June 26, 2006

The problem with Little Tree

A Lingering Miseducation:  Confronting the Legacy of Little TreeThe stereotypes and inaccuracies of Carter's depiction of Cherokee culture has been well-established. While Cherokee writer Robert J. Conley explains that in Cherokee culture "the sense of community is much stronger than the sense of the worth of the individual" (xii), Carter's Indians live apart from their tribal community as much in spirit and philosophy as in geographic proximity. Granpa, Granma, Little Tree, and Willow John are the only Indians around; reference to "the Nation" in Oklahoma is always with scorn or sadness. No mention is made of the Eastern Band of Cherokees in North Carolina. Carter's Indians claim to carry the memory and "Way" of their people, but only as a vanished or vanishing memory. The tribal community is dead in Little Tree, and none of the so-called Cherokees seem interested in reclaiming it.7 Instead of "[i]ndividual worth [being] defined in a community context" (xii), their worth exists wholly in their individuality. This fits well with Carter's belief in staunch individuality and libertarian self-reliance. His resistance to centralized power is as {30} apparent in his approach to the United States government as it is in the governments of the Cherokee Nation and the Eastern Band.

Granpa is the Noble Trickster, Granma the dignified Indian Princess (and a Cherokee Princess, no less!), and Little Tree is just what so many generations of Boy Scouts have dreamed themselves to be: the Little Brave roaming wild in the forest, with few rules and all sorts of generic "Indian" woodlore to consume and exploit. In most ways they are generic Indians, with few if any attributes that are distinctly Cherokee. None of them have any connection to the Cherokee clan system, which would have been quite unusual for Cherokees like Granma and Granpa during that time period, as historian John R. Finger points out....

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