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Writing Against Vanishing: Native American Autobiography and the Trope of an Ever-Pending Vanishment



Cet article a pour but d’étudier le sentiment de mort imminente et de disparition définitive éprouvé par les Amérindiens au cours du dix-neuvième siècle. L’autobiographie écrite par l’Ottawa Andrew Blackbird en 1887, ainsi que celle du Omaha Francis La Flesche en 1900, serviront de portes d’entrée à cette analyse. Tous deux furent à la fois les témoins et les incarnations du destin tragique des Amérindiens confrontés à la colonisation anglo-américaine. Dans leurs textes, ils se demandent si les Amérindiens étaient effectivement condamnés à disparaître définitivement, ainsi que l’affirmait le discours dominant, ou s’ils pouvaient malgré tout trouver la possibilité de s’adapter et de survivre. Sinon, l’au-delà ne pouvait-il pas représenter une sorte de sanctuaire idéalisé dans lequel les Amérindiens nostalgiques pourraient trouver un refuge?

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1Native Americans have not vanished and are not vanishing: this assertion is nowadays ceaselessly, and rightfully, put forward by Native American Indians in North America. It is iterated as a counter-topos against the widely admitted idea in white Anglo-American society that indigenous peoples were and are still bound to disappear completely and definitively, if not already extinct, due to an intrinsic racial, cultural and demographic inferiority. As Brian Dippie explains, the tendency to depict Native Americans as the “Vanishing American” is “a constant in American thinking,” “a habit of thought” that has “achieved the status of a cultural myth” (xi-xx, 15). If today’s reality of the Native world, marked by a demographic growth since the 1930s and a cultural renaissance since the 1970s, tends to contradict this nihilistic vision, the situation encountered by Native peoples at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries seemed to match it. This is at least what is revealed by autobiographies written by Native Americans at that period, as those of Andrew J. Blackbird, History of the Ottawa and Chippewa Indians of Michigan; A Grammar of their Language, and Personal and Family History of the Author (1887), and Francis La Flesche, The Middle Five: Indian Boys at School (1900). Their writings appear oriented by a sense of inevitable, total and pending death, in its most literal meaning.

2This article aims at exploring how this sense of death, of the impossibility of escaping a definitive socio-cultural and physical extinction, influenced some Native autobiographers in the making of their texts. We will first see how their autobiographies can be assessed as “autothanatographies,” what were the issues at stake that they wanted to address in texts designed to keep traces of their existence. In a second part entitled “Portrait of the Indian as deceased,” we will see how they measured and described the shattered and decaying state of the existence of Native peoples. In the third and final part, we will try to define the notion of “death as a fifth hill” in order to show that if the Native presence was envisioned as irrevocably barred from the earth, it could somehow be maintained and pursued in a spiritual hereafter conceived as a refuge.

1. Native American autobiographies as autothanatographies

3Native peoples have always been considered as an inferior group doomed to vanish “since the day the white man arrived” in America (Dippie xi) Erroneously subsumed as “Indians,” they were rejected by Euro-American colonizers in the “crowd of the anonymous” which only became visible when an upsurge of violence occurred (Eribon 50, 152) or as “occasional statistics” (O’Connell xxv). Writing autobiographies appears as a means to state their existence in words and names and to record their presence considered as disappearing.

Existing in words and new semiotic codes

4Native autobiographers wrote their texts fully aware of the derogatory representations they were reduced to. Some Natives therefore used semiotic codes from the dominant society (English language, alphabetical writing, texts to be read and distributed) in order to provide their own accounts of their existence and give their own representations of the people they identified themselves with. Far from being a form of alienation or blank assimilation, the use of these codes provided them with a means to posit and assert their presence in their own world henceforth colonized.

5In the written accounts of their lives, Native autobiographers appear as “capable and valuable” beings (Ricoeur 226), endowed with a name and a personality, involved in a history and an evolution to which they were able to adapt as responsible agents rather than suffering it as passive victims. The codes they learned to master and use clearly defined the readership they hoped to reach; Francis La Flesche explicitly announces in his preface his intention to write for the children of the white “race” and to make the Omaha children appear “familiar to the reader” (xv-xvi). Blackbird also often (five times) directly speaks to his “reader.” This literary convention took another meaning when employed by Native authors who, as “authors” endowed with authority, could speak from a vantage point of view and give lessons to their white audience. Those who speak are not as strange as the mainstream epistémè depicted them: even their names sounded like those of common Euro-American individuals.

Existing in names

  • 1 Some of the Native autobiographers also had Native names, which sometimes appeared on the covers of (...)

6The names they used in order to introduce themselves can also be read as signs designed to make them understandable, accessible and acceptable by an Anglo-American audience: William Apess, George Copway, Sarah Winnemucca Hopkins, Andrew J. Blackbird, Francis La Flesche, James Murie, Charles A. Eastman.1 Endorsing these onomastic conventions contributed to tone down their unheimlichkeit (uncanniness), to sound familiar, and to break their isolation as stigmatized and ostracized people. They offered their Anglo-American readers a possibility of bridging the ethnic and cultural gap, following Jacques Derrida’s premise that the pronunciation of a name is a way to cross toward the other (Sauf le nom 63). Combined with the use of the intra-textual “I,” the name participates in the construction of a process of identification expected from the reader who will therefore become, at least transiently, the embodiment of the autobiographer’s life. Reading the autobiographers’ names actualizes and confirms their existences and opens a door toward their lives told in narratives they have decided to tell in their own terms. Keen on emphasizing the importance of language for humans and drawing on Descartes’ cogito ergo sum, Kiowa contemporary writer N. Scott Momaday establishes a correlation between being and name: we know “that which has no name can’t be said to exist, to be. That which bears a name bears being as well. I have a name, therefore I am” (124). From a human perspective, the name appears as a full dimension of being because it reveals the being to himself and to others. “To name oneself or disappear:” such was the option summarized by Édouard Glissant (542).

