Kaya’s Story: Playing it Safe?

In Cornel Pewewardy’s article, “The Pocahontas Paradox: A Cautionary Tale for Educators” (in Hanksville), we are exposed to the many ways in which the Disney film Pocahontas inaccurately depicts Native American life by creating a “New-Age” indian protagonist that attempts to cope with a “cultural sense of guilt” felt by white Americans for their forceful removal and relocation of Native Americans. In her essay on “multicultural” in Keywords for Children’s Literature, Jacqueline Reid-Walsh, discusses how white Americans create a “rhetoric of tolerance” in order to simply accept cultural differences at a mere “surface-level” (156). This idea of covering up white America’s past ostracization and homogenization of Native Americans is similarly prominent in Janet Shaw’s novel, The Journey Begins: A Kaya Classic. In fact, in this volume, it is what we do not see which is so important. Taking place in 1764, the story of Kaya and her Nez Perce family occurs at a time in the absence of white settlers. The vital historical time of white settler colonization that brings along with it the harsh truths of Indian removal, is simply glossed over and ignored. As a result, Kaya’s story is encapsulated by an overall positive and non-controversial image of a historical time period that the American Girl company seemed to deem as being more appropriate for a younger audience. In addition to this, Kaya’s story continues to be the only one about a Native American girl that the American Girl company includes in their collection. This novel makes me wonder how differently Kaya’s story would be if it were to be set during the time period of Indian removal and relocation. 


4 thoughts on “Kaya’s Story: Playing it Safe?”

  1. I found your comment about Kaya’s story being “glossed over” interesting. Based off of that, I think it could be argued that Mountain Wolf Woman: A Ho-Chunk Girlhood has been somewhat glossed over as well. There are certain sections in the biography that I believe have definitely been simplified for the sake of the children reading the story. For example, when going to school is discussed on page 51 and 52, only a simple version of this experience is given. Although the author does state that the school “tried to teach them to be more like non-Indian people,” the unsettling fact that white people brutally forced Indians to assimilate is not explicitly mentioned. This makes me wonder why we gloss over situations like this when teaching children. I understand children do not have the capacity to understand everything that adults understand, but is it beneficial or harmful to be this simple? Why can’t we explain bad situations to children in a more accurate way?

  2. Your discussion of the term “multicultural,” the film Pocahontas, Pewewardy’s article, and Kaya’s story was fantastic and very thought-provoking. I agree that Kaya’s story really does not give enough insight into the tragedies that took place in Native American life. It gives children the wrong idea about Native American history and culture. Although Pocahontas is not completely truthful, at least it includes some information regarding Indian removal and relocation.

  3. Do you think the film Pocahontas is made this way to appeal to a younger audience? I think overall the Pocahontas movie allows the audience to see both the Indian’s and the white settler’s perspectives while not digging to deep into what was going on. We talked about how Mountain Wolf Woman’s story was glossed over to be made more appropriate for school aged children, do you think the writers and producers of Pocahontas wanted to do the same?

  4. While Kaya’s story may be ignoring the harsh realities that happened to Native Americans, I think its important to recognize that Indian Removal didn’t exist as a policy until the 1830s and mainly affected Indian tribes east of the Mississippi River. Kaya’s people were more affected by the Reservation Era of the 1850s. I think its important for Kaya to be represented without the influence of white settlers because it better represents the innocence of girlhood. It is important to remember there was a time of traditional Native American culture before it was tarnished by white settlements.
    You bring up a good point about Kaya being the only Native American doll; I would love to see another American Girl story taking place during the historical period of Indian Removal. I am curious how the American Girl company would portray this.

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