"Layers of Story"
Read from these many angles, Hilger's Chippewa Families is a rich and fascinating document, one that supplies abundant raw data, incorporates personal commentary on the data from two different cultures, and becomes a kind of character analysis of social anthropology of the 1930s. Finally, Hilger's observations of and suggestions regarding labor, law enforcement, and educational programs offer another historical view of the making and implementation of policies affecting Indian nations.
The layers of story available in Hilger's study can be seen clearly, for example, in an examination of her primary consideration: selection of the sample group of families. Although the presentation of her findings is titled a "social study" of Ojibway families, Hilger's work had its basis in an assessment of housing structures and her attempt to determine to what degree living conditions dictated intangibles, such as personal aspirations, spiritual expression, or social problems. Hilger's sample, then, was created to include a range of physical structures. She reported that her selections were made "with the advice of white persons who had been in the service of the White Earth Indians for some years and who themselves had visited the homes in the various localities." These selections were next "discussed with some intelligent and reliable Indian, a resident in the locality, to make certain that they were a cross-section, economically, socially, and morally, of his community" (p. xxii).
Although Hilger's description of her process was undoubtedly meant to establish the credibility of her findings, read almost sixty years later, it acts instead as a signal for caution, reminding the reader to evaluate the context of the information presented as well as the circumstances of its compilation. Her decision to use "white persons" in making her selections essentially introduced a step of cultural translation and created a distance from her primary sources, a distortion that must be accounted for in a review of the results. Who, we might ask today, would know more about Ojibway housing patterns than Ojibway Indians themselves?
From the Introduction "Layers of Story" in
Chippewa Families: A Social Study of White Earth Reservation (1998)
Used with permission of the author.