ARTICLE | Writing Omaha Children: Susette La Flesche and the Politics of American Indian Guardianship | American Quarterly | by Frank Kelderman
“Writing Omaha Children: Susette La Flesche and the Politics of American Indian Guardianship”
American Quarterly 74:1
by Frank Kelderman
This essay explores the depiction of Indigenous children in the early writings of the Omaha author Susette La Flesche. An organizer in the late nineteenth-century Indian reform movement, La Flesche recognized that colonial images of the American Indian as a figural child provided a discursive framework for debates on Indigenous futures, as the ideological linkage between Native people and children served as a vehicle for rationalizing colonization. La Flesche’s writings from 1876 to 1881 suggest an Omaha framework for reconsidering the figural role of Native children in debates about race, belonging, and American citizenship. Her contributions to the children’s magazine St. Nicholas validate the roles of Native children and parents alike as responsible caregivers, tracing relational and reciprocal forms of guardianship that articulate a future-oriented commitment to Omaha community, centered on kinship relations and responsibilities. In her refusal to stereotype Native children as beneficiaries of White paternalism, La Flesche resists the construct of neglectful parent-child relations that justified the concept of Indigenous wardship and curtailed the sovereignty of Indian nations. Through didactic scenes of daily life on the Omaha reservation, she claims parental and guardianship relations as a key signifier of Indigenous cultural and political self-determination in the assimilation era.
Kelderman, Frank. “Writing Omaha Children: Susette La Flesche and the Politics of American Indian Guardianship.” American Quarterly 74:1 (2022): 25-50.