University of Minnesota
Voices From the Gaps

Voices From the Gaps' home page.

by Jane Johnston Schoolcraft

Reviewed by Ella Schovanec

Helpfully Harming the Next Generation

For the Native Americans, the early 1800s "was a period of extreme social discontinuity, accompanied by dispossession, tragedy, bitterness, and sometimes violence" (Lauter 1386). Living during this strife, Jane Johnston Schoolcraft attempted to preserve her vanishing culture. With an understanding of the Ojibwa language, tales, and traditions, Jane aided her husband in his research of the people and helped create "The Literary Voyager," a magazine containing linguistic and cultural studies. She also contributed many original works, including folklore (Parins 1388). One of these tales, "Mishosha" articulates the struggles of Native Americans that Jane Schoolcraft witnessed in life. The tale follows two boys, Panigwun and his brother, as they cope with their parents' abandonment. Panigwun attempts to take care of his younger brother but is kidnapped by Mishosha and must triumph over the wiles of the old magician to reunite what is left of his family. Within Schoolcraft's tale, "Mishosha," elders act as a harmful force while Panigwun, the protagonist, struggles with familial desertion, race relations, and inversions of power within his community.

"Mishosha" portrays the adult characters as dangerous caregivers of the younger generation. This is seen when the parents of Panigwun abandon him and his brother. In the tale, his mother has "a wanton disposition," which causes her to have an affair. Eventually this "passion for a young man" leads to a plot to kill her husband (Schoolcraft 1389). After the father discovers the affair and leaves the boys, she also abandons her children, "telling them that she [is] going a short distance, and [will] return; but [is secretly] determined to never see them again" (Schoolcraft 1390). This initial abandonment shows not only the failure of the older generation, but also their motivations for leaving. While the woman does not feel guilt over the deception of her husband, she does try to provide for her sons.

Through the inclusion of these warring feelings of suffocation and guilt Schoolcraft also illuminates her own struggles within the Native American community. Within the introduction of "Mishosha" the husband is the only character that is described as "an Indian" (Schoolcraft 1389), while the lover is not. In this sense, there is a parallel between Jane Schoolcraft's decision to choose a white partner, Henry Rowe, over a Native American, and the wife's decision to choose the man in the forest over her Indian husband. Schoolcraft's own mother, Ozha-guscoday-way-quay, married an Irish fur trader, speaking to a rejection of Native American men (Parins 1388). Schoolcraft's life additionally relates to the provisions the mother leaves for her family in the tale. Like the mother in "Mishosha" Jane Schoolcraft also sought to provide for her people through her contributions to "The Literary Voyager" (Parins 1388). The Native Americans' attempts to assimilate to white society often meant an abandonment of their own culture. It is for this reason that Henry Rowe Schoolcraft and his wife worked so hard to preserve the "mythology, distinctive opinions, and intellectual character of the [Native Americans]" (Williams 4) through the magazine. This literary example relates to a national abandonment of Native American ideals as well as a personal rejection by Schoolcraft. While Schoolcraft attempted to preserve the traditions of her people, "Mishosha" is also full of criticism for the Native American ancestors who failed to protect the community from white settlers.

In the tale, Panigwun must relate to his peers and to the different races of animals to overcome Mishosha's sabotage of these relationships. When Mishosha introduces the boy to his daughters they understand that he will become "another victim" (Schoolcraft 1390) of the magician. Later, however, Panigwun receives help from the women by pleading his brother's case. Mishosha then brings the boy to the gulls, to the eagles, and to the king of fishes, giving Panigwun to these creatures as a sacrifice. In defense, the boy skins one of the gulls and is able to convince the others that "the Great Spirit" does not want the birds to "eat human food" because they are destined to be "food for man" (Schoolcraft 1391). In this instance, Panigwun is using both his superior physical strength and the authority of his beliefs to triumph over the will of Mishosha. Panigwun thwarts the talons of the eagles in a similar way, relying on his knife and his faith in the Great Spirit to persuade the birds to carry him home. The king of fishes, unfortunately, is not as easily intimidated. To secure his safety, Panigwun, must give a "piece of red cloth" to the fish (Schoocraft 1392). In all of these trials, Panigwun is able to reverse the opinions of the other characters and salvage the relationships with them.

