CHAPTER 3. Burning Down the House: Laura Ingalls Wilder and American Colonialism
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Chapter 3 burning down the house: laura ingalls wilder and american colonialism Waziyatawin Angela Cavender Wilson In the previous chapter, Dr. Johansen referred to Rush Limbaugh’s contribution to anti-Indian hegemony, placing him on par with a number of academics who work to dismiss the truth about the origins of U.S. democratic ideals. In many instances both radio personalities and academics use the same propaganda strategies to support a colonizing agenda.1 This chapter adds popular literature to the list of “harmful and immoral ideologies” that must be “laid to rest, not from the reaches of historical inquiry or discussions of racism, oppression, genocide and colonization, but as values with which we indoctrinate our children.” Waziyatawin narrates both a scholarly study and a personal story that relates to the example of Wilder’s famous book, Little House on the Prairie, to show that, “Indeed, anti-Indian educational and ideological hegemony is so firmly established, most Americans cannot recognize it even when it appears before their eyes.” The truth of her statement was reinforced just a few minutes ago when a good friend of mine who serves with me in a local Veterans for Peace chapter and who is usually a careful, critical thinker, sent me a recent 60 Minutes commentary of CBS correspondent Andy Rooney, referring to it as a “great comment” on U.S. policy. Rooney’s piece, entitled, “Our Darkest Days Are Here,” did speak eloquently of his sadness about the U.S. torture of prisoners in Iraq, but the anti-Indianism in his opening was not noticed by my activist friend until after I pointed it out: “If you were going to make a list of the great times in American history, you’d start with the day in 1492 when Columbus got here . . . and perhaps beating Hitler and putting a man on the moon would be up near the top as well.”2 Waziyatawin Angela Cavender Wilson is a Wahpetunwan Dakota from the Upper Sioux Reservation in southwestern Minnesota. She received her BA in History and American Indian Studies from the University of Minnesota in 1992 and her PhD in American History from Cornell University in 2000. In 2002 Angela served as co-coordinator for the Dakota Commemorative March, a 150mile -long, seven-day event to honor the Dakota people, primarily women and children, who were force marched November 7–13, 1862, from the Lower Sioux Agency to a concentration camp at Fort Snelling. She is currently an Assistant T3677.indb 66 T3677.indb 66 3/30/06 4:19:21 PM 3/30/06 4:19:21 PM burning down the house 6 7 Professor of American Indian History in the history department at Arizona State University and is author of Remember This! (De Kiksuyapo!) Dakota Decolonization and the Eli Taylor Narratives. *** We have been lied to so many times that we will not believe any words that your agent sends to us. —short bull (brule’ sioux), 1890 How do a country and its citizens justify genocide and land theft? How do they transform obviously wrong or immoral actions into something righteous and worthy of celebration? To answer these questions one need only examine the beloved classic Little House on the Prairie3 to observe how expertly Laura Ingalls Wilder crafted a narrative that transformed the horror of white supremacist genocidal thinking and the stealing of Indigenous lands into something noble, virtuous, and absolutely beneficial to humanity . Unfortunately, rather than recognize the perversion of morality inherent in Wilder’s book, the American public celebrates the work as laudable children’s literature and the author as an American icon. This book and the entire Little House series have been best sellers and favorites among the American public since the first book, Little House in the Big Woods, was released in 1932. As First Lady Laura Bush kicked off her campaign to fight illiteracy at the beginning of her husband’s presidency , she proudly characterized Little House on the Prairie as a childhood favorite.4 Similarly, in 2004 the National Endowment for the Humanities and the American Library Association selected Little House as one of the fifteen books for their “We the People Bookshelf,” chosen for exemplifying the theme of courage. Five hundred schools throughout the country were awarded the bookshelf of “classic” works. NEH Chairman Bruce Cole announced the program stating, “The We the People Bookshelf enables younger readers to examine the meaning of courage from many perspectives. These books inspire readers with stories of...



Subject Headings

  • Indians of North America -- Public opinion.
  • Indians of North America -- History.
  • United States -- Ethnic relations.
  • Public opinion -- United States.
  • Indians in popular culture -- United States.
  • United States -- Race relations.
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