Texts by and about Natives: Commentary

14. Janet Campbell Hale

In a reversal of the direction most artists might take, Janet Campbell Hale has moved from New York back to the Coeur d’Alene reservation in northern Idaho. Although she has lived, studied, and worked around the country, Hale has taken the difficult task of being a writer back to her ancestors’ condensed homeland, which lies below the resorts of Lake Coeur d’Alene and between and above the swales of the Palouse hills and the hard lines of the Rocky Mountains.

Hale has written all of her life, but she has never found writing to be an easy gift. It has involved confrontations with teachers, family, and herself. Yet writing has also been a kind of compulsion. For her, the transfer of meaning from author to reader began before she could write, when, at age four, she wrote a “novel” made of indecipherable marks on paper. Since then she has written much. Her first book, The Owl’s Song, was published in 1974 when Hale was in her early twenties. The Jailing of Cecelia Capture (1985), her second, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. Hale’s autobiography, Bloodlines: Odyssey of a Native Daughter (1993), won an American Book Award. Her most recent book, the novel Women on the Run, was published in 1999. Hale also has published two books of poetry, Custer Lives in Humbolt County and Other Poems (1978) and The Conners of Conner Prairie (1982). In 1995, she won an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Hale’s family is complex: one great-grandfather was Dr. John McLoughlin, an influential Pacific Northwest pioneer who married an Indian woman. Of McLoughlin, H. H. Bancroft wrote in The History of Oregon (1884): “I could never understand how such men as John McLoughlin and James Douglas could endure the thought of having their name and honors descend to a degenerate posterity. Surely they were of sufficient intelligence to know that by giving their children Indian mothers, their own Scotch, Irish, or English blood would be greatly debased. . . . They were doing all concerned a great wrong” (Hale, 1997:109).

Hale’s autobiography details how the rifts this prejudice against Indian and mixed blood tore through her own life. Her Indian father, an alcoholic, shamed her Indian and Irish mother into racial denial, and Janet’s dark skin embarrassed her maternal relatives. Hale’s work recounts the restlessness, despair, and courage it has taken her and persons she has imagined to live honestly from day to day.

On-line sources about Janet Campbell Hale include: www.ncteamericancollection.org/litmap/hale_janet_campbell_id.htm

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