Friday, June 19, 2009

Banned, Censored, Challenged: Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee

Written by Dee Brown in 1970, Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee is the story of the American West's conquest by European settlers told from the perspective of the Native Americans.

In 1974 an administrator in Wild Rose, Wisconsin, who had never read the book (they heard a review on the radio) decided to ban it saying it was "slanted". An English teacher argued that it wasn't. The administrator replied "If there's a possibility that something might be controversial, then why not ban it?"

There have been further complaints about Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee being "biased", which I find troubling. We are taught to idolize the "Indian fighters" who slaughtered millions, we are taught to see treaty breakers and marauders as heroes, but when the story is told from the Native American perspective, we call it "slanted", "biased" and keep students from seeing it.

The trouble with complaints about "bias" is that people present them as if truth is relative. Yes, there are two sides to every story: but that doesn't mean that both sides are true.


Hannah said...

I don't know how often Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee gets banned now as opposed to 35 years ago--I would like to say not at all because most people would see a ban on it as obviously racist. Yet Sherman Alexie's young adult novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian gets banned all the time (including possibly again today, Monday, in IL--see link). Ostensibly it's for sexual content/language, but it would not surprise me at all to learn that its honest portrayal of reservation life in this country today disturbs parents as much as anything else.

Bookpusher said...

I read this as a teenager. The really sad thing is that, I then knew more about the genocide of native Americans than I did about Indigenous Australians, because here in Australia our government and education system for a long time refused to acknowledge that history. In Australia we don't have as many problems with censorship as the US, but this is one area that highlights how a failure to acknowledge history leads to appalling ignorance, that adds further injury to deep hurts.

Sharazad said...

Fortunately, in the US, these bannings happen locally, not nationally and we have precedents and a means of challenging people when they demand that a book be removed from a public place-which is why we don't have a big problem with censorship- yet.