Monday, March 31, 2008

What is pioneering, really?

Utne Reader points to Eula Biss's precise, thoughtful reflections on urban "pioneering" in Chicago's northeasternmost neighborhood, Rogers Park.

The word pioneer betrays a disturbing willingness to repeat the worst mistake of the pioneers of the American West [including today's Midwest] — the mistake of considering an inhabited place uninhabited. To imagine oneself as a pioneer in a place as densely populated as Chicago is either to deny the existence of your neighbors or to cast them as natives who must be displaced. Either way, it is a hostile fantasy.
Her reflections are coupled with reflections on those earlier pioneers, as presented by Laura Ingalls Wilder, whose children's books don't duck away from confronting the racism ("The only good Indian is a dead Indian") that dominated her childhood environment.

Victoria Freeman's book Distant Relations: How My Ancestors Colonized North America is longer, a bit less nuanced, and focused more on New England, but makes some of the same points explicitly in the context of her ancestors, including interpreter-general Thomas Stanton and John Eliot, the apostle to the Indians. This is genealogy concerned with understanding the past, not glorifying it.

No comments: