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The "Civilization" of Thomas Wildcat Alford

Jacqueline FEAR
Revue française d'études américaines
No. 17, ÉCRIVAINS AMÉRICAINS, 1870-1914 / AMERICAN WRITING IN THE AGE OF REALISM (Mai 1983), pp. 295-310
Published by: Editions Belin
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20873033
Page Count: 16
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The "Civilization" of Thomas Wildcat Alford
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Abstract

Cet article retrace l'itinéraire d'un Indien américain vers la fin du 19e siècle; vivant entre deux mondes, à l'intersection de deux cultures. En 1879, Thomas Wildcat Alford (Shawnee) fut envoyé à l'est comme pensionnaire à Hampton Institute en Virginie, où il devint un élève modèle. Puis, il retourna dans sa tribu, s'identifia à sa cause, et consacra sa vie entière à œuvrer pour son développement par les moyens qui lui semblaient les plus appropriés. Il vécut parmi son peuple, mais avec des valeurs et des critères qu'il avait appris chez les blancs. Alford est intéressant pour plusieurs raisons. D'abord, il fut parmi les tout premiers Indiens à être éduqué dans le cadre d'un programme de « civilisation » du gouvernement fédéral, éducation qu'il intériorisa et considéra comme un atout. Deuxièmement, les vicissitudes de ses succès et ses échecs sont évoquées dans sa correspondance avec ses anciens professeurs. Enfin, ses propres tentatives pour assumer les tensions de sa vie apparaissent dans son autobiographie exceptionnelle, publiée en 1936. This article retraces the life trajectory of an American Indian around the end of the 19th century as he lives between two worlds, at the crossroads of two cultures. En 1879 Thomas Wildcat Alford (Shawnee) was sent East as a boarding student to Hampton Institute in Virginia where he became a model student. He then returned to his tribe, identifying its development as his life mission, according to the means which he found most appropriate. He lived among his people but with the values and the criteria which he had learned from the whites. Alford is interesting for several reasons. First, was among the very first Indians to be educated under the program of « civilization » sponsored by the Federal Government, an education which he took to heart and considered an advantage. Secondly, the ups and downs of his life work on behalf of his tribe are candidly discussed in his letters to his former teachers. Finally, his own attempts to make sense of the tensions within himself and his life emerge in his remarkable autobiography, published in 1936.

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