Posts Tagged ‘Native Americans’

Ecofeminism/Depiction of Native Americans in Catharine Maria Sedgwick’s “Hope Leslie”

So my direction is not entirely nailed down yet. After we did the section on Ecofeminism, I knew that I definitely wanted to write my paper on something regarding it. When I was doing light researching into where exactly I wanted to go with it, I came across Hope Leslie: Early Time in the Massachusetts. I’ve started reading it already (because I didn’t want to commit to it without being certain it would provide a good basis) and while there is a good amount of ecofeminist ideas in it there is also quite a bit of interesting material regarding the Native Americans. Ideally I’d be able to use both but I’m not sure I have the space with how relatively short our papers are.

Much like Farnham’s writing, Sedgwick’s absolutely shows the involvement of women in establishing the so-called “unconquered” land, but I’m not sure it has quite enough material for me to write an entire paper on how that also relates to nature. On the side of the depiction of Native Americans there definitely is a lot more material. Unlike a lot of the texts we read in class, Sedgwick doesn’t depict Native Americans as being either savages or decoration, but as actual people with their own personalities.

In either case what I’d really like to do is compare the depiction of both (or either) women and Native Americans in this text to the depictions in James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans. While Cooper’s text was published only a year before Sedgwick’s it has awful depictions of both women and Native Americans.

Some of my questions to make this more specific are:

1. As nature is often feminized and women are depicted as being closer to nature, does the fact that Sedgwick is a woman lead her to have greater sympathy towards an accurate representation of Native Americans, who are also frequently viewed as being closer to nature?

2. Who was the primary audience of each of these authors and how does that have a bearing on their depictions of both women and Native Americans? Did either of these texts then have any influence on how those audiences viewed Native Americans?

3. While Sedgwick’s depiction is absolutely better than Cooper’s, in what way does her text still rely on problematic stereotypes?


Paper Topic: Media Representations of Native Americans as Children in Catlin, Apess, Disney’s Peter Pan

For my final paper, I intend to look into the portrayal of Native Americans as children both in 19th century readings (Apess, Catlin) and more contemporary media (“What Makes the Red Man Red?” from Disney’s Peter Pan; I plan on finding others as well but have had some trouble with my off campus library access today!). In all of these works, natives are portrayed as lesser beings than their white counterparts, but in a sense that it is not “their fault” because they are ignorant, naïve, and unruly, just like children. Apess is especially interesting when delving into this topic because he comes from a “white” upbringing, but still feels a connection towards his Native American brethren.

The crux of this issue is that, in the 19th century works at least, the authors are attempting to further the image of Natives to the American society by using the “child” argument to give excuses for the natives’ differences. I would like to look into how natives are portrayed in the more recent media, and whether or not this twisted “charity” aspect is present, or if it has just become the norm to display natives as lesser beings.  Finally, I will look into implications this has on the current Native American community both in the 19th century and today.


The link to the Peter Pan clip I plan on using:


  1. Do Apess and Catlin realize their rhetorical strategies regarding Native Americans in fact do more harm than good?
  2. What impact did this childish portrayal have on the Native American community in the 19th century? More recently?
  3. Have there been any attempts by Native American groups (or others) to dissuade audiences from believing this portrayal?
  4. How have the childish portrayals, and motives for such a portrayal, shifted from the 19th century to now? What implications does this have?

***If anyone has ideas for more recent media portrayals regarding natives, I would especially love that feedback!

Catlin’s Depiction of Native Americans

Catlin’s depiction of Native Americans is one of markedly fake concern and very closely mirrors the way he describes the buffalo. While his writing attempts to come off as sympathetic towards Native Americans, and it very well may have to the readers of his time, in present day it is very condescending and wholly problematic. By relating the Native Americans so closely to the buffalo he completely dehumanizes them, which is (not surprisingly) exactly what he aims to do.   He describes Native Americans and buffalo together by stating “the Indian and the buffalo- joint and original tenants of the soil, and fugitives together from the approach of civilized man” (Catlin 40). Even the use of the word “fugitive” here implies that they are doing something negative by trying to escape from the more “righteous” and “virtuous” culture of the domineering white men. By relating Native Americans so closely with the buffalo, Catlin is stating that they are to close to nature and thus unable to be close to God or fully use his gifts, i.e. the land that the white settlers wish to take.