7However, the name does not only assert an existence in the present; it also creates an opening and a crossing toward the future. It helps an individual overpass his sense of ending related to his mere organic existence and extends the limits of his temporality. For Derrida, the name remains even after the physical disappearance of the individual who bears it; a name is “always and a priori the name of a dead person;” it is the name which is held responsible and will remain responsible for the being’s actions; to sign a text, moreover an autobiography, with one’s name is to open oneself a credit before eternity, to take on responsibility beyond one’s own life. It is to live throughout a text which will remain after one’s death, which will talk for the dead. The autobiographical text stands as a way to overpass the temporal boundary of death and to be present even in absentia. With the name, which encapsulates the multifaceted dimension of a person, it enables someone to experience what Derrida calls “la différance” (Marges 3-29): it creates a spatio-temporal and socio-cultural link between the autobiographers and their readers, whatever the place and time the latter live in, whatever the society and people they belong to, as long as they are able to read the text.

Existing in memory

8In Books and Islands in Ojibwe Country, Louise Erdrich regularly asks the question “Books. Why?” One of her answers is to present books as a dialogic device to talk through time and over death: “Books. Why? So we can talk to you even though we are dead. Here we are, the writer and I, regarding each other” (55). In 1887, Andrew Blackbird’s sponsor, The Ypsilanti Auxiliary of the Woman’s National Indian Association, endowed their protégé’s book with this value of “différance:” this “account of a race and a language already passing into oblivion, will become even more estimable with the lapse of time” (6).

9Blackbird definitely wrote with a foreboding that Native peoples facing colonization were unlikely to resist disappearance, and with the purpose of keeping the memory of their existence, as he explains at length in his preface:

I deem it not improper to present the history of the last race of Indians now existing in the State of Michigan, called the Ottawa and Chippewa Nations of Indians.

There were many other tribes in this region prior to the occupancy of the Ottawa and Chippewa Indians of this state, who have long ago gone out of existence. Not a page of their history is on record; but only an allusion to them in our traditions.” (5)

10In chapter IV, he repeats that the reasons which stimulated the writing of his book are related to his will to keep a record of the vanished and vanishing Native peoples:

The Indian tribes are continnualy (sic) diminishing on the face of this continent. Some have already passed entirely out of existence and are forgotten, who once inhabited this part of the country: such as the Mawsh-ko-desh, Urons, Ossaw-gees ‒ […] and the Odaw-gaw-mees [...]. Not a single page of their history can be found on record in the history of this country, or hardly of their existence. […] For these reasons it seems desirable that the history of my people should not be lost, like that of other tribes who previously existed in this country, and who have left no record of their ancient legends and their traditions.” (24-25)

11The mention of these tribes’ names actualizes their presence in a medium and a language still pertinent. The autobiographies written in English by Native Americans in past centuries are still valuable and still talk to us. The lives they told, the world they portrayed can still be accessible nowadays. They are especially valuable because they testify to the ruptures introduced by colonization in Native lives. Their authors wanted to leave traces of a former Native America that could be tracked back through words, no matter how remote it was in time and space. Andrew Blackbird particularly insists on this aspect in his autobiography, stating a before, a vanished once, and an after the arrival of the white men. He remembers, and consequently reminds his readers, that a long pre-contract history of America does exist; Native societies keep a whole set of traditions dealing with this extended period of time: “Very many centuries ago, before the discovery of the continent by the white people, the traditions of the Ottawas say...” (79). La Flesche also remembers that America once belonged to Native peoples only and that all Omaha “infants […] had to pass through the cradle-board period [...] for countless generations in the line of [their] ancestry” when the land still belonged to their “fathers” (xvi).

12Blackbird and La Flesche’s autobiographies acknowledge that this Native world, however ancient it was, no longer exists. The way of life they were brought up in had become irrelevant in a land where the indigenous peoples and societies had gradually been replaced by Euro-American populations and societies. Their reports are pessimistic and melancholic, yet not deprived of a kind of Manichaeism which tends to idealize a Native past against a ghoulish Anglo-American present, as we will see in the next part.

2. Portrait of the Indian as deceased

13The Euro-American invaders are made responsible for the destruction of Native societies and peoples: they are described as a juggernaut which destroyed the Natives’ lands, identities and bodies.

The Native “Garden of Earthly Delights” turned wild

  • 2 Blackbird defines Kitche Manitou as the Supreme Ruler of the Universe, the Great Creator of all thi (...)

14The Native world Blackbird and La Flesche describe looks like a Garden of Eden which had existed for an immeasurable period of time since it was created by an all-powerful supreme force, called Ketchi-mat-ne-do by the Ottawas of Blackbird (79), Wa-kon-da by the Omahas of La Flesche.2 It is praised in highly positive terms. “Once it was a happy land,” Blackbird claims; in the days when “[t]here were no white people […], the Indians were very happy.” The Ottawas “were very happy in those days, when they were all by themselves and possessed a wide spread of land” (50, 56, 101). A tongue-in-cheek Blackbird expounds that the “wild” or “uncivilized” condition the Ottawas knew on their “promised land” was actually that of divine and natural beauty, of abundance and harmony, of freedom and piety, of strict education and performed ceremonies (11-14, 22, 32-33, 45-46, 101). When the Ottawas thronged together, their meeting looked like “a prolonged merriment” (46). In a tone which does not sound remote from that of the pastoral genre, Blackbird concludes that the Ottawas and Chippewas, then “fierce,” “powerful,” and “numerous” were “quite virtuous in their primitive state” (15-17, 81, 97, 103).

15According to La Flesche, the Omaha pupils sent to the missionary school of the reservation also considered the tribal life they came from as a state of happiness. To their minds, their tribe was their real “home,” a byword for family and coherent social organization, harmonious relationship with animals and their environment, fond parents and non-violent though rigorous education, colors and pleasure. “[M]uch pleasure” was “anticipated” as Saturday grew closer (16).

