The dialogue and statements below represent part of an extended discussion that preceeded the L. Frank Baum Conference which was held in Aberdeen during the summer of 1997.It was hoped that along with the idea of celebration, there would be some discussion of the Baum editorials. As it happened however, conflicts arose that could not be resolved and the result was that there was essentially no part of the conference devoted to a discussion of either the editorials or their racist implications.
JS Dill, March 10, 1998
In the Spring of 1996 Dr. Sally Roesch Wagner, who
I had met as a result of the ongoing attempt to rescind the medals of (dis)
Honor awarded for the massacre at Wounded Knee, brought my attention
to the racist/genocidal
declarations of Frank L. Baum, the author of the Wizard of Oz. One
thing led to another and an email campaign was mounted with the
intention of gaining support for holding Baum accountable for past
The response to this petition has been dramatic and the campaign has
generated a number of comments, newspaper
and Internet articles higlighting our efforts.
As is often the case in such campaigns, "
The response to this petition has been dramatic and the campaign has generated a number of comments, newspaper and Internet articles higlighting our efforts.
As is often the case in such campaigns, "fire is drawn." A few days ago I received the following advice from out of the cyberblue:
"Please remove any mention of the term 'festival' from this pledge, immediately. Your references to the festival in regards to the pledge are wrong, inaccurate and not support [sic] by Dr. Wagner.
"Our festival has already received negative press because of your inaccurate web site and I repeat, efforts to discuss these editorials in a public forum - by way of our festival - are being hampered by your site.
"Please remove all 'festival' instances at once. And by the way, do you realize the conference is off anyway?"
Troy McQuillen - Marketing coordinator, L. Frank Baum Oz Festival
I immediately forwarded this message to Dr. Wagner and told "Troy" that "She" was running the Baum site. "Troy" responded with the following:
It appears as though the Doctor has abandoned you as she tells us she has nothing to do with your site. She specifically asked us to remove any mention of a "conference" in our publicity to ward off confusion over the two different events.
But, after some investigating into your site we've found that it is not very credible nor responsible among Native Americans anyway. You have obviously just proven this fact by your not taking responsibility for what you post. Subsequently I personally do not care what put on the net.
Troy McQuillen - Marketing coordinator, L. Frank Baum Oz Festival
Now, what this character has done is to cause a reiteration re our efforts to hold Baum accountable and, as you will see, the First Nations site has in no way been "abandoned."
In regard to your request that I respond to the emails you have received from Troy McQuillen, they are, I'm afraid, a simple case of "pay-back." Since I initially approached people with the idea of a conference/encampment/festival, when it degenerated into a feel-good local festival, I didn't want my name associated with it. When I asked Bea Premack, the (unofficial) head of the festival board, to remove my name from anything attached to it, she responded back with a request that I take the festival name off your First Nations site. I told her she needed to contact you, and I guess she had Troy email you. [see above].
The issue is deeper, though, than a mean-spirited moment. It's a story of how one community failed to respond to an opportunity to face its legacy of racism and heal. I'd like to share that story, as I understand it.
The niece of L. Frank Baum was a friend of my family when I grew up in Aberdeen, South Dakota, and I spent her last thirteen years (she died one month into her 100th year) frequently visiting Matilda Jewell Gage. Her Uncle Frank (I came to learn from family documents and stories) was a tender-hearted, witty man, devoted to his family and committed to women's rights. The utopia he created in his fourteen Oz books reflected his personality. Peace reigns in Oz, enforced by the females who serve as political and spiritual leaders. Money and greed are unknown; each considers it an honor to give to their neighbors what they need. Differences among people are not tolerated; they're celebrated. "I am convinced," says the scarecrow, "that the only people worthy of consideration in this world are the unusual ones." Oz is a land where abused and neglected children, reading for almost 100 years, have found a safe haven:a place where they're respected and loved.
When my friend Bob Venables first approached me with his "discovery" of Baum's editorials calling for genocide, I dismissed him. "I read those years ago, they're boiler-plate. Baum didn't write them, he just printed the type that he'd been sent. All the newspapers in the area printed those editorials," I assured him. It wasn't until another friend gave me the article Venables subsequently wrote (which is on your site) that I had to face the truth. These editorials were not generic boiler-plate, they clearly came from the editor of the Saturday Pioneer; they came from the pen of L. Frank Baum. "The Pioneer," Baum wrote in the second editorial, "has before declared that our only safety depends upon the total extirmination (sic) of the Indians." I had been justifying to myself that Baum just slapped the type for these editorials into his paper without looking at them because I didn't want to acknowledge the fact that this man, who I had come to respect and admire, had called for genocide. I was wrong about him all along, I suddenly decided. L. Frank Baum was really bad. Either you're good or you're bad. You can't be both. That's the way I was raised. Then I thought of what my 83-year old aunt always quotes from the Bible, Die wahrheit wirde sie frei machen. The truth will set you free. "And there isn't anything more truthful than that," she says.
