In our discussion of David Cusick’s Ancient History of the Six Nations, I read to you from the article “Finding a place for David Cusick in Native American Literary History,” by Susan Kalter. At the conclusion of her essay, Kalter claims that the Iroquois author Cusick effectively proclaimed in his writing that Native people had already created an American literary culture at the time when white Americans were seeking one out:
“In an era when Ronnongwetonawanea-Americans had returned and were trying to establish to the world that they could create an American literature, Cusick replied with his last argument in favor of Iroquois civilization in residential stasis: we already have one.”
Recall that in Cusick’s Iroquois account of the “settlement of North America” he includes mention of a group of ancient invaders to the Native land, the giants called the Ronnongwetonawanea. Above, Kalter links the Ronnongwetonawanea to the Americans and suggests that Cusick’s conveyance of the tradition tales of Iroquois creation and settlement had a political dimension, in that they critique the white American of his time. He also presents the tales, according to Kalter, as an argument for the “residential stasis” of the Iroquois civilization. What does “residential stasis” mean? It is a bit of a complicated phrase for a simpler issue.
As a literary text, how does Cusick’s transcription of legends and narratives operate? Cusick proclaims in the Preface that he was determined to “give a sketch of the Ancient History of the Six Nations” and that at one time he abandoned the project, but he resolved to continue. He writes, “I have taken much pains procuring the materials; and translating it into English. I have endeavored to throw some light on the history of the original population of the country, which I believe have never been recorded” (1). He proclaims Iroquois history as history, which in itself is a political move. Why?
Kalter notes that while “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” (34). Why might this be?
Kalter describes Cusick’s status as a writer and as a member of the Iroquois Nation as “ambiguous and liminal” (34). She explains that Cusick’s ambiguity – or, more specifically, the ambiguous nature of his writings – “challenges our expectations of homogeneity and unity in Native America” (34). We spoke in class about this excellent point and we have considered it as related to other authors as well. What, exactly, does Cusick’s writing challenge?
In class we also discussed the editorial role of W. M. Beauchamp. What was his role in the production and distribution of the text (in general, as far as you can detect from the text you read for class)? How does his role complicate our reading of Cusick’s words? Or does it?
Describe Cusick’s accounts. What are their subjects? How does he imbue them with value, especially in light of the expected readership of the text in 1825?