Alice Fletcher and the Search for Women's Public Recognition in Professionalizing American Anthropology
A. Lorini, «Andrew Fletcher and the Search for Women's Public Recognition
in Professionalizing American Anthropology», Cromohs, 8 (2003):
1. On June 8, 1885, ten women met to form a scientific society in Washington,
DC. They thought their idea "novel and hazardous," but felt
it was time to found the Women's Anthropological Society of America (WASA)
to open to women new fields for "systematic investigation" and
promote "their cooperation in the development of the science of anthropology".
Why another professional organization in the field of anthropology was
required, they were asked. They answered that they did not wish "to
perpetuate a distinction of sex in science," but simply gain the
professional credentials "fitting us to enter the race for intellectual
attainment without handicap [....] in anticipation of the time when science
shall regard only the work, not the worker". Matilda Cox Stevenson
was made the president of the society which included Alice C. Fletcher
among its six directors. By 1889 the WASA listed forty five members, held
regular meetings at which ethnographic papers were presented and discussed,
including a certain number by Stevenson on Zuni's ceremonies, cosmogony,
child rearing practices, and by Fletcher on material and spiritual life
of the Omaha and Winnebago tribes (WASA 1889, 16-20; McGee 1889, 240-42).
Although this association of women anthropologists had a rather short
life, it nevertheless marked an important turn in the history of American
professional anthropology. It was the first step towards the creation
of an authoritative role for women as "gender brokers" in a
professional field in which it was believed that only women could obtain
ethnographic information from tribal women. Was such a belief a cultural
projection of Victorian sexual segregation onto "primitive"
2. The WASA was the early attempt that women ethnographers of the first
generation made to gain an independent recognition in the profession by
inviting those women who were "clear in thought, logical at mental
process, exact in expression, and earnest in the search for truth"
to give their contribution to "the solution of the mighty problems
that make up the humanity wide science of Anthropology" (Lurie 1966,
36; McGee 1889). Such a strong emphasis on rational components of mental
processes was a conscious attempt these women anthropologists made to
counteract the social belief that women were too emotional, instinctive,
passionate, traditional and incapable of self-control. Deemed inadequate
to pursue intellectual work, women were barred from professional science.
Seen in this light Tylor's notion that the work of women anthropologists
should be exclusively seen as an addition to men's work clearly
limited the role of women in the profession to the investigation of those
"mysterious" sexual lives of primitive women that male anthropologists
could not grasp. By founding the WASA women anthropologists were able
to turn a limited role into professional strength.
3. An historian of anthropology has argued that in breaking "the
bonds of sexual ascription of ethnographic tasks" the early generation
of women anthropologists simply followed the dictates of their culture
as unconsciously as men (Lurie 1966, 78-79). In recent years Deborah Gordon
has offered a more complex interpretation by questioning the intersections
of gender, power and ethnographic authority in the relationship white
women anthropologists established with Native American women. As relations
of race, class and ethnicity affect the social construction of the relationship
of women and men in general, Gordon argues that white women anthropologists,
searching for a different kind of womanhood, made Indian women visible
to white culture "as amalgamations of proper white women of the time
as well as proper negotiators and resisters of white culture". Thus,
women anthropologists both created and were caught by the historical problem
of challenging inequality by preserving difference (Gordon 1993, 133).
"Never before [...] did I realize the power of woman's work, and how she is indeed the mother of the race. I knew theoretically that from her lap sprang the industries; here I see them starting from their knees" (Fletcher 1882, 46).
Arriving in Nebraska with preconceived ideas about Indian women's degradation,
Fletcher was surprised to discover that women owned property, ponies,
tents, family and household items. As family economic welfare depended
on their work, women received praise and honor. Yet at this early stage
of her ethnographic work Fletcher believed that to move from barbarism
to civilization Indian women had to give up much of their traditional
work. In her view the adoption of a monogamous family structure and a
gendered division of labor separating the male dominated public sphere
from the female-dominated private sphere, were the basic requirements
5. In the aftermath of the Civil War the rapid economic growth of the
West made a number of politicians and a large segment of population believe
that the existing reservation system was no longer helping westward expansion.
