History and Bias
As I get through the halfway point of conducting my class on Lakota Leaders for the SMSU GOLD College, several of the class participants have commented that the “History” that I’m giving them is not one they had heard before, even covering the same period and events. I have heard of people (my father being one of them) who don’t like reading fiction because they only want to deal with “Facts”. In general, people think that the “Historical Facts” they read are the gospel.
The “facts” portrayed may be the “truth,” but the manner in which they are presented makes a significant difference. For my study of the Lakota Leaders, I used several biographies of each of the four Leaders I had selected. I found resounding differences in the recounting of the exact same events. The facts were generally the same, but different parts of them were highlighted and the roles of the individuals involved change dramatically.
When I gave this presentation out on the Standing Rock Reservation, this became even more of an issue in that some of the audience were well acquainted with the Legends about the four. By definition, Legends often contain strains of the facts intermixed with a story established to entertain and enlighten readers. It isn’t necessarily that they are “wrong”, they just overemphasize some things to make a point.
After I had done my research, the central theme of what I wanted to portray in my book emerged: “Four of the Greatest Leaders of the nineteenth century – Not Lakota Leaders – Leaders.” The way I chose to portray the facts, gathered from the variety of sources I researched, reflect that theme. If I would have had a different theme, I would have selected different events to recount and perhaps would have put a different emphasis on the roles the various characters played.
Therefore, I would maintain that the difference between fiction and non-fiction, between history and storytelling is not as significant as it is often portrayed.