According to Good, none of over 300 white-written history textbooks for K-12 analyzed for accuracy on Native American historical information were “acceptable as a ‘dependable source of knowledge’” (52). As illustrated, white-written accounts of Native American history contain issues. This is related to diversity in Iowa, as the Meskwaki Nation is affected by these problems. The Meskwaki are the only federally-recognized tribe in Iowa, thus holding an important position as a minority group in Iowa. It is vital to understand that the incorrect or prejudiced versions of Native history informing the majority of students in America are not sufficient and erase Native voice. Otherwise, the Native perspective may not be heard by non-Natives.
White-written history is problematic from multiple perspectives, as outlined by Good. For example, “in the supplementary history text History of US, the particular use of pronouns such as ‘we,’ ‘us,’ and ‘our’ implies a specific and dominant voice” (Good 55). Small choices, such as the mentioned pronouns, separate the author from Natives. This means that it can be construed that the white writer is speaking down upon Natives, as it is also assumed in the pronoun “we” that the reader is white or at least non-Native. Additionally, “there is a central message in the textbooks that indigenous-generated histories are exotic and mythical, while the versions forwarded by archaeologists and White historians represent the objective truth” (Good 56). Once again, white writers assume a righteous position by subtly claiming that Native history is a “story” or “legend” by calling it just that or assuming that white-written history is purely science-based and therefore correct. White-written historical accounts of Native history also portray a “normative story” in which it is assumed that “American culture began with British colonists” (58). Typically, white-written Native history starts at the time Europeans begin to arrive. Non-Natives think of America in general as the European-settled dominant culture instead of Native culture – which was obviously first, as it existed before the United States did. Thus, white-written accounts of Native history are usually problematic and omit a Native perspective or include it as a “story”.
Conversely, Native-written accounts of Native history attempt to describe the “othered” perspective. While voice is made known through acknowledgement of the Native heritage of the author – “the Menominee history guide makes the process of constructing a voice in texts more transparent” – the description of history is typically more inclusive (Good 58). For example, “there is an epistemological hybridity in the indigenous texts that intermingles traditional beliefs and archaeological theories about human origins in North America” (Good 59). In other words, Native-written accounts of Native history usually include the Native perspective along with European scientific explanations – instead of one side like the white-written histories. However, “the Bering Land Bridge theory does not appear in any of the indigenous texts” (Good 60). In place of this theory, most Natives speak of beginnings in North America instead of another continent. Nonetheless, evidence of condescending ideals and one-sidedness are not as prevalent in Native-written accounts of Native history compared to white-written accounts.
These issues of generally disregarding Native perspective on Native history are found outside of textbooks, however. For instance, Owen states in her book about Meskwaki folklore that “the Musquakies claim that they never had any other name” (18). Owen uses “they” to refer to the Meskwaki people, which provides the aforementioned separate and down-looking voice. Additionally, the Meskwaki Nation should have control over its own name – which would make it a fact that the only name to be used is Meskwaki, not a claim. Additionally, Owen later states that “it was too late for the white man to lift the burden of ownership” (23). This completely avoids responsibility for stealing Native land by claiming that the ownership is irreversible. Once again, Natives are treated as others that have less say in their own fate. Another troubling quote from Owen is her idea that “this assemblage looks very neat…without paint, or ornament if we except the ‘medicines’ of the scalp-lock” (27). By placing medicine in quotations, Owen dismisses the practices of Native people. This is similar to assuming that only European scientific theories are correct and that others are magical practices. Finally, Owen states that “it is impossible to christianize and civilize this people so long as these heathen practices are permitted” (41). Natives are again “othered” and seen as uncivilized in comparison to Europeans – despite building civilization on the continent in question much earlier than the Europeans. Thus, white-written texts other than history textbooks skip the Native perspective and promote the European as correct.
On the other hand, Meskwaki-written accounts of Meskwaki history tend to acknowledge white-written history while giving the mostly unheard Native perspective as well. In discussion with Johnathan Buffalo of the Meskwaki Cultural Center and Museum, Buffalo referenced white people passing diseases to the Natives and his perspective on the reason for white contempt toward Natives – not being able to find them in “their Bibles”. While separating himself from white people, Buffalo acknowledges interactions with whites and details the too-often ignored suffering of Natives at the hands of Europeans. Additionally, Buffalo made it clear that the Meskwaki tribe was created on the North American continent. This coincides with the typical omission of the Bering Land Bridge theory in Native-written histories. However, the Meskwaki website lists quotes from whites and references white-written accounts in stating that “though the Meskwaki and Sauk are two distinct tribal groups, with linguistic and cultural similarities, the two tribes have often been associated throughout history” (Meskwaki Nation). In terms of interactions with white people, the Meskwaki and Sauk are grouped together. In addition to this fact, the Native perspective is given in ensuring that non-Natives know that the two tribes are indeed different. In addition, readers may sense pride of history in Native-written accounts. For instance, the Meskwaki Nation website states that “always persevering, this gave them time to return, thrive and grow” in reference to the Meskwaki returning to land stolen by Europeans. In white-written history, Natives are not typically given credit for triumphs and are not spoken of with a sense of pride.
Given these analyzations, the need for more Meskwaki-written and generally, more Native-written, historical accounts is made clear. This is necessary because the Native perspective is usually unheard, though it is always important in American history and before. Support of and platforms for Native perspectives, especially from white Americans, is imperative.
“Beadwork.” Meskwaki Nation, Meskwaki Cultural Center and Museum, May 2017,
Buffalo, Johnathan. 13 Nov. 2018, Tama, Meskwaki Settlement.
Good, Annalee. “Framing American Indians as the ‘First Americans’: Using Critical
Multiculturalism to Trouble the Normative American Story.” Social Studies Research and
Practice Journal, vol. 4, no. 2, July 2009.
“History.” Meskwaki Nation, Sac & Fox Tribe of the Mississippi in Iowa, 2017,
“Map of the Bering Strait and Seward Peninsula Where a Land Bridge Connected Asia with
North America.” Bering Land Bridge National Preserve, National Park Service,
Owen, Mary Alicia. Folk-Lore of the Musquakie Indians of North America and Catalogue of
Musquakie Beadwork and Other Objects in the Collection of the Folk-Lore Society.
Folk-Lore Society, 1904.