The removal of Indians from the areas of white settlement was now seen
as an obstacle to the "civilization" of the West. At the same
time, as "sectional reconciliation" between the North and the
South was proceeding at the expense of black political and civil rights
(Lorini 1999, 1-33; Blight 2001), many came to realize that a pacified
and unified country was the only possible context for economic growth
and the conquest of foreign markets. The "pacification" of the
West required the incorporation of Native Americans into the newly reunified
country by assuring that benefits of American white democracy would replace
their traditional cultures. When in 1887 President Cleveland signed the
General Allotment Act proposed by the Massachusetts senator Henry Dawes,
a profound change in government Indian policies took place by moving from
the philosophy of a separate reservation system to a forced integration
into mainstream America. The philosophy of the Dawes Act attacked tribal
traditional beliefs in collective possession of lands by replacing them
with the values of individual achievement and private property. It also
established that different categories of Indians would receive different
portions of land, according to existing social hierarchies: while the
male head of the household would receive 160 acres, unmarried adults were
entitled to 80 acres, and children to 40. Every native family was expected
to run a farm, and the surplus lands would be sold to the government and
opened to white settlers. Every Indian entitled to an allotment would
eventually become American citizen.
6. The daughter of a New York lawyer and a Boston "lady," Alice
Fletcher was born in Cuba in 1838, grew up in New York, and lived in Boston
where she met Frederic W. Putnam, the director of the Peabody Museum of
Ethnology and Archeology at Harvard, and the young Omaha Indian Francis
La Flesche. Before meeting these two fundamental figures of her life,
Alice Fletcher was already involved in public lecturing in favor of the
advancement of women and science; in 1873 she was one of the four hundred
women who gathered in New York to found the Association for the Advancement
of Women (in 1874 she became one of the two secretaries). By 1883 Fletcher
was a renowned advocate of dismantling the reservation system by allotting
individual homesteads to nuclear families. She was also a member of the
Women's National Indian Association whose agenda included such Indian
reforms as monogamous family structures; male support of women and children
through farming; traditional log cabins to replace native dwellings; Indian
women's learning of white women's domestic duties; learning of English;
conversion to Christianity; education of children in missionary or industrial
training schools; and adoption of white style in clothing and fashion
(i.e. short hair for boys) (Mark 1988, 105). The WNIA endorsed Helen Hunt
Jackson's A Century of Dishonor (1881) in denouncing the whites'
shameful past relation to the Indians. The founding of the WNIA in 1879
marked the end of a decade of tragic battles; in 1881 the surrender of
Sitting Bull closed the Plains Indians wars. By then, with the exception
of the Apaches, all tribes of the West had been forced to relocate in
"The old stereotyped picture of the savage faded [...] The skill with which the eloquence of the Chief was rendered into ringing English by the young Indian woman, showed that the door of language could be unlocked and intelligent relations made possible between the two races" (Fletcher 1909, 78).
7. Fletcher collaborated with all existing channels to advocate the
cause of Indian rights: various organizations for women's suffrage, women's
clubs and philanthropic associations, church and missionary organizations,
Indian schools (the Hampton and the Carlisle Institutes), government institutions
(the Bureau of Indian Affairs), the Department of the Interior and, most
important, her connection with ethnologist Frederick Putnam and the Peabody
Museum at Harvard University. Hired as a special agent of the Department
of Interior, Fletcher established her reputation as an expert of Indian
affairs and the expert of the allotment policy among the Omaha
of Nebraska. In recognition of her scientific expertise Fletcher was the
first woman to be awarded a lifelong fellowship by the Peabody Museum.
8. As part of the process of Americanization leading to citizenship,
Fletcher turned the individual choice of allotment into a serious ceremonial
ritual. After choosing a portion of land each individual was allowed a
little time to think; then, in the presence of witnesses, the recipient
signed a paper that Fletcher declared binding and not open to reconsideration.