These interactions are symbolic of those between Native Americans and the white community. The flocks of birds resemble the masses of settlers that often attacked surrounding communities of Native Americans. Additionally the methods used by Panigwun parallel those used by the Native Americans when interacting with the white community. After the first negotiations with whites failed, Native Americans repeatedly tried to plead their case to the U.S. government, as Panigwun pleads with the family of Mishosha. They also independently fought with settlers who encroached on their land, or formally tried to coexist with them through trade. While Panigwun's efforts are more successful in "Mishosha" than the Native Americans' in society, the boy still needs to defeat the evil magician that caused these problems.

This overthrow of the established hierarchy is a theme that appears in "Mishosha. " Panigwun, after being kidnapped by Mishosha, must repeatedly triumph over the obstacles the old man puts in his path. Mishosha, by endangering the life of Panigwun is helping the boy transition into manhood. In Schoolcraft's tale, Mishosha is described by Panigwun as a "wicked" (1391) and "cowardly old canoe-man" (1392), a view that is shared by his daughters who believe that it is in the best interests of mankind to be rid of the magician. Mishosha becomes a blocking force in the tale, by assigning more and more difficult tasks to complete. Therefore, the magician is not only suppressing Panigwun, but is also keeping him from helping his younger brother. The younger generations of Native Americans were similarly left powerless as initial agreements between the two peoples failed.

The idea of elders as a harmful force in "Mishosha" is paralleled on a national level. In Native American communities, chiefs made the decisions concerning the first settlers and were the spokespeople for their tribes. In the introduction to Schoolcraft's tales, it is explained that during these negotiations "a pretense was maintained of being fair and justÉbut the bargaining always terminated with the equally meaningful Anglo-Saxon legality: no trespassing and no poaching" (Williams ix). Obviously, a certain amount of failure was attributed to those negotiators as it became apparent that the Native Americans were increasingly losing their lands, their independence, and their people's lives to the whites. A key aspect of this failure is the inability of these elders to make the best decision for future generations. This disenchantment with the older generation is a prevailing theme within "Mishosha," and within the Native American community.

In the tale, Panigwun uses the agility of youth to triumph over Mishosha and escape the confines of his current situation. When the old man tries to hobble the boy by destroying his moccasin and legging, but Panigwun simply blackens his leg with soot and completes Mishosha's test (Schoolcraft 1393). Later, Panigwun mimics the trickery of the magician by throwing Mishosha's own clothing into the fire. In this case, Mishosha's "foot and leg [are] the only vulnerable parts" (Schoolcraft 1393), so he cannot complete the journey but instead, turns into "a tall and stiff sycamore" (Schoolcraft 1394). The youth is able to adapt and move forward, while the old remains resistant to change. In this example, the elder uses his powerful position to hobble the younger generation, but when the boy seizes this power he is able to succeed where the magician cannot.

Facing the inevitable removal of Native Americans into the West, the younger members of the community were more receptive to relocation, while their elders were not. Bitter infighting over the acceptance of The Removal Act within the Native American community forced many members to rebel against the elders' authority by accepting the Treaty of New Echota in 1835. While the younger generation is able to live happily at the end of "Mishosha," the decision to agree with removal was accompanied by The Trail of Tears and the death of many Native Americans in U.S. history (Lauter 1386). Although the message of "Mishosha" seems to favor this removal, the tale itself is an extension of ancestral influence.

In "Mishosha" the elders negatively affect the dynamics of family, cultural interactions, and social hierarchy. In the beginning of the story, the boys are abandoned by both their mother and their father. This desertion parallels the rejection of the Native American culture by many of its people. As the tale progresses, however, the villainy is now characterized by Mishosha, the old magician. Mishosha tries to harm the future relationships Panigwun has with the magician's daughters and the animal creatures. The boy's solution to these tensions parallel the methods used by the Native American people in their negotiations with settlers. Although they are not perceived as malicious attempts, the outcomes of the elders' decisions are much more severe for the Native American people than the decisions of the old magician. Because they faced opposition concerning removal, the Native American youth was forced overthrow the existing rule of the elders and move forward.

As illustrated in "Mishosha," Panigwun is able to make this change, while the old man stays rooted to the ground. While Schoolcraft's tale is very critical of its adult characters, the abandonment of Panigwun and the trials he endured were actually the facilitators of his transition into manhood. More importantly, Panigwun must also imitate the teachings of the villainous Mishosha in order to succeed. Similarly, while Jane Johnston Schoolcraft writes a member of white society, the success of her tale is derived from her ancestors.