The hard truth, as I've since come to work with it, is that L. Frank Baum was both good and bad. He left the world wonderfully respectful books that give us a working model for how to live in multicultural harmony. And he called for genocide, not once, but twice, the second time after the massacre at Wounded Knee. He demonstrates no remorse after the atrocity; rather a call to "finish the job." No amount of justifying or rationalization changes that truth. Was Baum personally frightened, in ill health, fearful that he would go belly-up in one more financial endeavor if the Indians scared settlers from coming to Dakota? All true. Did he just do what other newspaper editors in the area were doing? Yes. And it was their collective behavior that whipped-up the genocidal fever that led to the massacre. Is Baum accountable for writing these editorials? I believe, yes.
Jewish people have led us in a cultural understanding of historical accountability. It doesn't work to justify one's part in the holocost by pleading fear or following orders or just doing what everyone else was doing. We must hold people accountable for their behavior or the holocost can happen again. We have a new post-Hitler standard of accountability that we must now apply to our own American holocaust, the genocide of American Indians.
How to translate this insight into action? I felt personally torn. Matilda Jewell Gage wanted so much for her Uncle Frank to be remembered by Aberdeen, where he lived from the fall of 1888 to the spring of 1891 and got many of his ideas for the Oz books. On the other hand, I felt a responsibility to raise the issue of the editorials, and to raise it at least as loudly as I had previously suppressed it. I began to talk to people in Aberdeen and around the state, Indian and non-Indian, about what could be done.
We began to create a vision of healing through accountability, that could open the way to celebration of the good. We wanted to recognize this famous past resident, but we wanted to do it honorably, and in a way that could help to heal the terrible gaping wound of racism that still festers in our state. We would begin with a long overdue apology to the Lakota people for the part our community, through Baum's editorials, took in the massacre, and a pledge that we would work to end racism in our region. Then we would go back to July 4, 1890, six months before the massacre, when Aberdeen invited Dakota people from the Sisseton-Wahpeton reservation to celebrate July 4 with an encampment and pow-wow. We would extend the hand of friendship after we had issued our apology, and we would invite Lakota and Dakota people to join us in an encampment, pow-wow and conference to create an understanding of Baum's time in Aberdeen. And most importantly, to explore how a man who wrote fourteen books that teach children to respect all life and appreciate diversity, could also call for the "extermination" of an entire group of people.
For two years we planned, and the vision grew. The goal of our conference/festival would be reconciliation, and in the process, we could provide a place where the thousands of Europeans tourists who come to South Dakota each summer could meet and interact with native people. We would host the first-ever conference to seriously study the writer of the Great American Fairytale, and document his part in South Dakota history. And then we drafted the apology and pledge and the dream ended.
"I have nothing to apologize for," said Bea Premack, one of the three members of the Planning Committee, and she refused to sign, although she had not in two years of planning stated any objection to the idea of the apology and pledge. People began madly backpeddling. Some feared losing their jobs if they signed. Others wanted changes that would weaken the apology and pledge. We took a stand. Rather than let it be nibbled to death, watered-down until it meant nothing, we would stick with the wording once we'd made the first round of changes. When the smoke cleared, there were four signatures on the apology/pledge, out of a committee of about 24 people. The four of us decided to go ahead and work on the conference and encampment, while the majority turned around and began planning a festival to celebrate L. Frank Baum.
It was an ugly and painful split. Things got very nasty, and the city pulled our funding for planning the conference/encampment. With the support of the mayor we got it reinstated, but the six months delay meant that we could not hold the conference at the time we had planned. We began to see how difficult it would be to hold the conference/encampment in this hostile atmosphere. Racism runs rampant in the community and the state, made all the more dangerous by the degree to which it's denied. Talking about racism (it seems to be widely believed) causes racism. So if you keep silent about it, if you don't talk about, there's no problem. We felt silenced when the newspaper didn't print our press releases about the conference, but did run stories about the festival. Troy's offhandedly informing the First Nations home page (which has been our major source of support) that "by the way, do you realize the conference is off anyway?" is part and parcel of the treatment we've received [see above]. Planning becomes extremely difficult when we are constantly undercut in this way. Aberdeen, we have reluctantly become convinced, is too hostile an environment in which to hold the conference/encampment. If we, the Indian and non-Indian planners, face a mean-spirited community, why would we want to invite native people to come and be similarly insulted?