To show the Indians how important a signature was in legal proceedings,
witnesses were called to sign the paper. In explaining the Omaha the Nebraska
laws of property and inheritance, Fletcher had hard time to convince them
that only children could claim their parents' property and that wives
did not have as much right to the land as husbands. Then she left the
Omaha reservation feeling she had successfully combined philanthropy and
scientific work. She also had Indian skulls and skeletons dug up for Putnam,
photographs of full-blood Indians taken, and their height, limbs, chest,
and weight measured to study "tribal characteristics" (Mark
1981, 94-95). During her extensive period of work with the Omaha Fletcher
thought she had devised the strategy the country needed to solve the "Indian
problem". She was aware that in 1884 a total of 262,000 Indians were
living in the United States of which 64,000 were part of the so-called
Five Civilized tribes residing in Indian territory (Oklahoma) and the
Six Nations of New York (groups eventually exempted from the Dawes legislation).
Thus Fletcher counted 197.973 Indians whose relations to whites had to
be reshaped and whose rights to citizenship needed to be recognized. Excluding
the Indian Territory, all these Indians had 123 million acres of land
on 124 reservations, and were under the authority of fifty-six scattered
agencies (Newman 1999, 124). Yet the tillable land was a small percentage
unevenly distributed across the reservations. Fletcher had also realized
that many Indian men were reluctant to farming, a task that their traditional
societies assigned to women. Aware that Indians had a different understanding
of land tenure from the Europeans, she thought this was the first judicial
tradition they had to give up to become assimilated into white civilization.
"Tribal control", she declared, "which ignores the individual
and the family (as established in civilized society) must be overturned,
and this can only be affected surely, by giving individual ownership of
the land, and thus setting up the legal homestead". Fletcher believed
that until these changes were made, "all labor in behalf of the elevation,
education, and civilization of the Indian will be but partially effective"
(Fletcher 1885, 33). She had learned from experience that getting the
majority of the tribes to vote in favor of the allotments was a rather
difficult task. Thus, for the benefit of the Indians, the appropriate
solution was making the allotment mandatory "whether they approve
or not" (Mark 1981, 106).
10. Making a very favorable impression on the Indians, Fletcher continued to encourage their dancing and singing, and professed a genuine desire to observe their ceremonies. While for Tibbles all that was "savagery" he wished to erase from Indian life, Fletcher developed an instant taste for the sophistication of Indian art and for what she conceptualized as primitive material culture. Although she did not have any doubt that white dwellings were superior to the Indian skin tipi or earth lodge, she nevertheless became fond of Indian music. At this early stage of her ethnographic encounters Fletcher had already concluded:
"The Indian is not a primitive man, nor properly a savage, but he is untutored; and yet we hear him voicing his aspirations and his loves in accordance with the same laws that are intelligently and consciously obeyed by a Wagner" (Lurie 1966, 53).
Such a language could be interpreted as an anticipation of Franz Boas' notion of equality of the mental functions of human mind. Yet Fletcher, as a woman representative of a white civilization whose superiority she never questioned, could impose her authority over Indian men by pretending to be their "mother." She acted that way with young Francis La Flesche, by claiming to feel like a mother toward a son and almost adopted him when gossip about their unconventional living relation - the two lived together with Jane Gay in Washington, DC, from 1884 to Alice's death in 1923 - became too embarrassing. La Flesche was Fletcher's informant, interpreter, clerk, and affectionate care-taker during illness. To her La Flesche seemed like a child who was nearly half her age, and had less formal education. Yet Fletcher depended on him for her ethnographic knowledge. All considered, she felt comfortable in playing the mother role with this son of Chief Joseph La Flesche. Following the influence of his French father, Joseph became Christian and sent his children to school. As his father wanted, Francis learned the new white ways but was still emotionally drawn to the traditional ways of his Indian mother. From La Flesche's diary biographer Mark finds that his marginality was the basis of his strong relationship with Fletcher. For Francis's father the woman anthropologist was an admirable symbol of the white, Victorian civilization he wanted his son to embrace. From Fletcher's perspective, she needed Francis' help to study the Indian old traditions that she thought were inexorably vanishing. From the point of view of the young La Flesche, by offering this kind of help he could get in touch with the traditions of his Omaha dead mother. Thus, given the powerful asymmetry between Fletcher and La Flesche, a mother-son relationship was the best option available to them to express a wide range of feelings and forms of commitment (Mark 1981, 152).