Catlin goes on to confirm that he does not believe that Native Americans trying to avoid being dominated by the white men is a good or positive action to take when he states “it can be proved that the weak and ignorant have no rights- that there can be no virtue in darkness- that God’s gifts have no meaning or merit until they are appropriated by civilized man- by him brought into the light, and converted to his use and luxery” (Catlin 40). Because nature is a gift from God and the Native Americans are not properly using the land nor the animals as the white settlers desire to, it is justifiable for the white men to take the land from them. It is not hard to see from Catlin’s description of Native Americans nor his fake concern for their well-being, that he is simply trying to find a way to justify the horrible actions he (or the white settlers as a whole) wishes to take against the Native Americans. Because they are too close to nature they are depicted as hardly human and in need of saving and protecting whether they like it or not.

The closeness to animals is once again stated when Catlin describes Native Americans as a “beautiful and thrilling specimen for America to perserve and hold up to the view of her refined citizens and the world” as though Native Americans are not actual human beings but rather animals who are too ignorant to preserve themselves (Catlin 42). This is again an instance of him simply stating that because Native Americans are close to animals, it is justifiable to take their land, though mercifully “preserve” them, and do with it what God has apparently ordained. His false concern for Native American’s well-being is very problematic because it makes him appear to want rights for and to help them, while solely depicting them as being in need of protecting and of God because they are too ignorant.


Caitlin, George. American Earth: Environmental Writing Since Thoreau. Ch./Art: Letters and Notes on the Manners, Customs, and Conditions of the North American Indians p. 37-45. pub. Penguin 2008

Depiction of Native Americans in A Son of the Forest


In his autobiographical text, A Son of the Forest, William Apess demonstrates that all of the poor characteristics that are attributed to Native American’s can actually be attributed to the white settlers who manipulated them. He seems to argue that the Native Americans are even superior to these white settlers in some aspects. This point of view and the opinions Apess expresses are starkly different from the other Euro-American writers we have seen who often describe Native Americans as, at best, beautiful savages who are altogether completely different from Euro-Americans and not understood. Perhaps this lack of understanding stems from the fact that many Euro-Americans at the time saw these seemingly unconquered lands as “[their] native lands” and failed to consider how their actions impacted anyone or anything around them (Irving 8). Apess counters this notion, stating “the natives… are the only people under heaven who have a just title [to call themselves natives]” (Apess 10). The inability of the white settlers to recognize Native Americans as true natives and respect them as such plays out negatively for the Native Americans in A Son of the Forest.

This negative impact is particularly seen in the Native American’s relationship with alcohol. As Apess describes the “introduction of this ‘cursed stuff’ into [his own Native American family]” we see the deterioration of both his relationship with his grandparents and their marriage (Apess 5). When first reading over the horrendous treatment he received from his Native American family, it seems that Apess has strong negative feelings about his brethren compared to his white relations who “lived  and died happy in the love of God” (Apess 6). However, upon further reading it is realized that he actually blames white settlers for the Native American’s faults with alcohol as they “seduced them into a love of it” and then manipulated them out of their land (Apess 7).  Apess further critiques the white settlers when later in the autobiography his companions try to convince him to steal but, without surprise, it was “not [his] brethren but [the] whites” trying to corrupt him into doing evil (Apess 35).

It was interesting to read into this perspective because Apess often had conflicting feelings about his lineage but on the whole he seemed to have a positive view of Native Americans that differed vastly from most of the texts we have studied.


Apess, William. A Son of the Forest and Other Writings.Amherst:University of Massachusetts Press, 1997. Print.

Irving, Washington. A Tour on the Prairies. Ch./Art: Excerpts p. 3-9, 30-34, 39-46, 50-54, 171-179. pub. University of Oklahoma Press 1956

George Catlin’s Attitude Towards Native Americans

Overall, George Catlin has a positive attitude towards Native Americans in the excerpt from Letter and Notes on the Manners, Customs, and Condition of the North American Indians. Even though he is primarily a painter, he puts forth effort to document his admiration for the culture of the Native Americans. Catlin emphasizes the abuse the white man enacts upon North America and its inhabitants. In his work the Native Americans end up coming off more likeable than the European settlers.

