In jail, Cecelia Capture is isolated, left alone with her own thoughts and private psychic journey in a
kind of vision quest disturbingly appropriate to modern urban Indians. As she remembers the thirty-
year journey that has brought her to the jail cell, Cecelia relives her childhood on the Idaho
reservation; then memory winds through experiences of running away at sixteen to the flower-child
years of San Francisco, a first love who fathers Cecelia's son and leaves to be killed in Viet Nam,
subsequent lovers, a white, upper-class liberal husband and a daughter, law school, and an
overwhelming sense of lost roots, lost identity, lost love.Out of this tightly structured flow of
association, Hale constructs the clearest, most impressive account yet of the mixed-blood Indian
woman's world. This is a 1980's story of a lost generation, expatriates within America whose homes
have slipped away in a haze of promises and alcohol.
Unlike her contemporaries Allen, Silko, Momaday, Vizenor and Welch, Hale does not rely on American
Indian oral tradition as a unifying element. Hale structures her novel, and Cecelia Capture pieces
together the fragments of her world without the help of Spider Woman, Coyote or Raven. Unlike
protagonists in other novels by Indian writers, Cecelia Capture has no pueblo, no place, no sense of
tradition to return to for strength. She alone of major characters in recent Indian novels confronts her
displacement and alienation as an isolated individual and demonstrates the possibility for, if not
success, at least survival.
While at times the prose flattens disturbingly in this second novel, at many more moments it rises in
wonderful richness. Cecelia dreams, and in the dream “the snow fell on her, covered her long, long
straight black hair, which lay spread out around her, covered her eyelids and then her entire face.
Soon she would be buried in snow, would die when her blood turned to ice. That would be all right.
That would be the way she always hoped that she would die, like Moses Brokentooth back home....”
Janet Campbell Hale was born on 11 January 1946 in Riverside, California, to Nicholas Patrick
Campbell, a carpenter and full-blood Coeur d'Alene Indian, and Margaret Sullivan Campbell, a
Kootenay with some white and Chippewa ancestry. Campbell is the Anglicized version of Cole-man-
née, the name of her great-grandfather. Hale's great-grandparents on her mother's side were Dr.
John McLoughlin, a fur trader for the Hudson's Bay Company who was the chief factor in the
Northwest Territory, and Annie Grizzly, a Kootenay woman. Hale is a member of the Coeur d'Alene
tribe of northern Idaho and spent parts of her childhood on the Coeur d'Alene and Yakima
Campbell attended high school in Wapato, Washington, before transferring to the Institute of
American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico. On 23 June 1964 she married Harry Arthur Dudley III;
they have a son, Aaron Nicholas, and were divorced in 1965. She attended the City College of San
Francisco in 1968. On 23 August 1970 she married Stephen Dinsmore Hale; they have a daughter,
Jennifer Elizabeth. Janet Campbell Hale received a B.A. in rhetoric from the University of California at
Berkeley in 1972 and studied law there for two years.
In 1984 she earned an M.A. in English at the University of California at Davis, where she has taught
literature courses. She also has taught at the University of California at Berkeley; DQ University near
Davis, California; Western Washington University in Bellingham; the University of Oregon; and the
Centrum Foundation in Port Townsend, Washington. She currently teaches at Lummi Community
College, an Indian-controlled school in Bellingham. She was writer-in-residence at the University of
Washington in 1985-1986.
Written for younger readers, The Owl's Song is the story of Billy White Hawk, who at age fourteen
leaves the reservation in Idaho and his alcoholic father to live with his sister, Alice Fay, in California.
Although he has escaped the malaise of the reservation, he encounters prejudice from his fellow
students, both white and black -- Hale here addresses a subject seldom mentioned in American Indian
literature: prejudice among races rather than just between whites and Indians.
His sister turns out to be a self-loathing hypocrite who wants nothing to do with Indians and curses the
drunken Indians from the reservation while sipping sherry. The only adult who seems to understand
Billy and offer him support is his homosexual art teacher. Above all, this is a novel about death --
physical, spiritual, and cultural; for many tribes the owl is the bringer of death, and its song is one of
despair. A tribal elder tells Billy, "There is little left of what once was. The time is coming when even
this will be gone, taken away. And we will be no more. The time is coming when the owl's song will be
for our race." Billy White Hawk's cousin, a troubled Vietnam veteran, commits suicide, and his father
dies at the end of the novel.
In the title poem of Custer Lives in Humboldt County and Other Poems Hale calls Anglo interpretations
of Indian history "justifiable genocide" and "involuntary manslaughter." After mentioning Little Bighorn,
Steptoe, and Wounded Knee, she ends the poem: "The past is best forgotten"; but the reader is
keenly aware that Hale has not forgotten and does not intend to. In "My Sisters the Summer of '53"
Hale remembers envying her sisters going to dances with Indian cowboys.