16The Native world was entirely different from the demeaning descriptions conveyed by the dominant Anglo-American society. It was not a “savage” world at all, peopled with “savages” living in “a wilderness” deprived of “human interest or history,” as La Flesche explains. If it was assessed so, it was because “the white people” knew nothing about the Indians, did not try to emend their “misconception of Indian life and character” but, instead, “magnified” what seems strange to them “by the mists of prejudice and the conflict of interests between the two races” (xviii-xx). Unless the words “savages” and “wild” can be resemanticized with positive connotations, as Blackbird did with “wild” (22) and Winnemucca with “savage”. In her 1883 autobiography Life Among the Piutes, Winnemucca takes the word “savage” to demonstrate the extent to which English words are devoid of semanticism for what they designate does not correspond to reality; she describes the Paiutes as a very well organized and sophisticated society, with political and democratic institutions, a set of religious beliefs, a complex kinship system, behaving as real Christians abiding the Ten Commandments yet branded as “savages” and “uncivilized people” by the Anglo-American settlers whom she depicts as the absolute opposite, as violent, blasphemous, deceitful, stubborn, greedy and racist people (10, 89, 214, 239, 244). Fifty years earlier, in 1836, Pequot William Apess explicitly asked who could be dubbed “savage:” “Now let us see who the greatest savages were;” “And who […] were wanting of the name of savages, whites or Indians? Let justice answer” (Eulogy 281, 283). In his 1829 autobiography, Apess noticed that what the whites call a wilderness inhabited by “a race of ‘savages’” or “barbarians” was, on the contrary, a civilized country “teeming with a healthy and happy population” who considered themselves as “the sons of the forest,” i.e. living according to divine designs in a well-organized society settled in a harmonious natural environment (A Son of the Forest 124-125). A hundred years later, in 1933, Sioux Luther Standing Bear told in his autobiography that if the Native country could be considered as a wilderness, it was not only a matter of cultural assessment, but because the destructive effects of the coming of the white settlers turned it into a wild place:

Miles were to us as they were to the bird. The land was ours to roam in as the sky was for them to fly in. We did not think of the great open plains, the beautiful rolling hills, and winding streams with tangled growth, as “wild.” Only to the white man was nature a “wilderness” and only to him was the land “infested” with “wild” animals and “savage” people. To us it was tame. Earth was bountiful and we were surrounded with the blessings of the Great Mystery. Not until the hairy man from the east came and with brutal frenzy heaped injustices upon us and the families we loved was it “wild” for us. When the very animals of the forest began fleeing from his approach, then it was that for the “Wild West” began. (38; my emphasis)

17From Apess to Standing Bear, the same counter-narrative enunciated against the mainstream opinion, describing colonization of America as a process of civilization, can be read in Native autobiographies written over one century. The autobiographers used the same simple dichotomic language as the “history of the victors” to depict a world in “red and white” but with a reversed perspective: their happy, free, civilized state of living was destroyed by the white savage invaders and replaced by a narrow, gloomy, brutal environment aimed at alienating the Natives from every element of their indigenous identity and sovereignty.

Western education to erase Indianness

18“The pigs are out and going to the Indians’ cornfields!” (17): this apparently insignificant sentence related to an anecdotal predicament of the Omaha school’s life can be read as an ironic, though alarming, statement uttered by La Flesche to mean that the way of life the Natives had striven to build so far was likely to be disturbed by the disruptive action of unknown newcomers. La Flesche uses the microcosm of the Presbyterian school built on the reservation as a metonymy for the relationship developed between Americans and Natives in the context of colonization.

19The 1860s situation described by La Flesche was not at all in favor of the rightful Omaha owners of the land who lost “thousands and thousands of acres of fine land” in exchange of a few number of houses (made of lumber cut from their own trees) and technical buildings (a saw mill and a grist mill, a store house and a smoke house, a school and a chapel, an agency). If the adults tried to preserve their traditional way of life, they were aware that their children were not going to either be able or allowed to follow it, and were going to have to assimilate into a new society to which the school was supposed to prepare them. Oo-ma’-a-be’s mother thought that the school could prepare her son to deal with the whites:

We are the only ones in the village who haven’t sent any children to the House of Teaching […]. Ma-wa’-da-ne has sent his boy, the only one he has […] because he thinks some good will come of it in to the child in the future. Then look at your friend E-sta’-ma-za, a man of great knowledge and foresight, he has sent his only boy and three daughters. There must be some good in it; we ought to send one of our boys at least. […] Before many years have gone, our dealings will be mostly with the white people who are coming to mingle with us; and, to have relations with them of any kind, some of us must learn their language and familiarize ourselves with their customs. That is what these men who send their children to the White-chests are looking forward to. (23-24)

20The founding of the school in 1854 “marked an epoch” not only in terms of chronology, but also from a socio-cultural point of view. It was not only built in order to help Native children cope with the newcomers. Targeting the Omaha children, the school aimed at changing their whole identity, which encompassed their physical appearance, cultural values and social behaviors, in order to erase every trace of Indianness in them by all means necessary. Except on week-ends when they were allowed to visit their families, the children were locked in buildings where they had to remain quiet and silent for long periods of time in uncomfortable rooms such as the classrooms and the chapel; they had to adapt their bodies to new clothes and new hairdos, to new furniture such as chairs, to a new dividing of time indicated by clocks and punctuated by the chiming of bells. All cases of disobedience were severely punished, often by physical violence. La Flesche himself was tied to a post of the dining-room “to repent” after he attempted to run away to attend a buffalo hunt (93), and he conveys his feelings of disgust when he saw the superintendent, William Hamilton (only mentioned by the name of Gray-beard in The Middle Five) “dealt blow after blow” with a board on a little boy’s hand who inadvertently struck him with a clod (136-138). They also faced punishment if they spoke their mother tongue, even though they did not speak English yet or only imperfectly. What was particularly hard for the Omaha pupils was not to learn English, as they were already used to a strict linguistic learning of their own language, but to distinguish which was the correct register among the different kinds of English they heard around them:

In the talk of the boys I have striven to give a reproduction of the peculiar English spoken by them, which was composite, gathered from the imperfect comprehension of their books, the provincialisms of the teachers, and the slang and bad grammar picked up from uneducated white persons employed at the school or at the Government agency. Oddities of speech, profanity, localisms, and slang were unknown in the Omaha language, so when such expressions fell upon the ears of these lads they innocently learned and used them without the slightest suspicion that there could be bad as well as good English. (xviii)

21La Flesche then gives the example of Thin’-je-zhin-ga (Little Tail), a new pupil who challenged the other boys to swim in the Missouri “with a succession of swear words – genuine swear words,” though he “did not know what he was saying” as he “was imitating the Agency teamster” yelling at his horses; in spite of his ignorance, Thin’-je-zhin-ga was punished by Gray-beard (77-80). The Omaha child later confessed to his schoolmates that, had he known that swearing meant to “call God names,” he would have restrained himself because he was respectful of the deities: “I know God, it’s the same Omahas call Wa-kon-da” (81).

  • 3 Occom, sermon “When he drowned his Reason” (n.d., in Brooks 226-229); Eastman, in several newspaper (...)
  • 4 The term “enwildering” attempts to translate Aimé Césaire’s concept of “ensauvagement” defined as a (...)

