Graphic Classics Volume 24: Native American Classics
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About the Author
E. Pauline Johnson (1861-1913) was a Canadian poet and actress. Also known by her stage name Tekahionwake, Johnson was born to an English mother and a Mohawk father in Six Nations, Ontario. Johnson suffered from illness as a child, keeping her from school and encouraging her self-education through the works of Longfellow, Tennyson, Browning, Byron, and Keats. Despite the racism suffered by Canada's indigenous people, Johnson was encouraged to learn about her Mohawk heritage, much of which came from her paternal grandfather John Smoke Johnson, who shared with her and her siblings his knowledge of the oral tradition of their people. In the 1880s, Johnson began acting and writing for small theater productions, finding success in 1892 with a popular solo act emphasizing her duel heritage. In these performances, Johnson would wear both indigenous and Victorian English costumes, reciting original poetry for each persona. As a poet, she wrote prolifically for such periodicals as Globe and Saturday Night, publishing her first collection, The White Wampum, in 1895. Her death at the age of 52 prompted an outpouring of grief and celebration in Canada; at the time, Johnson's funeral was the largest in Vancouver history, attracting thousands of mourners from all walks of life.
George Copway (1818-1869) was a Mississauga Ojibwa writer, missionary, and advocate. Born in Trenton, Ontario, his Ojibwa name was Kah-ge-ga-gah-Bowh, meaning He Who Stands Forever. His father John was a medicine man and Mississauga chief who converted to Methodism in 1827. Sent to a nearby mission school, Copway became a missionary in 1834, working in Wisconsin to translate the Book of Acts and the Gospel of St Luke into Ojibwa. After earning an appointment as a Methodist minister, Copway moved with his wife to Minnesota, where they would raise a son and daughter while serving as missionaries. In 1846, accusations of embezzlement for his work on the Ojibwe General Council forced him to leave the Methodist church. The next year, he published The Life, History and Travels of Kah-ge-ga-gah-Bowh, a bestselling memoir that was the first book published by a Canadian First Nations writer. Encouraged by this success, Copway launched a weekly New York City newspaper called Copway's American Indian but failed to keep his venture afloat despite letters of support from Lewis Henry Morgan, James Fenimore Cooper, and Washington Irving. Over the next decade, he succumbed to alcoholism and debt, and was left by his wife and daughter in 1858. Copway spent the last years of his life writing on Indian history, working as an herbalist, and recruiting troops for the Union army.
John Rollin Ridge (1827-1867) was a novelist, poet, and member of the Cherokee Nation. Born in New Echota Georgia, Ridge was the son of John Ridge, a prominent Cherokee leader and signatory of the 1836 Treaty of New Echota, which allowed the cession of Cherokee lands and led to the devastation of the Trail of Tears. Following his father's murder by supporters of Cherokee leader John Ross, Ridge was taken to Arkansas by his mother. In 1843, he was sent to study at the Great Barrington School in Massachusetts before returning to Fayetteville to pursue a law degree. He married Elizabeth Wilson in 1847 after publishing his first known poem, "To a Thunder Cloud," in the Arkansas State Gazette. Two years later, Ridge was forced to flee to California with his wife and daughter after murdering a man named David Kell, whom he believed to be involved in his father's assassination. Out West, he published The Life and Adventures of Joaquin Murieta to popular acclaim, making him the first known Native American novelist. Ridge was a prominent figure in California's fledgling literary scene, serving as the first editor of the Sacramento Bee and writing for the San Francisco Herald. Controversial for his assimilationist politics, slave ownership, and support of the Copperheads during the American Civil War, Ridge is nevertheless a pioneering figure in Native American literary history.
Simon Pokagon (1830-1899) was a Pokagon Potawatomi author and advocate. Born near Bertrand, Michigan Territory, he was the son of Potawatomi chief Leopold Pokagon. Educated at the University of Notre Dame and Oberlin College, he gained a reputation as an effective activist for the rights of indigenous peoples. Notably, he met with presidents Lincoln and Grant to petition for reparations from the government for violating the 1833 Treaty of Chicago, but was later accused of using his position to sell land to real estate speculators. Through his numerous articles, novels, stories, and poems, Pokagon became one of the first Native Americans to gain a national audience as a writer. In 1893, he was featured at the World's Columbian Exposition, where he spoke to a crowd of 75,000 on the dangers of alcoholism to Native Americans, citizenship, and unity. Pokagon's novel Queen of the Woods (1899) remains a landmark work of Native American literature.
Charles Alexander Eastman (1858-1939) was born on the Santee Reservation in Minnesota. His grandparents raised him after his mother's death and his father's capture during the Minnesota Sioux uprising. At the age of fifteen, he was reunited with his father and embarked on a life in white man's society. He became a doctor and spent the rest of his life helping Indian people cope with the changes to their world and trying to reconcile the opposing values and beliefs of white society and Sioux culture.
Tara Audibert is a Wolatoqiyik artist, film maker, and illustrator with 20 years' experience in animation, comics, and fine art. Tara aspires to combine traditional First Nations art and storytelling with contemporary design and digital mediums. She runs Moxy Fox Studio and her first independent animated film The Importance of Dreaming, was released in 2017. She is a founder of the Ni'gweg Collective and the app "NITAP: Legends of the First Nations."
Joseph Bruchac is a writer and storyteller who often draws on his Native American (Abenaki) ancestry. Joseph is the author of over 130 books for young readers and adults, including Code Talker: A Novel About the Navajo Marines of World War Two. He holds a bachelor's degree from Cornell University, a master's degree from Syracuse, and a PhD from the Union Institute. He lives in New York.