An Indian Cinderella? It seems faintly ludicrous -- the idea of a Native-told tale like that -- what? cruel stepmother and envious step-sisters? The Fairy Godmother with fashion-sense, access to pumpkin-model 12-mousepower Mercedes coach? Prince Charming? The elaborate, expensive, magically-provided ball gown and jewels? The glass slipper? The whole thing seems to have nothing to do with any uncorrupted Native culture. Nevertheless, there are several versions of Cinderella retold in the mid-19th century by Mi'kmaq storytellers of Hantsport, Nova Scotia, and others told by Maine Passamaquoddies. These were peoples who were acculturated for more than 200 years, but are among the poorest and most "Native" -- often described by the tale collectors as requiring interpreters. There were also some educated, literate tribespeople who wanted to preserve these surviving bits of knowledge. So, before the end of the 19th century, many of these stories were collected.
Contrasting what Native storytellers did creatively with the European Cindereella myth -- and looking more closely than kids do at the values underlying that durable myth -- will provide insights about Native cultural survivals, showing what values may still survive. It helps to show how those values survive, too, by adaptations, by creative modifications.
A whole literature of Native storytellers' creative interactions with European folk-tales is mostly ignored, excluded, by anthros and ethnologists, hell-bent on collecting "myths and legends" of what they want to believe are uncontaminated pre-contact indigenous cultural expressions. They exclude or comment extensively on the effects Christianity has had on the "pure" religion, its mythic expressions. It usually is Chrisitianity -- for instance. ministers and preachers vigorously pushed the "Great Spirit" as the Christian God -- because hardly anybody else was socializing with Indian people telling them their stories, other than preachers.
There's only one area where a lot of European folk-tales, fairy tales, ghost stories, were even heard by Natives. That is the Woodland peoples north of the St. Lawrence, in Canada, and west to the Canadian Plains, and southerly of the Great Lakes in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. Anishinaabeg peoples, and relatives: Mi'kmaq, Penobscot (and other New England so-called Algonquians), Potawotami, Menomini, Cree.
These people mixed closely with the Frenchmen of the fur trade period. The Frenchmen -- voyageurs, coureurs du bois, loggers, farmers in the Atlantic colonies -- liked to party hearty. They were singers, fiddlers, dancers, storytellers -- not preachers. They intermarried with local Natives to form two unique cultures: the Acadians (who were forced out of Canada, mostly to Lousiana -- Cajuns) and in the west, the Metis. Among the Frenchmen who liked and lived with Indian people of the 17th through 19th centuries were those who told stories to their Indian friends and families. They were not hell-bent on "civilizing" them. Unlike the English, they got along well, they intermarried often.
Mi'kmaq people had an unusually close and good social relationship to an early French Canadian Atlantic seaboard colony -- Acadia. thousands of whose members were forcibly expelled by the English resulting in tragic family separations deaths of at least 1/3 of the people, in 1755. Since this history will be unknown to many, including most U.S. people, you could check out an overview now or wait for another opportunity at the end of the Mi'kmaq Cinderella story page. The unique good relations, for more than 100 years, between the French Acadians and the Mi'kmaq and Maliseet peoples resulted in cultural exchanges without the usual robberies, deaths, devastations.
Charles Leland, a journalist and folklorist, in 1882 amassed a large collection of surviving myths and tales among the Passamaquoddy of Maine, and received manuscript copies of tales collected by others (including some written down by various educated Indians of the time). Leland said he had "enough of these French Indian stories to form what would make one of the most interesting volumes of the series Contes Populaires." but he never got around to it. In the collection he did publish Algonquin Legends (see Book Review), there is just the one tale that he thinks might be "an old solar myth worked up with the story of Cinderella, derived from a Canadian-French source."
In a curious (but very typical of his misreadings) non-review, Canadian children's lit prof (and "Indian lit expert") Jon Stott chastizes the 1992 children's book The Rough-Face Girl (by Rafe Martin, gorgeous illustrations, David Shannon):
"Picture books must be culturally accurate. The Rough-Face Girl, a beautiful picture book written by Rafe Martin...is, as the Author's Note states, about an Algonquin Indian Cinderella. Yet the opening sentence sets the story 'by the shores of Lake Ontario', even though the shores of that lake were peopled by tribes speaking Iroquoian, not Algonquian, languages. In addition, the term 'Cinderella' implicitly brings with it the European cultural values associated with the French and German versions of a story familiar to most young readers." Of course, that's exactly what the Mi'lkmaq storyteller wanted -- to play off against the well-known Cinderella.
Throughout his recent book, Native Americans in Children's Literature, Stott shows almost total blindness to Native cultural values, as well as inability to read plain text (or anyway to report accurately what is said) and inability to see what a picture plainly shows.( See book review of Stott.) Stott is either unaware or considers it unimportant that the European Cinderella tale was raw material for the Mi'kmaq storyteller, he probably isn't aware of the actual source. (He pays attention to actual Native sources only if it fits his model of (Joseph) Campbell canned chicken soup myth-analysis.) Too, it doesn't matter where non-existent Algonquians (this is a pejorative term -- "bark eaters" -- applied by Mohawks to some enemy tribe or other) lived.
The Native storyteller might just be doing a "far away" conventional placement of the story's locale. Since the Mi'kmaq opening phrase about the locale is actually given parenthetically (in the original source) we'll see there's more to the question of where this story takes place. That it's not part of some traditional old myth, but a 19th-century revisioning of Cinderella is not only indicated by Leland's remarks, but also by the fact that in other actually traditional tales, Mi'kmaq storytellers begin with a conventional phrase, "N'karnayoo -- of the old times" which isn't done with the Cinderella re-fit.
Read the European Version page -- a critique that links-to multiple early versions of the European Cinderella. From that page, the Mi'kmaq story link is on the page bottom menubar.
Cinderella Stories -- a page of references to many variants and world-wide versions by Canadian Children's Lit professor R. Brown, includes a version of Mi'kmaq tale that made it into something called The Red Indian Fairy Book , 1914.
Page prepared by Paula Giese graphics and layout copyright 1996.
Last updated: 1/11/97