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  • "Yours in the Cause":Readers, Correspondents, and the Editorial Politics of Carlos Montezuma's Wassaja
  • Rochelle Raineri Zuck (bio)

"More Indian papers by the Indians the better. It shows the Indians are coming out to express themselves."

(Carlos Montezuma, "A-NI-SHI-NA-BWE E-NA-MI-AD," Wassaja, May 1918)

"I have learned from your little wonderful paper how to argue with people that does not believe in the immediate emancapation [sic] of our people."

(B. B. Olney to Carlos Montezuma, March 24, 1920)

As the editor of what was billed as a "little spicy monthly paper," Dr. Carlos Montezuma (Yavapai Apache) was no stranger to controversy.1 His pamphlet Wassaja: Freedom's Signal for the Indians, published from 1916 until 1922, contained strident critiques of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (hereafter BIA) and its agents, the U.S. government, and other organizations and periodicals with whom Montezuma disagreed on issues related to American Indian people. Montezuma's biting critiques earned him the reputation of being "combative" and difficult to work with. His work provoked strong responses from fellow editors, correspondents and friends, the BIA, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Controversy still haunts Montezuma more than eighty years after his death, but it is his assimilationist ideologies that challenge modern scholars.2 A member of what scholars have called the "Red Progressives," he argued that American Indians should abandon their tribal connections, fight for American citizenship, and work to blend into Anglo-American society. In a statement that echoed Richard Henry Pratt's mantra of "kill the Indian and save the man," Montezuma claimed that "civilization ought to develop the good qualities in the Indian and make the Indian better; but not exactly make him a better Indian, for he is 'Injun' enough."3 Statements such as this frustrate contemporary readers, who struggle to reconcile Montezuma the assimilationist with Montezuma the Indian rights activist and who find his particular brand of activism at odds with today's emphasis on tribal sovereignty. [End Page 72]

But politics alone does not account for why Montezuma has received less critical attention than other American Indian writers and fellow "Red Progressives" such as Charles Eastman and Zitkala Ša. On a practical level, scholars and students who wish to read Montezuma's work must struggle with limited access to primary sources and with the sheer volume of Montezuma's writings. There is no modern edition of his works, and at least four different institutions have significant manuscript holdings—the University of Arizona, Arizona State University, the Newberry Library, and the State Historical Society of Wisconsin.4 But reading the materials requires more than just obtaining copies; it requires a critical practice that allows the materials to tell their own story. Calls for new ways of reading texts produced by Indigenous people have generated a wealth of approaches from scholars such as Gerald Vizenor (Anishinaabe), Robert Allen Warrior (Osage), Paula Gunn Allen (Laguna Pueblo/Sioux), Craig Womack (Creek/Cherokee), Elizabeth Cook-Lynn (Crow Creek Sioux), Arnold Krupat, and LeAnne Howe (Coctaw) (to name just a few).5 Womack and others have championed tribally-specific approaches to the field of Indigenous studies and have offered particularly fruitful ways of reading fiction and poetry. Indeed, as Robert Allen Warrior noted in The People and the Word: Reading Native Nonfiction, "contemporary fiction and poetry receive the lion's share of scholarly attention in studies of Native literatures."6

American Indian journalism, particularly that produced before the 1960s, remains a problematic and understudied genre.7 With the exception of Elias Boudinot and the Cherokee Phoenix, many American Indian editors and papers have become lost to history. Publications produced by government boarding schools and missionary organizations often included the work of Native printers and writers. However, in such papers, Native efforts were mediated by white editors, teachers, and government officials, which raises questions about whether such texts offer an "authentic" Native voice and, by extension, if they are valuable objects of scholarly inquiry for those studying American Indian literatures. All too often, discussions of journalism and other non-fictional works by Native people rehearse familiar binaries of true/false, authentic/ inauthentic, and resistant/complicit, without considering the rhetorical situations...


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