September 12, 2012

Plaque with sacrificial story removed

Controversial plaque will stay absent

By Jordan SmithThe controversial plaque that was removed last semester from the Sylvan Theatre will remain absent.

The plaque was engraved with the story of a Sioux Indian woman who was in love with a white soldier. She learned that her tribe was planning to attack his troops so she warned him of the event. Her people discovered her betrayal and threw her in a lake.

“The story appeared to be presented as a true story,” said Director of Diversity Enhancement Jaime Nolan-Andrino.

Director of Tribal Outreach Richard Meyers said the story sounds like many typical narratives at the time the plaque was created. Many conquered groups have stories blaming the women as the reason for their defeat.

Meyers said that the inscription on the plaque seems “fraternity-like, there is no citation or reference to fact.”
Comment:  Blaming women for defeat is one thing. This plaque also echoes the countless stories of Native "lover's leaps" around the country.

In these tales, a Native woman inevitably jumps off a cliff, over a waterfall, or into a lake. Sometimes she's thrown. It's almost always because she fell in love with the wrong person. Killing herself, or being killed, is an atonement for her "sin."

This is a romantic way of sanitizing our crimes against the Indians. They couldn't handle the changing world, the thinking goes, so they killed themselves.

Making it a maiden who sacrifices herself softens the blow. It wasn't a warrior who committed suicide because we took his land and culture. No, it was just a woman who sought love (how noble) but failed (how tragic).

Whatever the details, the Indians chose to die for reasons that had nothing to do with us. That's the stereotypical thinking behind all these "lover's leaps."

For more on romanticized Indians, see Peter Gabriel's San Jacinto and "Two Wolves" Story Is Phony.

Below:  "The engraving removed last semester will remain absent from Sylvan Theater."


Anonymous said...

meh sounds like the morality tales the world over that seek to control the actions of women - giving your heart to someone deemed unsuitable is punishable by death

dmarks said...

Interesting. I suppose in light of that general idea, having the "maiden" commit suicide (instead of being outright murdered or executed) helps make everything come out as the woman's fault and choice, right?

Anonymous said...

It's more the old Western story about the Indian woman who falls in love with a white man and dies in the end, of course, since the South hates interracial dating.

dmarks said...

Well, as Rob mentioned, it is similar to the "lovers leap" stories common even outside the West.

I think in particular of the Maiden Rock story. One version has the woman indeed falling in love with a white man, and other versions have it being a Native.