Powell, Malea

Powell, Malea.  “Extending the Hand of Empire:  American Indians and the Reform Movement, a Beginning”


In this essay, Powell describes the discursive interactions of Susan LaFleche Picotte and the Women’s National Indian Association (WNIA).  In exploring this rhetorical relationship, Powell attempts to reveal the complex relationships between Indian reformers and Indians in the late 19th century.  As Powell explains, the Ponca Tours in which this interaction took place is an important rhetorical moment in the Indian Reform Movement because it was at this moment that “the Indian” moved onto the public arena of Indian reform.  Powell claims that “like the slave testimonies of the abolition movement, ‘real’ Indian voices lent credence and urgency to reformist arguments and put a human face, one that could thus be made to be an object of pity and censure, on government policy decisions” (39).  New reform organization that worked in conjunction with Indian voices attempted to reform government policies and “bring Indians into the bosum of the republic through private property, education, and Christian conversion” (39).  Powell describes the work of Helen Hunt Jackson who in the Century uses sentimental outrage and persuasive style to narrate past injustices against Indians.  Powell also describes the work of women working for the WNIA who appealed to Christian consciences to argue for native rights of citizenship and property ownership. Finally, Powell turns to the rhetoric of Susan LaFleche Picotte, who married her native desires with the objectives of WNIA to create a series of effective reform pamphlets.  Powell’s ultimate objective here is to uncover the rhetoric of Christian parenting and civic morality adopted by the WNIA to advocate for Indian reform.  Yet more so, as she deems the WNIA as an extended hand of empire more than act of effective resistance, she wants to situate Picotte’s work among other Indian activists such as Winnemucca Hopkins and Eastmen, who made possible “survivance” by using “reform to strengthen communities, to build pan-Indian awareness, and, of course, to survive…and to resist that extended hand of empire” (45).


“Down by the River, or How Susan La Flesche Picotte Can Teach Us about Alliance as a Practice of Survivance” 


Published in College English, “Down by the River” aims to demonstrate how composition and rhetoric scholars can learn from the alliance and adaptation tactics used by Susan La Fleshch to enact survivance during the Indian Reform Movement. Powell prefaces these lessons by reminding composition and rhetoric scholars that we must do more than simply include the rhetorics of American Indians in our efforts to expand the rhetorical canon.  We must also take American Indians seriously, consider their work to be critically important, and listen to the lessons they have to offer.  In order to make this happen, Powell claims, we need to “undo what Jacqueline Jones Royster and Jean C.  Williams call ‘primacy’—the status given to ‘official’ (that is: dominant) viewpoints (580).  According to them, ‘the privilege of primacy […] sets in motion a struggle’ between ‘official’ and ‘unofficial’ disciplinary narratives (580)” (41).   Yet, arguing that this current struggle is trapped in dichotomy of dominant/oppressed, center/margins, colonizer/colonized, Powell also argues that we need to create a new language, “one that doesn’t force us to see one another as competitors.  We need a language that allows us to imagine respectful and reciprocal relationships that acknowledge the degree to which we need one another (have needed one another) in order to survive and flourish.  We need, I would argue, an alliance based on the shared assumption that ‘surviving genocide and advocating sovereignty and survival’ has been a focus for many people now on this contintent for several centuries and, as such, should also be at the center of our scholarly and pedagogical practices enacted in the United States (Womack 7) (41). We need to be allies, Powell argues, and in order to be allies, “ we have to listen to one another, and we have to believe” (44).  


 As Powell also describes in “Extending the Hand of Empire” but in less detail than she sketches here, LaFlesche models a means of alliance that rhetoric and comp scholars can learn from.  What Powell really wants us to see is LaFlesche’s “sense of equal and shared responsibility” to both the WNIA and her own native community in Omaha.  As LaFlesche models, we can adapt to different beliefs, different practices and be willing to accept that there are more than one kind of rhetoric used to confront problems.  “If we engage in this work, as Susan La Flesche did, in order to work for our people, our community, our discipline, then maybe we should begin our negotiations toward alliance with a wholesale and meaningful questioning of the criteria by which we ‘judge’ on another’s contributions to that community as significant, rather than simply assuming the same long-practiced and dominant critical, theoretical, and pedagogical frameworks” (57).  We need to not just add onto rhetorical history by including the work of others but realize that work as always been part of that history.  We can learn to disruptive tactics from each other….


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Filed under cultural rhetorics exam, historiography exam

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