Q&A with Marna Carroll

Q&A with Marna Carroll

Stephanie Davison, Staff Reporter

Meet Marna Carroll, the Director of American Indian Studies at CWU. Born in New England, she attended the University of New Hampshire for her Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology, then went on to receive her Masters at the University of Connecticut. Her fields of interest and research lie in the intersectionality of gender, power and authority in proto-Contact Northeastern Algonquian societies.

Q: What initially sparked your interest in American Indian studies?

A: This is a big question! The simple answer is that American Indians/ Native Americans were depicted in many history textbooks as obstacles to be overcome by the “hardy European settlers” or as helpfully melting away into obscurity as colonization and settlement stretched westward. They were/are left out of having any role in American history beyond early colonization. The fact is that Native peoples/cultures contributed to what became American culture. American English took on a number of Algonquin words, reflecting a closer relationship than appears in textbooks Native American crops such as corn, squash and potatoes were adopted worldwide; corn is the largest agricultural crop worldwide, feeding billions of people.

Q: In your CWU biography, you mention your interest in the decolonization of museums: How could this best be accomplished?

A: One simple way is for the many museums holding Native American objects to properly research the objects and add the information to the exhibit labels. Too often, items will be labeled as “Indian Basket” with no notation of who made it, where it was made or what the significance of the design is. The lack of information does nothing to educate the museum goers about what they are looking at and implies that further information is unnecessary because “all Indian tribes are the same” –and they are primitive with their items holding no meaning or importance. The basket is a small example—a bigger one would be displays of Northwest Coast Native art and objects without listing affiliation to the tribes that created the specific objects, as if the objects just sprang up on their own. This all assumes that the objects in question do not fall under the Native American Graves and Repatriation Act as objects of cultural patrimony or grave items that should be returned to the tribes.

Also, museums need to stop shunting all Native American exhibits and objects into the “Natural History” sections or displaying them only in Natural History museums. This is a colonialist presentation of Indigenous people as inseparable from the flora and fauna—not human and having no culture or art. This has been changing (slowly) in the last decade.

Q: What are some of your favorite foods?

A: Well, I love my pumpkin pie and pumpkin pie/spice lattes. I may be ‘basic,’ but this is my ancestral food (or so I will claim). And you can’t go wrong with dark chocolate (chocolate, another food of Native American origin).

Q: What are some of your favorite movies?

A: The pandemic has made this one a little difficult. I have been streaming so much that the TV shows and movies run together. Instead, I will name two series that I have been binging and describe them badly.

“Rutherford Falls” cleverly deals with how Native history does or rather, does not appear in the presentation of American History. At the center are two characters, best friends for years that share a love of history and museums: Nathan Rutherford, played by Ed Helms of “The Office” and “Hangover” fame and Regan Wells, played by Native Jana Schmieding, a Mniconjou and Sicangu Lakota actor and comedian.

The second is a Canadian series, Mohawk Girls, that is a kind of “Sex and the City” set on the Kahnawake Mohawk Reserve- if “Sex and the City” featured the complication of discovering that your boyfriend is your cousin, or that your New York City style and blog makes you the joke of the community rather than an influential fashionista.

Q: What does Native American Heritage month mean to you?

A: This one is complicated. I think it is a start. At least Native American people, cultures and history are being acknowledged by the U.S. It would be nice to have this integrated into the regular school curriculum across the country throughout the year. (Washington has added this to its schools, but many states have not).

The more complicated aspect is that I am a Wampanoag descendant. I understand why Native American Heritage month seems a ‘natural’ fit with the month in which Thanksgiving is celebrated, positioned as a means of refuting the old Thanksgiving myth of the Pilgrims and Indians feasting happily together. However, ironically, the scheduling of NAHM seems to reinforce the connection and myth. My family history –and actually that of many so-called “Mayflower descendants’”— exposes an uncomfortable reality that the myth covers up. That is that a number of the grandchildren—specifically grandsons—of the original Pilgrims married Wampanoag women. Partially this happened because the original settler group was so small—only 50 people—so finding a marriage partner among the group, even a couple generations on, was hard. The other reason is a lot more nefarious. The Wampanoag elite were called by the English “the Old Proprietors.” This was a coded reference to the fact that these were the people, particularly the women, who held control of the land of the confederated tribes making these women acceptable to the English as prospective marriage partners. See, these women would bring with them into the marriage the vast tracts of land they managed (even though it was not ‘owned’, the colonial governments ignored that part). Under English law, property the wife brought with her into marriage became the property of her husband. These marriages put huge swathes of Wampanoag land into the hands of the “Pilgrim” families very quickly. Children of these marriages were to be raised as entirely English and interaction with their Native relatives was forbidden. According to the former tradition-keeper of the Herring Pond band of Wampanoag, Lorraine Hendricks, the insistence on an entirely English upbringing caused a fight in the marriage of my ancestors, Joseph Alden and Deborah Sampson/ Sampassamon. Joseph would not allow Deborah to bring their children to her home village nor would he let her teach them her culture. He finally threw her out without anything and barred her from the house and from contact with the children. He, of course, kept the land and later remarried an English woman also named Deborah and most of the records of his first wife were destroyed aside from the original record of their marriage at the Wampanoag village of Mashpee.

So, the happy Thanksgiving myth is not just incorrect in its depiction of the event and relationship between the Wampanoags and the Pilgrims but serves to paper over the reality. The English exploited the Wampanoag tradition of building alliances between groups of people via marriage in conjunction with English law to strip away Wampanoag land.

Additionally, the Pilgrim myth and Native American refutation of the myth ends up becoming the main concern of the month every year, leaving little space for the countless other facets of Native history, raising awareness of current issues in Indian Country or the celebration of the vibrant, resilient Native tribes and Nations that are present today, despite the horrors of the past.