early anthropologically disciplined publications received from his peers and his early work in archaeology and in museum exhibitions, characterizing them both as attempts by Parker "to educate the wider public on the Indian's role within the American past" (68). In chapter 5, Porter mirrors Hazel Whitman Hertzberg's 1971 treatment of the Society of American Indians in her book The Search for an American Indian Identity three decades later with Parker once again still at the center of the story. She discusses his fascination with secret societies and freemasonry in chapter 6. In chapters 7 and 8, she further discusses Parker's museum career and what she calls his "achievements" during the 1930s through his retirement from the Rochester Museum and Science Center in 1946.
Unfortunately, as scholarship, To Be Indian is flawed. Editors and readers for the University of Oklahoma Press did not give Porter's dissertation the necessary attention prior to its premature publication as a book in 2001. Thus, readers now are left with a biography...