22La Flesche is not the only one who states that swearing was foreign to Native languages; Samson Occom for the Mohegans, Sarah Winnemucca for the Paiutes (45), Charles Eastman for the Sioux,3 and Blackbird for the Ottawas say the same thing: “Swearing or profanity was never heard among the Ottawa and Chippewa tribes of Indians, and not even found in their language,” meanwhile “even children of the Caucasian race are heard cursing and blaspheming the name of their Great Creator” (12-13). This assertion establishes the piety of the Native Americans and means that the replacement of their mother tongues by English marked the introduction of a disruption in their minds and spirituality, indicating the end of their pious relationship with the gods and communion with their deified environment. It is also a way to interrogate the nature of the Christian religion and the religious sincerity of the settlers who presented Christianity as the only true religion, as a sign of civilization. The autobiographers tell that Natives did not first reject Christianity, as they saw in it many common points with their religion; if they came to have a censorious point of view, it was because the Christian colonizers bragged a lot about their beliefs but did not put them into practice, whereas the Natives who did not claim to be Christians had organized their societies on shibboleths resembling those enhanced by Christianity. Blackbird notes that the Ottawa society was organized according to twenty-one “precepts or moral commandments;” he admits that if respecting the Sabbath day was absent of the list, all the other Christian commandments could be found, plus eleven other “divine precepts” (12, 103-6). What he learned from his father was that the Christian white man cannot be trusted for he has “a smooth tongue, while his heart is full of deceit” (29). What the settlers could therefore be indicted of was to have acted as demons, corrupting languages and destroying authentic pious societies sharing many similarities with the Christian religion. The Natives were not only bewildered by the arrival of Euro-American settlers, they were also enwildered – made savages – by them.4

23The obliteration of the Native linguistic presence was reinforced by the replacement of Native names by Euro-American names, which altered the countryside and individuals.

The replacement of Native names

24The conquest of the land did not occur only on a geographical ground, but also on a symbolic level as the settlers renamed many indigenous sites with Anglophone names. Blackbird gives many examples, among which Waw-gaw-naw-ke-zee becoming Arbor Croche under the French, then Middle Village after the British conquest (10, 27, 47, 64). He also notices that some Algonquian names have been adapted to English pronunciation, such as Chicago deriving from she-gog-ong (the place of the skunk) or Michigan from Mi-chi-gum (monstruous lake) (93, 106). When an Indian name has been kept, the meaning of it is likely to be wrong, as in the case of Michilimackinack Island, translated as Large Turtle by the whites, whereas it refers to the name of the people who once lived there but who had been exterminated by the Iroquois: “‘Mi-shi-ne-macki-nong’ […] is the locative name of the Indian noun ‘Michinemackinawgo’” (5, 19-20, 89). La Flesche does not give any example of renaming, but explains that if the Omaha country cannot be regarded as a wilderness, it is because its topographic places were named and historicized, as the highest hill located near the school which was known “as ‘‘the hill on which Um’-pa-ton-ga (Big Elk) was buried’” (10, 15). The school overlooked the Missouri, called Ne-shu’-de in the Deghiha Siouan language of the Omahas (114), and the name of the State of Nebraska itself derived from a Siouan word by which the Omahas designated “the river Platt, descriptive of its shallowness, width, and low banks” (xix).

25La Flesche insists more on a second linguistic process carried on to blot out any speck of Indianness: the replacement of Omaha personal names, assessed as “heathenish,” by English names. The Omaha children therefore experienced a “flood of […] new names” (xvii-xviii) often taken from the Bible and Antiquity (such as David, Jonathan, Isaac, Alexander) or more recent American history: Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Philip Sheridan, Ulysses Grant; Oo-ma’-a-be became Edwin M. Stanton, and Thin’-je-zhin-ga became William T. Sherman (28, 74-75). La Flesche indicates that the Omaha children remained faithful to their new names even “after [they] left school and had grown to manhood” because they were aware that their future was written in English and that they had to get used to them to make their “way through an entire strange language” (xviii). If La Flesche cannot add his name to the list because he did not have to go through the renaming process as he was already registered as Francis La Flesche, Blackbird actually went through this experience. His child name was Pe-ness-wi-qua-am, which was changed to Amable when he was baptized by Catholic priest Vincent Badin in 1825 when he was around ten years old. This name was later replaced by two English names, Jackson at the beginning of the 1840s, then Andrew, though Blackbird does not explain their origins, only implying that he did not choose them but that they were given to him by the American authorities. He dedicates more space to explain the origin of the name “Blackbird,” an erroneous translation of his father’s Algonquian name, “Macka-de-pe-nessy, which means Black Hawk;” it was translated into “L’ Oiseau noir” by the French, then rendered into “Blackbird” in English. Blackbird concludes that this is why he and his brothers “now go by this latter name” (3, 27).

26The loss of names was only one aspect of a more general vanishment, a fall from Eden which turned Native lives into hell on Earth.

Alcohol and epidemics as agents of demographic collapse

27According to Blackbird, the Ottawas became intoxicated by many vices, the worse of which, that could be held responsible for entailing many others – like murder – being intemperance, which he associates with the introduction of “intoxicating liquors” by the white men who brought “into the tribes this great destroyer of mankind, soul and body” and made “people to be different” (16, 59). Initially, alcohol was presented as a gift brought by the whites first considered as “wonderful” beings by the Natives: the British sovereign “would freely unfasten the faucet which contains her lively water – whisky” (8, 92-93). Alcohol is linked to the hypocritical, mischievous attitude displayed by the whites in order to deceive the Natives; it is also seen as belonging to a pack of harmful tricks played on Indians who unwarily opened a sort of Pandora box distributed by the newcomers. This appears best exemplified in Blackbird’s text with the scything diseases to which the Natives were not immune, like smallpox, voluntarily sent by the English in a form of retaliation against “the Ottawas and Chippewas because they were friends of the French Government” during the Seven Years’ War of 1754-63:

[T]he Ottawas were greatly reduced in numbers from what they were in former times, on account of the small-pox which they brought from Montreal during the French war with Great Britain. This small pox was sold to them shut up in a tiny box […]; and that this box contained something that would do them great good. Accordingly, after they reached home they opened the box. […] But alas, alas! pretty soon burst out a terrible sickness among them. The great Indian doctors themselves were taken sick and died. […] Lodge after lodge was totally vacated – nothing but the dead bodies lying here and there in their lodges – entire families being swept off […]. The whole coast of Arbor Croche […] was entirely depopulated and laid waste” (9-10).