In "Desmet, Idaho, March 1969" she writes of returning to the reservation for her grandfather's wake
and of hearing the old people speaking a language she only vaguely remembered from her
childhood. In "Tribal Cemetery" she shows her children the grave of their grandfather. Hale, like many
other American Indians, is a product of a Catholic upbringing; in "On a Catholic Childhood" she
introduces humor into what is otherwise a serious collection of memories:
I stole my sister's
plastic glows-in-the-dark Virgin Mary
And hid it deep within the lilac bush.
God would never understand.
Her tribute to the late Supreme Court justice William Douglas, a man who had "respect for Human
Dignity," traces her own life as well as his.
The protagonist of Hale's second novel, "The Jailing of Cecelia Capture," is a far better developed and
much stronger character than Billy White Hawk; Hale seems more at ease with a female character
closer to her own age and experiences. Cecelia Capture, an American Indian woman, is a law student
at Berkeley who is jailed on her birthday for drunk driving.
During her incarceration Capture reflects on her past, a past she tried to forget by moving to the city
and marrying a white man. Alcohol was ever present on the reservation and in her own home: her
father was frequently drunk and verbally abusive. Her upbringing exposed her to a love/hate
relationship with whites: they were models to emulate but were still despised by her father, who sent
Cecelia to white schools and encouraged her to leave the reservation. Her father is unhappy that she
is an Indian and equally unhappy that she is female: "too bad that you're a girl, Cece, because, you
know, men just don't like smart women."
Her mother also communicates to Cecelia a sense of her worthlessness, calling her a girl "no real life
man would ever want." Leaving the reservation to seek a new life, Cecelia finds only poverty and an
unhappy marriage to Nathan, "who didn't look like a man who would be her husband. He looked more
like her dad." She seeks the escape she saw as a child: alcohol.
The jailing of the title clearly refers to more than Cecelia's incarceration: she has been imprisoned by
negative attitudes and by a system that has not allowed her to grow and to thrive. Her surname is also
significant: she is "captured" by her environment. At the beginning of the novel Hale quotes the
philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche: "The thought of suicide is a great consolation. By means of it one
gets through many a bad night."
Cecelia's decision not to kill herself is a turning point in her life: she learns to take control of her
destiny, and she can then regain the positive reference of the name that was passed on to her by her
grandfather, Eagle Capture, who was skilled at snaring eagles. Cecelia's father had criticized her for
wearing red as a child, a sign to whites that she was an Indian. As an adult she decides that "red was
always going to be her favorite color ... her whole wardrobe would consist of nothing but red."
Bloodlines , Hale's most recent book, is a collection of essays in which she tries to gain a sense of the
meaning of her own life. Hale's story is reminiscent of the life of her character Cecelia Capture; Hale
calls herself a "broken-off piece" of her family. As the only one of five siblings who was born off the
Coeur d'Alene reservation in northern Idaho, she has always felt alienated from the land of her tribe.
Her mother, a light-skinned woman who could pass for white, was older than most mothers of young
girls her age; Hale remembers her mother as "a master, an absolute master, of verbal abuse." Hale's
grandmother seemed to reject her because of her dark skin. By the time she was fifteen, Hale was
writing poetry and sending it to magazines in New York. None of it was published, but through writing
Hale could cope with her status as an outcast in her own family. In May 1986, while on a speaking tour
in Montana, Hale traced the route of her father's mother, a Coeur d'Alene who had been with Chief
Joseph during his attempt to escape to Canada. She recaptured in the memories of her grandmother
her connections to her Indian past:
grandmother there as though two parts of her met each other that day: the ghost of the girl she
was in 1877 (and that part of her will remain forever in this place) and the part of her that lives
on in me, in inherited memories of her, in my blood and in my spirit.
resolutions. Only an end." Finally, in 1992, Hale returned to the reservation with her daughter. There
she came to terms with the lies she had created, the fantasies she had passed on to her children
about her childhood. She now understands that for "an Indian, home is the place where your tribe
began. . . .
Home is the place where your people began, and maybe where your family began and your family still
is"; but she still feels alienated: "I will remain, as I have long been, estranged from the land I belong
to." Nevertheless, "I am as Coeur d'Alene in New York as I am in Idaho, that is something that is an
integral part of me." In tracing her ancestry, she made a discovery: "The Kootenay was the only tribe
in the region that had been matrilineal, the only one that had had women warriors." Hale continues
that warrior tradition, but she uses words as her weapons.
WRITINGS BY THE AUTHOR:
• The Owl's Song (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1974).
• Custer Lives in Humboldt County and Other Poems (Greenfield Center, N.Y.: Greenfield Review,
• The Jailing of Cecelia Capture (New York: Random House, 1985).
• Bloodlines: Odyssey of a Native Daughter (New York: Random House, 1993).
Herman, M. (2009). Politics and Aesthetics in Contemporary Native American Literature: Across Every
Hale, F. (1996). Janet Campbell Hale (Boise State University western writers series).
Jordan, T. (1999). Stories That Shape Us.
Coeur d'Alene Tribe