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The Cultural Transformation of a Native American Family and Its Tribe


reviewed by Rodney L. Brod - 1998

coverTitle: The Cultural Transformation of a Native American Family and Its Tribe
Author(s): Joel Spring
Publisher: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc., Mahwah, NJ
ISBN: 080582247X, Pages: , Year: 1996
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A trader and son of French parents in North America, Louis Leflore entered into a polygamous relationship with two mixed-blood sisters, nieces of the famous Choctaw chief Pushmataha, who was commissioned by Andrew Jackson to serve in the War of 1812 as a general in the U.S. Army.


Begun as a personal quest to recover his Native American roots, Joel Spring’s project evolved into an interesting and valuable book that describes the intertwining of his own mixed-blood Choctaw ancestors and over one hundred years of history of that tribe’s dealings with the U.S. government. As often happens when tracing one’s American Indian "family tree," along with some notable gaps in the records, the author discovers the insidious and disastrous impacts that government and Protestant missionary civilization and educational policies had on his own family and tribe. Sketching important colonial and tribal cultural differences, the author then describes early U.S. government policies and continuing searches for means of gaining valued southern, and later Oklahoma, tribal land holdings, including those of the Choctaw. Covering forty years prior to and over seventy years after the tribe’s coerced 1830 removal to Indian Territory, the book weaves a complicated web of interrelationships between the agendas of federal and state governments, Protestant missionaries, and white educators, and the desires of Native Americans.


Using a traditional historical method and drawing on his own and similar mixed-blood family histories from 1763 to 1995, the author provides often detailed, but sometimes scant, testimony of how federal and religious educational policies tended to concentrate power in an elite of tribal mixed-bloods. Essentially "middlemen" of a new planter/trader class, this small, powerful elite pursued their own individual and class interests ahead of and ultimately at the expense of those of the tribe. "Civilized" and educated, yet excluded by early mainstream European society and later manipulated, duped, and bribed by the U.S. government, these elite mixed-bloods nevertheless imitated, extended, and essentially completed their oppressor’s abuse of education by tightly controlling the tribe’s school system and continuing to segregate students on the basis of social class, race, and gender. Ironically, these "white Indians" also helped the government accomplish its ultimate objectives of tribal, cultural, social and extended-familial disintegration as necessary means to "liberating" tribal lands, both before and after their removal to Indian Territory.


Faithful to his main thesis and vividly descriptive in many of his accounts, the author if sometimes overwedded to unfolding the Choctaw tribe’s history through his own family’s involvement, so that several critical stages of that tribe’s history are either missing or inadequately covered. For example, except for the fact that the author’s "white Indian" ancestor, Louis Leflore, was born (oddly, two different birth dates are given, pp. 38-39) the year before the Peace of Paris (1763) opened up the traditional Choctaw area to the British, there appears to be no reason for the title’s historical coverage starting in 1763. While providing detailed anecdotes of his "infamous" mixed-blood family’s involvement in bringing about the initial Choctaw removal from their traditional home in Mississippi to Indian Territory, the author offers no description of the 350-mile trip along the "Trail of Tears" during the 1830 or 1844 roundups and removals. Simply stating that their "is no record of there personal experiences on the Trail" (p. 83), the author offers some details of the hardships of the later Cherokee removal. Furthermore, the Oklahoma Choctaws’ involvement with the Confederacy and the impact the Civil War had on the tribe and its schools are only briefly mentioned (pp. 160-161).


Although the author discusses the disintegration of his own family and his own personal struggle to find his Indian identity, for all practical purposes, the book’s actual historical account of the Oklahoma Choctaw Nation ends in 1907 with the statehood of Oklahoma. Concluding the book with the demise of the great Choctaw Nation entirely misses that tribe’s twentieth-century strides toward self-determination through social, cultural, familia/l, and language renewal. Given the author’s brief description of positive aspects of the contemporary lives and communities of Choctaws who managed to stay in Mississippi (pp. 90-92), this eighty-year gap is especially ironic, yet signifies mute and endemic testimony to the gulf still separating America from Native America.


This unique book represents essential prerequisite knowledge for Native Americans, educators, and those interested in sociocultural, political, and historical studies in education, particularly the nineteenth century, when the federal government carried out its relentless and devastating education policy among southern tribes like the Choctaw.





Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 99 Number 3, 1998, p. 596-598
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 10279, Date Accessed: 10/23/2021 1:49:18 PM

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