11. Fletcher's account of her 1881 visit to Sitting Bull at Fort Randall showed the other side of her dualistic view of the Indians. She portrayed the prisoner Chief as a proud adult, surrounded by 168 Indians, the last ones to surrender to the U.S. Army. Such unique encounter had a profound influence on Fletcher who kept referring to the Chief's words in her later writings. As late as 1899 Fletcher wrote in the Southern Workman an article on "The Indian Woman and Her Problems", in which she vividly described the encounter and claimed to report Sitting Bull's precise words. Fletcher wrote that as a consultant of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and in the company of two missionaries and an Indian interpreter she visited the fifty-year old Hunkpapa Sioux who lived with his fellows in a circle of tents outside the fort. Sitting Bull received the visitors with great ceremony, apologized for not being able to offer traditional welcoming gifts, explained that the soldiers had taken all his possessions, and informed Fletcher of his decision to adopt white civilization. The buffalo were gone, he said, and the young men could easily learn to plow and cultivate the ground as the white men did. As he was speaking, one of his young wives came in with wood for the fire, and looked at Fletcher. Silently, Sitting Bull watched his young wife and then turned to Fletcher:
"You are a woman. You have come to me as a friend. Pity my women. We men owe what we have to them. They have worked for us [...] but in the new life their work is taken away. For my men I see a future; for my women I see nothing. Pity them; help them, if you can." He took a ring from his finger and gave it to Fletcher to remind her of his request" (Fletcher 1899, 172-76).
Those words deeply moved her and challenged her original approach to the study of the life of Indian women as an attempt to find answers to the "woman question" in her society. Now she was realizing that in what she originally thought a "barbaric" way of life, women had a more satisfying role than in her society. The answer, however, was not going back to traditions. Sitting Bull had entrusted her with the task to make his women ready for something he considered as unsatisfactory as inevitable. Fletcher thought that Sitting Bull took her public role seriously. She was very pleased to realize that the Chief assumed she had such a power as a government agent, a scientist and, most important, as a white woman.
12. At the time she wrote this article Fletcher would admit that the traditional division of labor in Indian societies gave women a place they no longer had, that their previous influence in tribal power, government, and ceremonies, and tribal power showed that their position was "one of honor rather than one of slavery and degradation." Aware that such a statement might run against current perceptions, Fletcher added that "to judge correctly one people one must be familiar with their past history, their beliefs, and the inner meanings of their ceremonies". She found judging the status of the Indian woman "from a foreign standpoint" as unfair as judging "our own community by the headlines of our newspapers [...]" (Fletcher 1899, 174). Returning to the scene of her encounter with Sitting Bull, she defined his words "a vivid illustration" of the problems of Indian women. As men had taken farming and other traditional women activities, it was now crucial to become aware of "the gap that lies between the hunting stage in which work was classified by sex, and that of coordinate and associate labor which obtains under civilization". Women's mental confusion was understandable, as they could not easily see "the advantages attainable under the new order". Fletcher openly admitted that the Indian woman faced problems hard to solve:
"In the old time she was an out door worker, she cultivated the fields, she was in the free fresh air from morning until night. Now her work is within doors; if she toils in the fields her husband or father is disgraced; she is taught to regard indoor employment, to cook, to wash and iron, to sew, to scrub, as the sole avocation of women. She longs for the freedom of the outside air, and her health and spirit suffer from confinement. There is now no possible reward for her work [...]".
While the Indian woman of the past owned all the home property, the lodge and all its belongings, with the new ways "if she is married, she finds herself under a domination that did not exist, and from which she cannot escape". Ironically, by becoming "civilized" Indian women experienced the socially constructed separation between the public and the private spheres existing in white society:
"Under the old tribal regime woman's industries were essential to the very life of the people, and their values was publicly recognized. While she suffered many hardships and labored early and late, her work was exalted ceremonially and she had a part in tribal functions" (Fletcher 1899,176, 174).
