July 29, 2008

Shops bobble Duston controversy

Hannah Duston bobblehead sparks controversyWeeks after the New Hampshire Historical Society began selling a Hannah Duston bobblehead, one employee has quit and another has refused to sell it. They said they find the Duston doll, as well as another bobblehead of Chief Passaconaway, offensive to Native Americans.

In 1697, Hannah Duston was taken from her Haverhill home by Abenaki Indians to an island in the Merrimack River in Concord, N.H. She is said to have escaped by scalping members of the tribe.

The other is of Chief Passaconaway, a friend to English settlers and a key figure in New Hampshire's Colonial history, who formed the Penacook Confederacy of more than a dozen tribes.
The controversy over Duston:A debate has raged over whether Hannah Duston was a heroine or villain for killing several Native Americans after Indians raided her home and killed her baby. Duston, whose name is intimately tied to Haverhill's history, was taken to New Hampshire before she escaped and returned home.

Haverhill historian Thomas Spitalere works at the city's Buttonwoods Museum, which began selling the dolls last week. He said the dolls promote local history and he has no problem with them.

"I can understand one worker resigning and the other refusing to sell (the bobbleheads) if that's their belief, because it's a sensitive issue," Spitalere said. "But Hannah's a historical figure. You can't deny history.
Why Spitalere's position isn't sufficient:The bobbleheads have been criticized as historically inaccurate and insensitive to American Indians. Duston is shown holding a hatchet. Passaconaway wears a bright blue cap. Critics said the society compounded the problem by celebrating a killer of Indians with a chief who presided over a peaceful time.

"To have the New Hampshire Historical Society come out with a caricature of an Indian after all these years of us working on this issue ... is just staggering," said David Stewart-Smith, historian for the state's Intertribal Council.
How concerned is the historical society with "history"? Not very:While the bobbleheads are intended to expose people to history, their real purpose is to make money for the society's other operations, he said.

"If you want the product to sell, frankly, you have to use the most iconic image that people are used to," he said.

He said Duston and Passaconaway were good choices because he wanted to focus on the 17th century, and it's more economical to release two dolls at once. The designs were based on other sources—a Duston statue in Haverhill and a 19th century etching showing the Indian chief in a pointed cap.

Courser said when she managed the store, the society vetted each new product through a committee before selling it. Veillette said he has no interest in that process or in consulting with American Indian groups on such decisions.

"We wouldn't and we shouldn't," he said. "For an exhibition we should, absolutely ... but we run our store probably like everyone else. ... You don't run it by the entire staff. You don't go out and consult with a bunch of people."
Comment:  So a 19th century etching was used to portray a 17th century chief. Nice.

Does the historical society care about Native reactions to the bobbleheads? Evidently not.

The historical society sounds like a few producers and creators of fiction I could name. While their products "are intended to expose people to history," their real purpose is to make money for themselves. They aren't selling history, they're selling it out.

For more on the subject, see Native-Themed Bobbleheads.


John Umland said...

greed rewrites any inconvenient code of ethics...
God is good

alanajoli said...


I don't see how they can keep up the pretense of wanting to encourage interest in history in this way.