Finding a Place for David Cusick in Native American Literary History

By Kalter, Susan | MELUS, Fall 2002 | Go to article overview

Finding a Place for David Cusick in Native American Literary History


Kalter, Susan, MELUS


Though David Cusick was one of the first Iroquois to record the oral literature of his nation in the alphabetic writing of Western civilization, contemporary Iroquois do not necessarily receive his work with praise. For instance, Seneca-Wyandot scholar Barbara A. Mann points out that Cusick inserted missionary interpretations of Iroquois creation stories into the text of his Sketches of Ancient History of the Six Nations ("Lynx" 427). Yet in a climate where Native American issues continue to receive scant attention, despite their fundamental importance to our understanding of the development of United States cultures, Cusick's work deserves critical investigation. It also deserves consideration as a component of our pedagogy, both as an example of how Iroquois writers attempted to combat a false savagism and as an example of the fissures of subjectivity that US foreign policy and missionary activity created within Iroquois nations. It is because Cusick does not necessarily represent the quintessential Tuscarora that we should study him. Too often, we expect to view entire nations of Native Americans through their most prominent writers. Cusick's ambiguous and perhaps liminal status within his nation, his difference from his peers and from contemporary Iroquois, challenges our expectations of homogeneity and unity in Native America.

In writing Sketches, David Cusick denied the. validity of both the extinction paradigm of post-Removal era savagism (1) and the Hobson's choice of civilization-or-extinction that a slightly earlier version of savagism proffered Indian nations and individuals. As Roy Harvey Pearce established in 1953, savagism was the dominant discourse around Native Americans in Amer-European communities: imagining them as living in a state of savagery below "true" civilization and proposing that they must either be civilized or vanish if they would not or could not be. (2) However, while Cusick rejects savagism, he evades others' placement of himself and of the Iroquois into a uniform, composite version of Native American consciousness, particularly as it related to ideas of animal-human convergence. His translation (3) of Tuscarora traditions either suppresses those elements of Iroquois thought that would remove boundaries between the Iroquois and the nonhuman, or non-Iroquois, or it exposes to us dimensions of Iroquois thought that challenge concepts of Iroquois intellectual discourse that have largely been constructed by non-Iroquois anthropologists. His writing demonstrates the social, political, and intellectual inviability of composite constructions of Native American consciousness--for any purposes, even anti-savagist--and the vulnerability of the assumption that all Native Americans emphasize the kinship of human and animal. By situating Cusick's text historically, we can understand how his utterance challenges our frequent reliance on the culture-concept in filtering Native Americans' literary representations. By beginning to situate the anthropological record through which the culture-concept is derived, we both undermine the uses of non-Native scholarship (even responsible tribally specific scholarship) to homogenize tribal subjects and we build toward new understandings of intra- and intertribal dialogues in histories prior to contact and their continuation and adaptation through histories since contact.

Considered in its national context and for its foreign status in the United States, his publication tells a story of the heterogeneity of Native American thought, both by asserting an Iroquois identity rather than Indianness and by staking a particular position within contemporaneous Iroquois discourse. Cusick narrated the traditional versions of Iroquois origins and history as a linguistic universe that created an enclosed protective space around the Iroquois subject. I treat his piece as literature from a foreign nation; it is a nation distressed, experiencing the collapse of its boundaries and the consolidation of its people with the other member nations of the Iroquois Confederacy. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Finding a Place for David Cusick in Native American Literary History
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.