  • 5 In one of his autobiographical texts written in 1890, Skiri Pawnee James Murie disclosed analogous (...)

28The “Vanishing American” was not only a myth: it tallied with a fearful reality, which the Natives also interpreted according to their own views and inserted in their historiography. Blackbird seems convinced that the discovery of America sealed the fate of indigenous populations, bound to be replaced by “the pale faces who have left their fathers’ land” (100) who will arrive “as many as the stars in the heavens” or “like the trees of the forest” (8), who “will be so intermingled” with the Natives that it would be hard to distinguish the Indian origin of their mixed-blood children. Blackbird himself married an English woman, Elizabeth Martha Fisk, with whom he had four children that he considered more beautiful than “pure blood” Native children because of their inherited Caucasian features, and to whom he forbade to speak Ottawa because he wanted to turn them into perfect American citizens (28, 69).5 Immediately after this comment, he mentions his father’s death in a simple matter-of-fact sentence (“Soon after I came to my country my father died at a great age” 70) as though it was not worthy to tell more about it because a new world had begun, as though this death was part of a process that was bringing his “own race […], who proudly trod upon this soil, [...] near the end of existence” (24). Blackbird predicts that, culturally and physically, Native American Indians will soon “be entirely annihilated from the face of the earth” (8).

29La Flesche also describes an Omaha people whose demographic situation and cultural vitality were in dereliction. Ritual performances seem to have been forsaken because they had become irrelevant or because there were not enough people alive to enact them. For instance, in spite of his religious tenure as the “keeper of the sacred tent of war,” the father of Hae-th’na’-ta (renamed Robert Brown, and nicknamed Little Bob) lost his “recognition among the prominent men of the tribe” and became “the poorest man in my father’s village” (35). More tragic is the way La Flesche presents with much pathos the arrival of Joseph (or Joe), an orphan rescued by a messianic, lonely, “crippled old woman” in a situation which recalls that of Arbor Croche after the smallpox epidemic:

Who was this wretched little boy? He was his mother’s son, that’s all. He had no father, that is, none to care and fondle him as other boys had. […]

The mother died while the child still needed her tender care, and the little one was left all alone in this great world that plays with the fortunes of men and nations. The place of death was in a dreary little tent, the rags of which flapped and fluttered in the force of merciless winds, as though in sympathy with the melancholy situation. No loving husband or father was there to prepare the body for its last resting-place, and to give the helpless babe the nourishment for which it cried. Not even a relative was there […].

As the mother lay an unburied corpse, and her child wailing, a figure bent with age was plodding by. It was an old woman. (133)

30As she felt that “fast approaching” was the day of her death, she brought the child to the school, convinced that it would give him a future. The school already sheltered many other orphans, such as Brush, La Flesche’s best friend and the most promising “little white chest.” Lester and Warren were also brought by their widowed mother who, despite the heart-breaking decision to get separated from her beloved ones, resigned herself to the idea that a Western education would help her children succeed in the new society. The way La Flesche relates her leaving can be read as the symptom of the end of a world:

We watched the mother as she went down the hill, leading her horse and the colt, until she disappeared at a turn on the bottom. (21)

31What disappeared with her is a socio-economic system as horses were “the standard of Indian wealth” (11) as well as – and probably mainly – the familial harmony and kinship relationship which was central to the Native way of life. Blackbird also makes his mother’s death coincident with the breaking apart of his family, the beginning of his vagrancy and his determination to get a Western education (chapter VII). Education could have represented an alternative to a tragic situation, but Blackbird and La Flesche do not conceal their skepticism about the purposes school was supposed to fulfill.

32Blackbird encountered painful difficulties in getting enough money to complete a study course, and had to quit his endeavors because of a lack of funding in spite of the “educational fund” especially set apart “for the education of the Indians” in Michigan (62, 65, 69, 99). La Flesche describes the school as a place of death and brainwashing.

33For instance, he relates how, after some years spent at school, his mindset had been transformed. When Little Tail first arrived at school, La Flesche and his classmates considered him as a “stranger” and a “queer little visitor” who whetted their curiosity and made them laugh because of his traditional outfit and his behavior (72-74). Once again, when a batch of Ponca kids paid an unexpected visit to the school, the Omaha pupils considered that their appearance and behavior “made the strangest and most comical picture” and “could not help laughing” at them; they call them with derogatory names derived from the usual racialist lexicon, such as “little savages,” “little rascals” with “the queerest-looking heads [they] had ever seen,” and La Flesche confesses that he could not explain why he “had taken a sudden and unreasonable spite” of “an impish-looking little chap” (107-110). He was now thinking as the common American man he describes in his book, who despises and rejects the Natives and their culture of which he presented himself as the arch embodiment in chapter I. Contrary to Blackbird who does not really challenge the rhetoric of assimilation, La Flesche seems to use the benefit of hindsight to develop a critical point of view on the cognitive metamorphosis the Native children were submitted to. He is aware that the perception of someone’s else appearance and culture is a matter of relativity: From the other side, Little Tail also appears “as much interested in” the Omaha pupils as they “were in him,” as well as the Ponca boys envision them as looking “funny” and like “little owl[s]” (for their haircut made their eyes popping out), and “interspersed their merriment with comments” on their appearance and clothing (107). Omaha children also assessed the school as a place of uncanniness when they first discovered it because “[e]verything was strange” to them (4). In the first paragraph of his preface, he also reminds his readers that, because of their appearances, Natives are dubbed “savages” and denied a place in humanity:

The paint, feathers, robes, and other articles that make up the dress of the Indian are marks of savagery to the European, and he who wears them, however appropriate or significant they might be to himself, finds it difficult to lay claim to a share in common human nature. (xv)

34In this humanity defined according to white Western standards, some schemes considered as philanthropic were proposed in order to transform and absorb the Natives. In the 1890s, the founder of the Carlisle Indian School (Pennsylvania), Richard H. Pratt, claimed that it was necessary to “kill the Indian and save the man.” Many Native autobiographers show that Native peoples had not waited for the coming of the whites to be human but, rather, that colonization dehumanized them, mainly because it was carried out through such inhumane ways that they doubted that the colonizers were really human. The killing, either physical or cultural, of Native peoples was fulfilled without compunction, even in schools as the one described by La Flesche. In this “horrid old place” (94) many children died, including Brush: “I shall never forget his goodness; he now sleeps in the cemetery just above the mission” (7).

