Annette Kolodny deposited Schooling the Nation’s Newspaper of Record: The New York Times and Indian Genocide in the group LLC Indigenous Literatures of the United States and Canada on MLA Commons 6 years ago
In late 1991, an editor at the Sunday New York Times Book Review asked me to write a feature article about that uniquely American genre, the Indian captivity narrative. When the editor called, I was dean of the College of Humanities at the University of Arizona. I accepted the Times assignment in hopes that writing this article might prove a welcome respite from the politics of academia. Little did I know what lay ahead. The editor’s initial response to my final draft of the article was entirely enthusiastic; he wanted to publish it as soon as possible. But 10 days later, that same editor called to say there was a problem. In one sentence in my article, I had referred to General Andrew Jackson’s attempts to “exterminate” the Creek Nations as “genocidal campaigns.” Because the New York Times did not then recognize any interactions between the U.S. government and Native Peoples as acts of genocide either in intent or outcome, I was told that the term “genocidal” had to be deleted. Composed originally as a talk for the 2017 conference of the Society of Early Americanists, this essay follows my months-long struggle to educate the New York Times about the historical realities of Indian-white relations in the U.S.. I finally threatened to withdraw the essay altogether rather than allow any changes to my original text. The essay appeared without any changes in the Sunday, January 31, 1993 issue of the Book Review. Subsequently, both in the Book Review and in stories about Indian history in other sections, the New York Times has continued to use the terms “genocide” and “genocidal.” In retelling this piece of personal history at the SEA conference, my point was both scholarly and political. In a time when a president makes statements that too often corrupt our language, words matter. We bury the realities of our history if we do not name them accurately.