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  • Not for Citation:Jane Johnston Schoolcraft's Synchronic Strategies
  • Bethany Schneider (bio)

Nyau nin de nain dumMay kow e yaun inAin dah nuk ki yaunWaus sa wa kom egAin dah nuk ki yaun

Ne dau nis ainse eNe gwis is ainse eIshe nau gun ug wauWaus sa wa kom eg

She gwau go sha weenBa sho waud e weNin zhe ka we yeaIshe ez hau jau yaunAin dah nuk ke yaun

Ain dah nuk ke yaunNin zhe ke we yeaIshe ke way aun eNyau ne gush kain dum

—Jane Johnston Schoolcraft (1839) [End Page 111]

"There Roved my Forefathers, in Liberty Free": Citation and Translation

In March of 1839, Jane Johnston Schoolcraft (Ojibwe) left her eleven-year-old daughter Janee and her nine-year-old son Johnston at boarding schools on the East Coast and returned to her home in Sault Ste. Marie, in Michigan's upper peninsula.1 She had not wanted to part from them, but her husband, Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, insisted. As Robert Dale Parker politely puts it in his new volume of Schoolcraft's poetry and prose, The Sound the Stars Make Rushing through the Sky, "she deferred to his judgment."2 Upon leaving the children, Schoolcraft wrote a short poem in Ojibwe. Nine years after her death in 1842, the poem was published in her husband's Personal Memoirs of a Residence of Thirty Years with the Indian Tribes on the American Frontiers. Henry titled the poem "On leaving my children John and Jane at School, in the Atlantic States, and preparing to return to the interior," printed it in the original Ojibwe, and then provided his own "free translation." Looking at the Ojibwe, printed here on the previous page, even the nonspeaker notices the concision and structure of repetition—the poem is four stanzas long, the first and third stanzas having five lines, and the second and fourth stanzas having four lines. Each line of the poem is five words long. The line "Ain dah nuk ke yaun" repeats four times, the word "yaun" six. Henry Rowe Schoolcraft's version, by contrast, is six stanzas long, each stanza having six lines of eleven syllables and an AA BB CC rhyme scheme. Although these structural details hint that the two poems are actually very different, readers who cannot speak Ojibwe have had to rely for 154 years on Henry's rendering.

Henry's "translation" is, in his terms, "free." Parker kindly suggests that Henry's "thought-provoking, expanded version probably draws on his interpretation of remarks he heard from Jane."3 More accurate still, perhaps, would be to call Henry's robustly free "translation" a citation. In scholarship, we cite—or move—the words of another into our own writing, in order to bolster our arguments. "Free" after his wife's death to speak in [End Page 112] her voice, Henry uses a strategy akin to scholarly practice: he is able to express grief over leaving his "sweet lovely daughter, and bonny boy dear" at school and cite Schoolcraft in a way that represents her acquiescing to his edict.

Translation and citation are related terms. Each entangles notions of movement and transport—to "cite" something is to "summon, call; arouse, excite."4 In Henry's poem, "freedom" is tied directly to movement—the meaning at the root of both translation and citation. "Freedom" allows Henry both to move Schoolcraft to dutiful agreement and to move Native American presence offstage. In stanza 3, he writes of Schoolcraft's attachment to her land: "One feeling more strongly still binds me to thee, / There roved my forefathers, in liberty free—." Schoolcraft's Indian ancestors are shown to be adrift, and this quality itself, rather than political sovereignty, signifies their freedom. The stanza goes on to remember the forefathers' wandering deeds, "ere Europe had cast o'er this country a gloom." Although European colonization here figures darkly, the stanza finishes with a more ambivalent invocation of whiteness: "Nor thought they that kingdoms more happy could be, / White lords of a land so resplendent and free."5 The stanza is otherwise about Indians, so why the...


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