35Brush’s death may represent the end of the integration dream and the idea that Natives had “no longer” (152) a legitimate place on Earth. They had no place anymore on the land they thought they belonged to as peoples and human beings, but the only place they could think about as Indians was now in the ground as corpses. However, if death appeared as the ultimate fate for the Natives, it also symbolized a refuge because they believed in the survival of the soul after death.

3. Surviving in the spirit world

36Native views about life and death are very varied and complex. What this part will focus on is what some autobiographies tell about these conceptions. What is striking is how death is apparently not perceived as a fearful evil, but is given a positive dimension as a means to depart for the spirit world and be united with one’s ancestors.

Death rather than hell on Earth

37Blackbird concludes his chapter XIII entitled “The Lamentation of the Overflowing Heart of the Red Man of the Forest,” wherein he mimics the histrionic stance of a Euro-American literary trend dealing with the unavoidable vanishment of Native Americans, by saying that he’d rather commit suicide “than be the slave to the white man” (102). Though the stressed melodramatic tone of this declaration makes it sound somewhat artificial and insincere, Blackbird’s conclusion nevertheless conveys a real sense of tragedy and inner despair which generally triggered the writing of Native autobiographies.

38Some years before him, in 1879, Ponca Ta-Zha-but spoke similar dejected words as he castigated the government policy which arbitrarily removed the Poncas from their ancestral country to live in a tiny, unwholesome reservation in Oklahoma: “it would be better for the government, better for us, to stand us out there in a line, bring the soldiers and tell them to shoot us all. Then our miseries would be ended, and the government would have no more trouble” (Tibbles 22). One year later, Sarah Winnemucca proclaimed that she would prefer to be deliberately shot on the spot “rather than encounter another season of lingering death” in reservations run by sadistic and incompetent agents (carpenter and Sorisio 125). In her autobiography, she reveals that Paiutes had been “so unhappy for a long time” under Anglo-American coercion that they had become reluctant to have children and wished “to disincrease, instead of multiply” (48). She herself wished she were not born because she feared that she would have to go to Hell as the Methodists said; but her relatives tried to reassure her by stating that Hell was actually on Earth and that where the deceased Paiutes would go would be “in the Spirit-land” where they would be greeted by those who already passed away (54-55). This conception also exists among the Ottawas and the Omahas.

Conception of life and death among the Ottawas and the Omahas

39Both peoples conceive life as a path along which a person has to travel during her life; an ideal cycle of life is conceived as fulfilling a journey over “four hills of life.” Playing the Omaha game “The Word of Command,” Alexander had to beg a woman for food and threatened her with trouble on her path of life if she refused to comply:

Of you we demand a bag of pemmican. Give willingly, and you shall go beyond the four hills of life without stumbling; there shall be no weariness in the pathway of life to hinder your feet. (114-115)

40This thanatologic perspective sheds a new light on the way La Flesche describes Lester and Warren’s mother disappearing at the bottom of a hill: it reinforces the idea that a cycle has come to an end, that a way of life vanishes in order to give way to a new one. However, there is no reason to believe that the system imposed by Anglo-Americans will escape this pattern of evolution which inevitably changes “the conditions of nations and of peoples” as it “plays with the fortunes of men and nations” (105, 133). In a 1882 article, Sarah Winnemucca hoped that the white settlers would undergo the same painful experience they imposed on America’s indigenous peoples:

I hope some other race will come and drive him out, and kill him, like he has done to us. Then I will say the Great Spirit is just, and that is all right. (Carpenter and Sorisio 146)

41What is absent from Winnemucca’s text is the hope for a Native renaissance and reconquista, as if she endorsed the idea that Native American Indians could do nothing but disappear. Blackbird’s book conveys the very same idea that peoples are bound to be replaced by other peoples in a never-ending mechanism. He does not mention the concept of “four hills of life;” but the latter is defined in a book dealing with the traditions of a people to which the Ottawas are related and that Blackbird mentions in his title, the Chippewas or Ojibwas (Anishnabeg).

42Basil Johnston quotes the words of an Ojibwa medicine-man, Chejauk, who describes life as a journey along four hills in Sisyphian terms, each hill being endowed with its own difficulties to overcome and duties to be fulfilled. Besides, Chejauk explains that, as time goes by, fewer and fewer people remain alive because life is “difficult” in relation to the “many dangers, disasters, and perils” people are likely to come across. As a result, only a minority can claim to have achieved a cycle of life “in its entirety, in all its stages,” and he advises those who reach old age to be grateful because it “is a gift of the Kitche Manitou.” However, each person is fully informed that she will “finally vanish into the mists” and that death is expected at the end of the path as being “part of life” (109-118).

43Death is nevertheless far from being a dead end. On the contrary, it opens a new period, a new kind of life in an afterlife which is invested with a positive dimension. This next stage can be defined as a fifth hill which stands as the ultimate destination to be reached.

Departing for a world beyond

44Joe’s adoptive mother, Brush, and Blackbird willingly accept their ultimate destination.

45At the end of chapter VIII, Blackbird conveys his feeling that as he is nigh on “seventy years old,” he will “soon pass away” and “depart for another world” (71). He admits that this feeling of impending death encouraged him to write his book, not only for his “readers to remember” his existence, but also to write on behalf of Native peoples who were already vanished or were on the verge of extinction. They would at least survive in a text and, by happenstance, in the memory of Anglophone readers. They would also survive as spirits, which the Ottawas used to celebrate in a “feast of the dead:”

All the Indians and children used to go around among the camps and salute one another with the words, “Ne-baw-baw-tche-baw-yew,” that is to say, “I am or we are going around as spirits,” feasting and throwing food into the fire – as they believe the spirits of the dead take the victuals and eat as they are consumed in the fire. (45)

46La Flesche also mentions food offered to the dead by the Omahas, but simply laid on graves, not burned, as tokens of respect, as his mother Ton’hintin explains to him and Brush:

the spirit of any person dead and buried […] cannot eat food; but people love their dead relatives; they remember them and long for their presence at the family gathering: it is this desire that makes them go and put a share of the food on the grave of those who have become nothing, and not the belief that the dead can return and partake of food the same as the living. (17)

47A dead person required special treatment, first to get access to the hereafter, and this is why burial and mourning rites were important. When the rites could not be properly accomplished, the spirit would not be solaced. La Flesche and Blackbird both give examples of this type of apocalyptic situations. As previously quoted, Blackbird evokes lodges “totally vacated – nothing but the dead bodies lying here and there in their lodges” after the smallpox epidemic which devastated the Ottawa village of Arbor Croche in the early 1760s (10). We have already seen that Joe’s campsite was described in the same frightful, Gothic manner by La Flesche.