13. Rethinking the encounter with Sitting Bull over the years helped
Fletcher change her attitude toward forced assimilation. Biographer Mark
also attributes such a change of heart to a second trip Fletcher took
in 1897 to visit the Omaha reservation. Here she was shocked to see how
deteriorated living conditions had become since the time of the allotments,
and realized that the Omaha were no longer farming but leasing their land
and living on rental income. Fletcher also found out that Christianity
had almost disappeared and that a revival of the old Indian rites had
taken place as a result of distrust and resentment towards local missionaries.
Fletcher saw the horrible effects of alcohol and the overall disastrous
result of the program she had imposed in the name of Indian progress (Mark
14. Fletcher immediately reacted to this failure by reshaping the purpose
of her reform work and ethnographic research. She decided that the Indian
past was "a closed book", that it was of no interest to contemporary
Indians and that to avoid dangerous "misunderstandings" and
hostility it should not even made available to them. Fletcher came to
believe that the Indian past should exclusively belong to the scientist,
the only one who could understand its "deep lessons". Yet, without
making any public admission, Fletcher did have a change of heart (Mark
1981, 267). At this stage, as she understood that substantial cultural
change could not be imposed on an unwilling people, Fletcher left Indian
reform politics behind and threw herself into scholarship. Unlike many
other reformers, Fletcher did not turn to racist theories to explain why
Indians failed to become what reformers wanted them to be. By then many
reformers had found an easy answer in the racist assumption that African
Americans and Indians were inferior races incapable of citizenship. To
her credit, Fletcher never stopped to believe that the Indians were as
capable as the whites, that they could compete successfully if they wanted
to, and that they should become part of the larger society and share the
best the white society had to offer. But she also came to believe that
only science could succeed where reformers had failed (Mark 1988, 268).
Yet some of her new thoughts could be considered radical for her time.
15. Late nineteenth-century anthropologists looked at international
expositions as great opportunities to popularize their science by showing
a large public ways of living of "vanishing savages" and by
explaining their evolutionist racial theories of inevitable laws of human
progress from simplicity to complexity (Hinsley 1981; 1991; Rydell 1983;
16. Fletcher was also asked to write for the Southern Workman on the New Orleans Exposition. She described the ceremonies of the Louisiana Day in which "all parts of the country united on that day to do honor to the Exposition", and emphasized the eloquence of a black speaker as a "a source of pride to the race" in discussing black progress in the South in twenty two years of freedom, the one million black children in school, the 80 newspapers published in black communities, the ownership of land, savings, and many other things black people had achieved. In this "official" view of "racial progress", however, no reference was made to the dark side of post-Reconstruction South in which black sharecroppers were impoverished, disfranchised, segregated, and to the overall gloomy picture of racial violence of which the spreading of lynching was the most alarming signal. Fletcher wanted to make Negro progress an example the Indians should follow. She strongly regretted, in fact, that the latter were not represented at the Exposition "among those who can exhibit proofs of their labor and education". Indian presence was "only in promise", as her exhibit on the Omaha tribe before and after the allotment policy would show. Fletcher's exhibit told the story of a single tribe whose individuals gradually emerged "from a past barren of results, to enter upon a future wherein they are to find place with the white men in the various industries of the land". Omaha children were trained in schools at Hampton, Carlisle, Santee and Albuquerque, all well represented at the Exposition. Understanding "the significance of the absence of their race from their gathering together of the industries of all nations", Indian boys and girls would feel motivated to work harder to show the progress of their race in the next great Exposition. Fletcher believed that at that point "their people will be represented by the product of hand and brain, and find place among the producers of the world" (Fletcher 1885).
