The Problem of Old Harjo by John M Oskison

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The new generation of Native writers themselves was just as critical of missionary efforts. In 1907 John M. Oskison’s story “The Problem of Old Harjo” explored the dilemma of a well-intentioned Christian missionary who believes she can convert an elderly Native. The difficulty is that Old Harjo is happily married to two wives, and forcing him to renounce either one would be “cruel and useless.” Though Harjo fervently seeks church membership, the missionary is sensible enough to doubt that demanding a separation “would in the least advance morality amongst the tribe, but I’m certain that it would make three gentle people unhappy for the rest of their lives.” In this instance at least, when Indian custom and missionary certainty come into conflict, the missionary must back down. &nbsp.The problem of having to choose between two wives and two sets of values is not unique to the rising class of freed slaves. Native Americans commonly had more than one wife. this presented a problem for Native Americans as they were converted to Christianity and expected to conform to the rules of American society. Although the government would not honor such a marriage, they were emotionally and economically binding for the spouses.&nbsp. In “The Problem of Old Harjo,” John Oskison, another Native American, addresses this issue. Harjo, like Old White Bull, has two wives. While this is the tale of conflict between Christianity and native traditions, it still offers tremendous insight into the emotional bond of marriage, even when more than two people are involved. Oskison builds credibility for the institution by first portraying the missionaries as superficially religious but not concerned with Harjo’s well-being—they are representatives of a church of “scandalized missionaries” (Oskison 967). While the missionaries are sarcastic with one another and worry only about sin, ignorance, bigamy, and moral rehabilitation, Harjo is sincere in his acceptance of Jesus (ironically, the only truly crucial part of the missionaries’ teachings) and is sincere in his love and responsibility for both of his wives. &nbsp.