48What Blackbird does not mention is the destiny that awaited the converted Natives after death. In the early nineteenth century, Blackbird’s paternal uncle, Wa-ke-zoo, told the story of a baptized Ottawa Indian whose access to the Ottawa spirit world was stymied because he converted to Christianity, but who was also rejected from the Christian heaven because he was an Indian. “Implicit in the story is the assumption that it was impossible to be both Indian and Christian,” as Theodore Karamanski summarizes (53-54). Mohegan Samson Occom, who became a famous Presbyterian preacher in the eighteenth century, wrote his autobiographical texts in 1765 and 1768 in order to demonstrate that it was not paradoxical to be both Christian and Indian. He presented himself as a case in point of this possibility. Yet, he was not unaware that a colonial society built on racial prejudice loathed the idea. After a two-and-a-half-year trip to Great-Britain, he concluded, though reluctantly, that white Christians were indifferent to the fate of Native American Indians and, moreover, preferred to keep them at bay and to exclude them from their spirit world:

It seems to me that they are very indifferent whether the poor Indians go to Heaven or Hell. I can’t help my thoughts; and I am apt to think they don’t want the Indians to go to Heaven with them (Brooks 86; my emphasis).

49If some converted Indians did not conceal their mental agony, many others faithfully believed that they would go to the Native spirit world after their death. For Winnemucca, there was no doubt that “those who have died are happy in the Spirit-land,” and she was convinced that she “shall soon see them there” (42). Like Blackbird, Joe’s adoptive mother displays a stoical posture in front of death; her only concern is for Joe:

The two were inseparable until the grandmother, as she was called by the boy, felt that she was fast approaching the time when she would be summoned to join her fathers in the spirit-land; so, to provide for the child’s future, she had brought him to the school (134; my emphasis).

50Once again, La Flesche clearly makes a difference between the world of the adults – which vanishes and therefore belongs to the past and to the realm of death – and the world of the young, severed from the traditional Omaha society and oriented toward an Anglo-American future. This idea is also enhanced by the names: when named, the adults are only called by their Omaha names, even though they had a Western name, as it was the case for La Flesche’s father himself. La Flesche only mentions him by his Omaha name, E-sta’-ma-za, which is even not translated, whereas he was more widely known by the Western name of Joseph La Flesche Jr., inherited from his French-Canadian father, Joseph La Flesche Sr. On the contrary, the children became known by their Western names, even though they had a former Omaha name, and La Flesche makes clear that they were willing to stick to these new names in order to feel more integrated to the new social order.

51La Flesche’s vision tallies with Blackbird’s, who strove to turn his children into full-fledged American citizens. Both authors express their concern about the future the surviving Natives would have to cope with. They were deprived of their lands and their environment had been put upside-down. From a paradisiacal situation, they fell into a hellish dystopia. For La Flesche, the best of humanity seems to be buried with Brush and Joe’s adoptive mother, both described as embodiments of sheer goodness (7, 134), as though this value was not relevant anymore. Blackbird and La Flesche seem to confer a positive dimension to death, as the world beyond is presented as a refuge into which Natives could escape their current predicament and get reunited with their relatives. On his deathbed, Brush felt that he was summoned by his grandfather Tae-son to join him in the spirit-world:

[H]e stretched the other [arm] toward the door, and, in a loud whisper, said, “my grandfather! He calls me. I’m coming, I’m coming!” (151)

52La Flesche’s autobiography is thus framed by Brush’s death, introduced in the first chapter, and to which the last chapter is dedicated. This circular structure seems to close the door to hope, at least to a hopeful future on Earth for the Natives whose journey along the four hills of life would have eventually been thoroughly fulfilled. The remaining hill to climb would be death to get access to the afterworld, which looks more appealing than Anglo-American society.

  • 6 This neologism, which coalesces “community” and “activism,” was coined by Jace Weaver.
  • 7 In this specific context, “survivance” refers to the portmanteau word created by Gerald Vizenor, mi (...)

53Death appears as a central topic in Blackbird’s and La Flesche’s autobiographies, and more generally in Native autobiographies written in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Blackbird’s History of the Ottawa and Chippewa Indians of Michigan and La Fesche’s The Middle Five are particularly interesting as they were written at a time when Native Americans really had the feeling that they would completely disappear as peoples and as cultures. Their texts reflect this point of view, which was not only a theoretical one for them; it was nourished by their personal experiences and dealings with a hegemonic colonial society whose unconcealed aim was to eradicate all kinds of Native presence and memory. As a result, what they account for is “a death of their own:” they witnessed the deaths of many people to whom they were related or close; they witnessed and suffered the endeavors undertaken by colonial authorities to erase their Indianness. This issue of testimony conveys the idea that Native autobiographers were, to some extent, writing with with a sense of posterity. But a twofold posterity: on the one hand, they would speak to a white Anglo-American audience, striving to make it aware of and remember the tragic fate of Native peoples, the demise of whom white colonizers are explicitly identified as responsible for; on the other hand, they would try to preserve a “communitist”6 trace of their existences, both material and spiritual, engraved in texts which may be construed as shrines, places where the next generations of Native Americans who would be able to survive in the new environment may find answers about their cultures, histories and identities. Though Scott Momaday points out that written words give a false sense of security and are deprived of the energy found in oral speech (15-16, 55), it seems undeniable that Native autobiographies have met a literary and cultural posterity: they are studied by academics as well as by Native Americans themselves, and the autobiographical genre is still widely used by Native writers. If it was an acute perception of impending death that initially motivated the writing of autobiographical texts such as those of Blackbird and la Flesche, Native autobiographers also wrote with a spirit of “survivance”7, making up a memory for the future with the hope that their former existences and their present texts would eventually find their due places in the spiral of time.