At the same time, there has been an enormous outpouring of support from readers of the First Nations site, Indian and non-Indian alike, from all over the world who have signed the apology and pledge, and offered words of wisdom and support. Jordan, you have been the messenger, and your site the vehicle that has allowed us to get the message out beyond our community. We're grateful for that. The response has been tremendous and is, quote honestly, what has kept us going. Here's one example, from a Native American woman whose father's work brought the family to Aberdeen to live in the early 1970's. She wrote us:
" At that time, I experienced all the racism and outright bigotry toward Indian people that I would not wish on anybody....Even in the early 70's, being Indian was not at all popular. My brothers and I were the only Indians in the junior high school we attended. Never do I want to hear the words "squaw and buck" vented so hatefully again in my life. My brother's were in countless fights during and after school hours. I hope that my children will never have to endure this kind of humiliation ever. I fully support your efforts in exposing L.Frank Baum for what he was and his stance on the termination of our relatives."
I feel badly for the insult that Troy gave to this woman and all the native people who have responded to the petition and pledge when he wrote that this home page "is not very credible nor responsible among Native Americans anyway." Troy refers to "efforts our festival is making to address the Baum genocide editorials...in a public forum" which "are being hampered by your site." If I thought for a minute that this was true, I would encourage you to close down the Baum site. But how could the public light of truth injure their efforts? I'm afraid that Troy is blowing smoke here. They may be planning a public forum, but it has not been mentioned once in the recent articles about the Festival in the local paper. Not when members of the Aberdeen's Oz Festival "paraded up the aisle" dressed as Oz characters to open the state tourism conference, nor in a lengthy article by Bea Premack, in which she describes the Festival as "one fantastic family-packed weekend" with "heritage arts and crafts, games, performances and special events" including a band concert, ice cream social, and storytelling. Hard to imagine where a serious discussion of genocide will fit into these "festivities." Bea still pays lip service to the goals of the original vision, "increasing public awareness of the historic, literary and artistic connection of Baum to Aberdeen, providing opportunities for the public to learn more about his life, and encouraging preservation of the Baum legacy." However, in her examples, she informed readers that Baum was a "great baseball booster and started a bicycle club" but not that he wrote editorials calling for the "extermination" of the entire Sioux nation. The festival planners, it appears, are not going to talk about the editorials until the last minute and then sneak a discussion of them in the backdoor as one of the events in a fun-filled weekend. This is the mirror opposite of our original goal, to place the editorials at the center of our planning, to acknowledge and understand, and apologize for them.
We're not asking for a fight, we're asking for a forum. Somehow, in a respectful setting we'd like to deal with these editorials in a positive way, with the goal of reconciliation. Given this, we want to issue a request to the readers of this site. The three of us (maybe four) who are now left from the original planners of this conference (one a Lakota man who had relatives murdered by the soldiers at Wounded Knee) are pretty disheartened and discouraged about doing anything in our community. The lack of support and the community silence (and silencing) about the editorials make it clear that we've been labeled "troublemakers" for simply raising the issue. And now, Troy's attack on our major source of support, and the undercutting of our efforts make us fear that the resistance, strong already, will increase as the planning goes forward. Beyond that, we're concerned about the kind of treatment that Indian people would receive coming to the conference/encampment in Aberdeen. Healing through accountability can't take place in a community that denies there is a problem to begin with, and expends its energy in putting a happy face on genocide.
We realize that people outside Aberdeen understand the larger importance of this reconciliation and education effort. We now turn it over to you, and ask your assistance. What should we do? We welcome your suggestions, need your thoughts on the issue, and also will gratefully turn this conference over to anyone who wishes to host it.
Thanks always for your support,
Sally Roesch Wagner, February 18, 1997
Comments which have been received (less names/addresses) regarding this issue can be read at the Baum Comment Site. Should there be any who are interested in opening a dialogue concerning the Baum issue I suggest a visit to the First Nations Mailing List site. There you will find mention of a " List " where this dialogue could be opened.
Baum Petition Responses
Baum Petition Page
Rescind the medals of dis-Honor
Dr. Wagner's Testimony Regarding the Massacre at Wounded Knee
Wounded Knee Home Page
First Nations Cumulative Index
Please provide an opinion as to this site and it's