17. By the time she headed to the Chicago World's Columbian Exposition
of 1893, Fletcher had received the Thaw Fellowship at Harvard and, as
a special agent of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, had gone through an extensive
and rather difficult allotment plan at the Nez Perces in Idaho. During
her almost four-year assignment the massacre at Wounded Knee, South Dakota,
took place, and some of the Nez Perce Indians Fletcher met were involved
in Chief Joseph's war with the U.S. Army in 1877 (Gay 1981, ix). In Idaho
Fletcher faced the resistance of people who did not believe in the allotment
policy as she did. But she went ahead with the program whose long-term
effects were disastrous, as she would later admit. Lacking any experience
of commercial farming, soon Indians found themselves in debt and forced
to rent their allotments to surrounding white colonizers. By 1911 almost
the 98 percent of the 136.000 acres of the allotted land of the former
Nez Perce reservation were rented, traditional activities like hunting
and subsistence farming were dying out, and alcoholism and tuberculosis
threatened the very survival of the tribe (Gay 1981, xxv).
18. Early in 1893 Fletcher developed a serious psycho-physical illness
which biographer Mark attributes to this disappointment: "the first
of the mysterious and punishing illnesses that would plague her over the
next dozen years". (Mark 1981, 213) Such a reaction was not uncommon
among single, career-oriented women born between 1780 and 1840, conflicting
with male authority (Cambers-Schillers 1984, 163, 165). Fletcher had also
realized that even the prestigious fellowship she received from Harvard
far from granting access to a professorial career, was conceived as the
lifetime support of an aging "worthy" woman. Although disappointed
and ill, in June 1893 Fletcher went to Chicago with her friend Jane Gay.
"leading the way for the great wave of humanity that was soon spread over the continent and forced those unsuspecting peoples to give way before a mighty power, to reign their inherited rights, and take their chances for existence under the laws governing a strange people. [...] these peoples, as great nations, have about vanished into history, and now is the last opportunity for the world to see them and to realize what their condition, their life, their customs, their arts were four centuries ago. [...] the great object lesson then will not be completed without their being present" (Hinsley 1991, 347).
19. Thus, anthropologists would go to Chicago to educate a large public
to appreciate the great lesson of the progress of human evolution. After
almost two years of intense work, Putnam's team had gathered the most
extensive collections, photographs, and data of Boas' supervised archeological
and anthropological expeditions in the Southwest, the Great Plains, Alaska,
Yucatan, and Peru. In the same building visitors could also admire Fletcher's
items on the Nez Perce, Omaha and Winnebago.
20. Biographer Mark finds that Fletcher had the extraordinary capacity
of looking at another society from within and evaluating it from without,
sympathetically and analytically. Such an insight anticipated, to some
extent, what a later generation of anthropologists would call "participant
observation" (Mark 1988, 239). Yet biographer Mark downplays Fletcher's
public role at the Chicago World's Fair, and the recognition the woman
anthropologist was given by being nominated on a prestigious award committee.
The Chicago World's Columbian Exposition was the fist international exhibit
to give credit to professional women in general. For the first time in
the history of international expositions, a separate woman's building
was designed and run by women (Lorini 2000b). Recent scholarship has stressed
the active role that white women played in planning their "visibility"
at the great event celebrating "progress" in America.
21. Ida Wells and other African-American activists who tried to turn a great exposition celebrating the country's post-Civil War reunification into a forum to expose the oppression of black people in the South, had hard time to make their voices heard (Lorini 1999; 1999a). Ida Wells publicly contested the fair's assumption "that African slavery in America had not, after all, been an unmixed evil, for of a truth, the advanced social condition of American Africans over that of their barbarous countrymen is most encouraging and wonderful". African American activists were not alone in protesting the fair's racist assumptions. Writing a letter of protest to the New York Times Indian rights activist Emma Sickles, a member of Putnam's staff, attacked ethnological exhibits for portraying Native Americans as savages whose animal nature only government agencies could tame, accused the organizers for using every means "to keep the self-civilized Indians out of the Fair", and concluded that Indian agents and their backers knew rather well that if self-civilized Indians were represented at the Chicago Fair "the public would wake up to the capabilities of the Indians for self-government and realize that all they needed was to be left alone" (Lorini 1999, 39; Baker 1998, 60).
