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"The Forsaken Brother" and “Mishosha”
by Jane Johnston Schoolcraft

  • Story found in Native American Women's Writing: An Anthology c. 1800-1924
  • Ed. Karen Kilcup
  • Price: $39.95
  • Length: 434 pages
  • Publisher: Blackwell Publishers, 2000
  • '''VG Review: Schoolcraft's “Mishosha”'''
  • '''VG Artist Page: Jane Johnston Schoolcraft'''

Reviewed by Alison Stolpa

Jane Johnston Schoolcraft (Bame-wa-was-ge-zhik-a-quay, The Sound Which Stars Make Rushing Through the Sky) was born in 1800 at Sault-Sainte-Marie to an Irish fur trader and the daughter of a Chippewa chief. She and her husband, the explorer and writer Henry Rowe Schoolcraft , shared an intense interest in the culture and contemporary issues concerning Native Americans and sought to foster this interest in others. Jane Johnston Schoolcraft assisted him in his study of Native American cultures and interpreted numerous native accounts. Together they launched a literary magazine pertaining to Native American society, The Literary Voyager or Muzzenyegun, that brought Ojibwa and Chippewa cultural awareness as far east as New York.

The poems, essays, and translated tales that Jane Johnston Schoolcraft included in the magazine were purposefully chosen to present a positive image of Native American culture. Folktales such as the Chippewa legend "Mishosha, or the Magician and His Daughters"[1] and "The Forsaken Brother" [2] center around one-dimensional characters common to folktales around the world, such as the noble, intelligent brother and the cunning, cruel magician in "Mishosha. " Schoolcraft's translations also include poorly-behaving Native American characters, such as the adulterous wife in "Mishosha" or the selfish siblings who abandon "The Forsaken Brother. " Characters like these stand in opposition to the popular myth of the "noble savage," welcoming and hospitable to a fault, brought down by his own naivety. Schoolcraft's portrayals force her white readers to reevaluate stereotypical beliefs and misconceptions. At the same time, she upholds the traditional qualities and modes of living, valued by the tribes, that contributed to the idea of the "noble savage. " In fact, the legends themselves propagate an image of bravery, intelligence, and a harmony with nature. Although these traits were part of the original tales, their presence in Schoolcraft's translations likely appealed to a socially-conscious white audience who supported the preservation and protection of Native American society.

In Schoolcraft's translations, the catalyst for action is often a loss of harmony within the family unit. Both "Mishosha" and "The Forsaken Brother" begin with the abandonment of the central characters by those who should be responsible and act like role models. However, even these reprehensible characters are written with a tinge of sympathy. Readers can understand the misguided motivations of the isolated, lonely siblings in "The Forsaken Brother" who, desperate for human companionship, break their vow to their dying father and abandon their younger brother. By the end of the tale, the selfish siblings are filled with remorse when their brother is forced to seek out a community among wolves, eventually joining their ranks forever through a supernatural transformation (Schoolcraft 1396). The allegory is especially important to Schoolcraft's Native American audience as their traditional modes of living change due to increasing assimilation. Members of the Native American community must honor their culture and work diligently to uphold traditional structure in order to maintain their rich civilization in the face of encroaching white settlement.

The translated tales "Mishosha" and "The Forsaken Brother" are also strongly grounded in the natural world. In both, Schoocraft emphasizes the solitude of the characters' woodland habitations, creating a world full of opportunities for growth and self-determination. This folktale world exists away from the sphere of white people; characters make their own decisions (for better or for worse) without to submission to the influence of European Americans. The characters are able to help themselves by utilizing an extensive knowledge of nature. The clever young man in "Mishosha" takes care of himself and his brother after they are abandoned, finding sustenance through hunting birds and gathering wild fruit (1390). He outwits the cruel magician who attempts to turn fish and birds against him by explaining their role in the world, telling them they "have been given by the Great Spirit as food for man (1391). " Likewise, when the title character in "The Forsaken Brother" is abandoned by his misguided siblings, he, too, turns to nature for survival, finding help and a community within a friendly pack of wolves (1396). The natural element in these translations is sure to appeal to a Native American audience, as well as a white audience familiar with themes of nature and transcendence prevalent in Romantic literature.

While Schoolcraft appeals to European American readers by emphasizing the strong morality and the cultural practices at the heart of her literary works, she calls out to Native Americans to protect their heritage for their own motivations. Native American readers can derive a sense of pride and courage from these works, in spite of the real and expanding need to assimilate into white culture. Schoolcraft's appropriation of the writing style of contemporary writers on the East coast and of the magazine format prove that Native American culture can still thrive in the face of an increasing and often threatening white presence and that the white media can even be used to support Native American cultural preservation.

Works Cited