WEEK TWO--Native Oratory
Orations by Pontiac and Cornplanter
We read two speeches, with tones that radically differ, by Pontiac. The first speech, "You Must Lift the Hatchet Against Them," delivered in 1763, presents Pontiac as a defiant warrior, presenting an allegory to his people to galvanize their spirit of resistance against the white aggressors who seek to take their land. Describe the allegorical style of Pontiac speech. What specific devices does he employ to shore up support among council-members for continued resistance and defense of tribal lands?
Pontiac exhorts the council members, via the Great Spirit, to "fling away" the trappings of white civilization: fire-water, knives, kettles, and blankets. Instead, he encourages the Ottawas to rely upon their traditional accoutrements: bows, arrows, and stone-pointed lances. Why are the "old ways" preferable, according to Pontiac? And finally, consider the final paragraph of his speech, in which he declares that the French are the friends of the Ottawas and the English are not. Via the Great Spirit, Pontiac explains, "Never forget that they [the French] are your brethren. They are very dear to me." Explain the compression of politics, military strategy, and tribal spiritually into this speech of Pontiac's. To what end?
The second speech of Pontiac's, "Father, Be Strong and Take Pity on Us, Your Children, as Our Former Father Did," is remarkable for its shocking departure from Pontiac's previous defiant stance against white encroachment. What is most shocking in this speech of Pontiac's? Is he unilaterally conciliatory? Or, as one student suggested, does his seeming conciliation simply mask the sophisitcation of a warrior who recognizes that his people must, for their survival, present themselves as "childlike" dependents (i.e., the strategy of appealing to the British as "Father")?
I brought to the class's attention the problematic nature of the transciption of "Native oratory." Can we rely on the veracity of the texts that we read, which purport to be truthful presentations of the words of Native leaders? What MUST we know, to evaluate accuracy? I presented to the class the original version of Pontiac's second speech, as recorded in the 1765 journals of George Croghan (available online through the Central Michigan University library). Is it important to know about Croghan in order to evaluate his ability to record Pontiac's words and the spirit of his messages to his own people and to the British? Must we ask these question when we read all Native oratory, including that of Cornplanter (which you read)?