22. Ironically, Franz Boas, the anthropologist who would dismiss the
whole idea of race to explain differences in mental or social capacities
of human groups, was in charge of the organization of anthropological
exhibits at the Chicago World's Fair popularizing bio-social racial science.
By the turn of the century, however, Boas began to challenge the false
assumptions of racial inequality by making the most radical break with
the comparative theory of stages of human development from simplicity
(savagism) to complexity (Victorian civilization). Although a believer
in objective scientific research, Boas' priority was the defeat of racial
inequality. He introduced a new paradigm of cultural explanation of human
behavior at the time in which in the United States racism was pervasive,
racial segregation was legally imposed in the South, and bio-social scientists
propounded eugenic practice of sterilizing "defective," "degenerate,"
or "inferior" people as the solution to social problems (Baker
1998, 99-126; Lorini 1999, 68-69). At the World's Columbian Exposition
Boas' faith in public anthropology received the first severe blow. The
second came from the Spanish-American war of 1898. Like Fletcher, by 1900
Boas had begun to retreat from American museum anthropology as a tool
of public education or reform.
23. Yet Boas' objection had a broader meaning. What he really criticized
was the evolutionist scheme behind Fletcher's work. But Boas' was not
the major attack to Fletcher's work. Robert Lowie, a former student of
Boas, in reviewing The Omaha Tribe objected to the fact that Fletcher
presented "only original material gathered directly from the native
people", when the new canons of professional scholarship called for
reviews and incorporations of earlier scholarly studies. He also questioned
Fletcher's classification of the material according to an "aboriginal"
rather than a purely "scientific" logic, and for her giving
historical value to a primitive tribe's mythical accounts of their origins,
a "tendency, now definitively abandoned by ethnologists". In
Lowie's view every professional ethnologist by then might "reasonably
be expected to pay some attention to points that have come to be of theoretical
interest to his fellow students" (Lowie 1913, 910-15). Far beyond
the struggle between evolutionists and Boasians in professional anthropology,
Lowie's criticism concerned the credit given to native informants
for scientific explanations by sharing authorship with them as Fletcher
did. In the case of The Omaha Tribe as the knowledge behind it
was clearly Francis La Flesche's, Fletcher gave him credit by putting
his name on the cover. Although the Boasians were more ready than the
evolutionists to acknowledge the important role of native informants,
they addressed their academic publications to the scientific community
and did not include Indian authorship. Evolutionist Fletcher longed for
recognition by the professional community but she also had a moral commitment
orienting her ethnographic work with informant, secretary and almost son
Francis La Flesche.
24. All considered, The Omaha Tribe is a monumental work written
in the style of a pioneering generation of anthropologists for whom there
was no one "correct" way of documenting and representing the
Native American experience. As Robin Ridington writes in the introduction
to a recent edition of The Omaha Tribe, "they allowed themselves
to be guided by Omaha categories rather than by those of an emergent academic
discipline" (Fletcher-La Fletsche 1992, I, 4). It is a work on which
following generations of anthropologists have based their interpretations.
"[The government] was giving this land to a people who had never owned land, who had no item of customary law or usage to govern their disposal of it. The Antlers had no sentiments for land beyond the vivid affection they felt for a familiar landscape and for the resting place of their dead. They witnessed with terror the evictions of the ‘Short Robes', [Poncas] their unhappy banishment to more barren lands and the pitiful return pilgrimage which a few of them attempted. But this was not the terror of the landowner, the man who had, for generations, regarded his own and his children's welfare as inalienably connected with certain plots of arable land; it was rather the fear of exile, of an unknown existence in an unfamiliar land" (Mead 1932, 28-29).
25. By the 1920s a new generation of academic anthropologists valued
university programs above an interest in the lives of aboriginal people.
Unlike Fletcher they would not admit to be affected by their experiences.
Yet, far from being innocent, the earlier generation of museum ethnologists
and organizers of exhibits at international expositions, in the name of
science displayed members of native tribes in de-humanizing contexts.