- Changing Is Not Vanishing: A Collection of American Indian Poetry to 1930
Just as long as there is a drop of human blood in America, the Indians will not vanish. . . .
The Indian race vanishing? No, never! The race will live on and prosper forever.“Changing Is Not Vanishing” by Carlos Montezuma (1916)
As Native scholars, we tend to agree that literature has a critical role to play in the struggle for sovereignty, decolonization, and the reestablishment of indigenous values, but we continue to wrestle with questions regarding how such literature should be defined, produced, or interpreted. Indeed, as Daniel Heath Justice observed in a recent AIQ special issue on the state of Native American studies:
Much has been made of the supposed conflict between the broadly conceived “nationalist” and “cosmopolitanist” schools of Native literary criticism. While the resulting commentaries regarding these two schools and their presumed incommensurability have at times been quite heated, they have also been rigorous and necessary, engaging important questions of literary, historical, social, political, and increasingly moral concern.1 [End Page 382]
Slipping quietly into this ongoing critical debate is a beautiful and valuable volume of poetry collected and edited by Robert Dale Parker that recovers important literary artifacts and provides scholars with yet another opportunity to rethink our understanding of the scope and breadth of both Native and American literatures. Perhaps even more notable, this useful collection presents vital questions of historical, social, and political, if not moral, import by specifically focusing our attention on textual production as an assertion of agency, resistance, and survivance—all concepts that remain at the forefront of Native American studies more generally.
Working carefully with archives collected from small-circulation newspapers and magazines, early manuscripts, pamphlets, overlooked rare books, and scrapbooks, the collection assembled by Parker features texts produced by more than 140 Native American poets writing before 1930. Parker includes holdings from the Native American Press Archives at the Sequoyah Research Center, an extensive and often overlooked scholarly resource. His work directly challenges the erroneous and generally prevailing view that Native American or American Indian literature began as a mid-twentieth-century phenomenon, a dangerous trend in Parker’s view that leads to classroom selections derived solely from contemporary works and may reinforce the perception that Native populations are marginally, and only recently, literate. Arranged in chronological sequence, these assembled works bear witness to the wealth of writing by Native Americans, particularly poetry, which forms a significant part of the cultural and literary history of postcontact America from roughly 1678 through 1930. The recovery work this collection performs, with its ability to both redefine and refigure contemporary notions of literature, makes a significant scholarly contribution—a contribution that will remain instructive and worthy of review for many years to come.
Of equal note, this collection unabashedly highlights the complicated relationship between what Scott Lyons recently termed “actually existing Indian nations” and the irreducible forces of modernity and diversity that inevitably inhere in every Native community.2 Parker deliberately includes a wide range of disparately situated Indian voices, voices evidenced in poems, for example, by the relatively well-known Yavapai doctor and political advocate Carlos Montezuma, or through primer exercises completed by boarding school students from places like Carlisle and Cornwall Seminary, or within the keen observations penned by Jane Johnston Schoolcraft, an early nineteenth-century writer of Ojibwa and Scotch-Irish descent. These textual shifts—temporal, spatial, communal, and material in nature—evoke profound questions of indigenous modernity, racial diversity, and Native identity. Parker carefully records context, setting, and relevant biographical information for each work as available, subtly inviting his readers to discern and wrestle with these larger and indeed more complex questions for themselves. [End Page 383]
For example, as Parker notes in his explanatory heading for the poem, “My Industrial Work” written by an unidentified Carlisle student and published in the Carlisle Arrow in 1913, “The poem . . . gives a picture of life for a Carlisle student. By the end, the poem sounds less proud...