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Primary sources

Blackbird, Andrew J. History of the Ottawa and Chippewa Indians of Michigan; A Grammar of their Language, and Personal and Family History of the Author. London, Forgotten Books, 2014. Print.

La Flesche, Francis. The Middle Five: Indian Schoolboys of the Omaha Tribe. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1978. Print.

Secondary sources

Apess, William. A Son of the Forest. New York: Published by the Author, 1829. Print.

Apess, William. Eulogy on King Philip. Ed. Barry O’Connell. On Our Own Ground: The Complete Writings of William Apess, a Pequot. Amherst: The University of Massachusetts Press, 1992. Print.

Brooks, Joanna, ed. The Collected Writings of Samson Occom, Mohegan. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. Print.

Carpenter, Cari M., and Carolyn Sorisio, eds. The Newspaper Warrior. Sarah Winnemucca Hopkins’s Campaign for American Indian Rights, 1864-1891. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 2015. Print.

Césaire, Aimé. Discours sur le colonialisme. Paris et Dakar: Éditions Présence Africaine, 1955. Print.

Dippie, Brian W. The Vanishing American: White Attitudes & U.S. Indian Policy. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1982. Print.

Derrida, Jacques. Marges. De la philosophie. Paris: Les Éditions de Minuit, 1972. Print.

Derrida, Jacques. Sauf le nom. Paris: Gallilée, 1993. Print.

Erdrich, Louise. Books and Islands in Ojibwe Country. Washington D.C.: National Geographic, 2003.Print.

Eribon, Didier. La société comme verdict. Classes, identités, trajectoires. Paris: Fayard, 2013. Print.

Fletcher, Alice, and Francis La Flesche. The Omaha Tribe. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1992 [1911], 2 volumes. Print.

Glissant Édouard. Le discours antillais. Paris: Gallimard, 1997. Print.

Johnston, Basil. Ojibway Heritage. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1990 (1976). Print.

Karamanski, Theodore. Blackbird’s Song: Andrew J. Blackbird and the Odawa People. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2012.

Murie James R. Untitled article published in Twenty-Two Years’ Work of the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute at Hampton, Virginia. Records of Negro and Indian Graduates and ex-Students. Hampton: Normal School Press, 1893: 347-348. Print.

O’Connell, Barry, ed. On Our Own Ground: The Complete Writings of William Apess, a Pequot. Amherst: The University of Massachusetts Press, 1992. Print.

Ricoeur, Paul. Soi-même comme un autre. Paris: Seuil, 1990. Print.

Scott Momaday, N. The Man Made of Words. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997. Print.

Standing Bear, Luther. Land of the Spotted Eagle. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1978. Print.

Tibbles, Thomas H. The Ponca Chiefs: An Account of the Trial of Standing Bear. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1972. Print.

Vizenor, Gerald. Manifest Manners: Narratives on Postindian Survivance. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1994. Print.

Weaver, Jace. That the People Might Live: Native American Literature and Native American Community. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. Print.

Winnemucca Hopkins, Sarah. Life Among the Piutes: Their Wrongs and Claims. Reno and Las Vegas: University of Nevada Press, 1994. Print.

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1 Some of the Native autobiographers also had Native names, which sometimes appeared on the covers of their books, like Ohiyesa for Eastman, Kahgegagahbowh for Copway, Keh-ke-wa-guo-nā-ba for Peter Jones. Blackbird’s Ottawa name was Pe-ness-wi-qua-am, Winnemucca’s Paiute name was Thocmetony (Shellflower), and Murie’s Pawnee name was Young Eagle (Le-taw-cuts-je-haw-le ou ri.tahkacihari), but they only mention them within their texts. La Flesche had an Omaha name, Zhongaxe, but he never alludes to it; the designation Sas-su used only once by Brush is the Omaha pronunciation of Francis. Some only introduced themselves with Indian names, such as Sioux Gertrude Bonnin who coined the penname Zitkala Ša for herself.

2 Blackbird defines Kitche Manitou as the Supreme Ruler of the Universe, the Great Creator of all things, the Almighty Ruler, the Great Spirit and is even given as a synonym of God (11-14, 28-29, 79). In The Middle Five, Wakonda is only presented as a byword for God (p.81). In his ethnographic study written with Alice Fletcher, La Flesche defines Wakonda as an omniscient and omnipresent power, not a Great Spirit but “the permeating life of nature and of man, the great mysterious power,” “the mysterious life power permeating all natural forms and forces and all phases of man’s conscious life,” “the source of all things” (128-134, 597-599).

3 Occom, sermon “When he drowned his Reason” (n.d., in Brooks 226-229); Eastman, in several newspaper articles available in his scrapbooks located in Dartmouth College’s Rauner Library.

4 The term “enwildering” attempts to translate Aimé Césaire’s concept of “ensauvagement” defined as a process of dehumanization and decivilization of the colonizer – and the colonized as well – involved in colonial enterprise (11).

5 In one of his autobiographical texts written in 1890, Skiri Pawnee James Murie disclosed analogous intentions: “I am married, and we have one little boy who is now six months old. We call him Fred Wallace Murie, and not Le-coots or Tah-kah. I want my little boy to grow up in white man’s ideas and become educated so that he can help his own people; and also be a good citizen of this country” (348).

6 This neologism, which coalesces “community” and “activism,” was coined by Jace Weaver.

7 In this specific context, “survivance” refers to the portmanteau word created by Gerald Vizenor, mixing the words “survival” and “resistance” into a single one.

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Référence électronique

Fabrice LE CORGUILLÉ, « Writing Against Vanishing: Native American Autobiography and the Trope of an Ever-Pending Vanishment », E-rea [En ligne], 15.1 | 2017, mis en ligne le 15 décembre 2017, consulté le 20 janvier 2019. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/erea.6033

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Collège St François, Lesneven
Certifié en anglais (juin 2017), professeur d’anglais en collège (collège St François, Lesneven).
Docteur en civilisations anglophones, études américaines (novembre 2016, Université de Bretagne Occidentale, Brest), Fabrice Le Corguillé est l’auteur d’une thèse intitulée “Identité et hybridité dans les autobiographies amérindiennes des XVIIIe et XIXe siècles”, réalisée sous la direction de Marie-Christine Agosto (2013-16). Il est membre associé au laboratoire Héritages et Constructions dans le Texte et l’Image (UBO).

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