The white men ruthlessly slaughtered herds of buffalo for “their pleasure and elegance, over the backs of the sleighs, and trail them ostentatiously amidst the busy throng, as a thing of beauty and elegance that had been made for them!” (41). Catlin parallels the white man’s wasteful use of buffalo to the Native Americans who utilize the buffalo in myriad applications ranging from “food…robes…blankets…canoes…bows…” etc. (42-43). Catlin dedicates an entire paragraph to the native’s practical uses of the buffalo, highlighting their reliance on the species, whereas he only mentions a couple sentences of buffalo being used for “white man’s luxury” (39).  He denounces the notion of the government allocating money to the Indians because it “passes immediately into the hands of white men” (44). The Native Americans and buffalo are forced to retreat to a “hiding place” found on “sterile” land “of no available use to cultivating men” (38,42). Catlin’s attitude seems to be that event though the white man is appearing to compensate the Indians; they are really just taking advantage of them while attempting to keep a clean conscience.

Although Catlin is overall arguing for Native Americans and criticizing the Europeans, his writing comes off slightly condescending. He states there are “no nobler specimens” than the Indian and the buffalo. They are often referred together; “joint and original tenants of the soil, and fugitives together from the approach of civilized man” (41). Catlin numerously refers to the Native Americans as “savages” and states that “the weak and ignorant have no rights” (40).Catlin divides them into two sides- the Native Americans and the buffalo versus the white man. In a sense he is almost equating the Indians with the buffalo. The Indians are stuck in “nature’s simplicity” and where the white man is capable of utilizing higher powers of thinking, “an Indian cannot” (40).

I also found Catlin’s call for the preservation of the prairie and it’s inhabitants noble in theory but very insulting. He talks about creating a “magnificent park, where the world could see for ages to come, the native Indian” (42). He wants to preserve the Indians and the buffalo more for the enjoyment of the white man to admire, rather than for the sake of humanity and saving a culture within our species. He doesn’t even really seem to view the Native Indians as real people calling them a “beautiful and thrilling specimen for America to preserve and hold up to the view of her refined citizens” (42). His reasons for saving the denizens of North America seem very selfish and focused on how to exploit them for personal admiration.

Caitlin’s depiction of Native Americans

In George Caitlin’s In Letters and Notes on the Manners, Customs, and Condition of the North American Indians, there is a an obvious comparison between the Native American and the buffalo who are both part of the same vast area who have fallen victim to the civilization and the noble white man. He talks about them as strong creatures that have fought their battles just too simply survive. Caitlin’s depiction of Native Americans shows how closely related they are to nature and just how distant they are from anything considered “civilized”.


Even though in his writing and even more so in his paintings he depicts Native Americans as strong individuals, the noble white man is seen as have almighty power over them and without civilization they will fall and eventually” expire”, along with the buffalo. Indians are seen as valuable resources only because of what they have to offer to the white man which is land, the clothes off their backs and the food they have to eat which are added to what Caitlin calls “fashionable world luxuries”. They are merely there to supply the necessities, just like the buffalo supply coats to the noble but where will they be many years from now when the Native Americans are all gone and the last buffalo has skinned and used up?


It is not just that the Native Americans and buffalo are seen as one in the same but that they more the buffalo are being used by the noble, civilized white man, the less the Indians can use them and the harder it is for them survive. Near the end of Caitlin’s letters he says “ It seems hard and cruel, that we civilized people with all the luxuries and comforts of the world around us, should be drawing from the backs of these useful animals the skins for our luxury…”(43) Even though he is talking about the buffalo in these situation it can relate to how the white man is taking from the Native American because in a way, taking the buffalo away from them is taking about resources that they need to survive; so they are stripping luxuries from them even though the noble have all the luxuries they could ever want. Caitlin’s image of the Native American is one that has a will to survive and strength has big as a herd of buffalo. His view point on the civilized man is one that is seen has destroying the Native Americans and in slowly allow them to disappear into the vast land that they once called their own.


Caitlin, George. American Earth: Environmental Writing Since Thoreau. Ch./Art: Letters and Notes on the Manners, Customs, and Conditions of the North American Indians p. 37-45. pub. Penguin 2008