Mediating Indianness ed. by Cathy Covell Waegner (review)
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Reviewed by
Cathy Covell Waegner, ed. Mediating Indianness. University of Manitoba Press. xxx, 324. $34.95

Mediating Indianness is an edited collection of thirteen essays and four creative pieces by a constellation of scholars from both sides of the Atlantic. Deriving its title and structure from a four-panel format held during the 2012 MESEA Conference, the collection is divided into four main sections that study mediation across a remarkably diverse array of primary sources such as fiction, film, music, photography, rituals, and interviews.

The photograph on the cover juxtaposes two reflections of a young Native American woman in a single frame: her elusive reflection in a shop window and her portrait-like reflection in a mirror behind it. Indian identity as mediated through multiple refractions is a string that runs through this volume. As editor Cathy Covell Waegner points out in the preface, "Indianness can be as complex and elusive as the Indigeneity of this photograph." The contributors to this volume do not settle on the common lexical connotations of "mediation" as "arbitration" or "settlement." Instead, as Waegner explains, the volume anchors itself in an understanding of "mediation" as a more active and intrusive way of "conveying," "distilling," or "intervening" that indicates "constant dialogizing interchange."

Part One traces transethnic/transcultural mediation of Indianness from early nineteenth-century to postmodern historical fiction. Billy J. Stratton and Sonja Georgi present readings of the rhetorical gestures in Tecumseh's speeches and Okah Tubbee's autobiography as decolonizing and disruptive forces that refute the neutralization of Native/transethnic identities by American frontier history. Waegner's analysis of Buffalo Bill's Wild West and its (new) media adaptations is particularly striking. Introducing the term "transcultural crack" to depict spontaneous disruptions of staged encounters between Indians and cowboys, Waegner illustrates how such "cracks" give rise to elements of "critique, irony or of protest," facilitating a dialogism that does not efface cultural idiosyncrasies. A. Robert Lee's essay and book review show how the historical past is remediated into the tribal present in Native postmodern fiction.

Shifting the focus toward visual culture, Part Two opens with Ellen Cushman's ethnohistorical and linguistic research on the decolonizing function of Cherokee alphabetization, followed by Chris LaLonde's essay on strategies of protest in Native American hip-hop through the opening of hybrid spaces in music. Christine Plicht and Ludmila Martanovschi's contributions adeptly survey the mediation of Indianness in Native and non-Native film. Native American scholar and writer Kimberly Blaeser concludes this section with a powerful essay on Native photography. Borrowing Dean Rader's concept of "compositional resistance," Blaeser illustrates how experimental forms in Native photography, such as the [End Page 207] picto-poem, "bend and refract dominant stories just as the photographic instrument can bend and refract light."

In a subsection titled "Interlude," Evalina Zuni Lucero and Jana Haladay reflect on the MESEA conference through creative essay and poetry, drawing links between personal histories and historical transatlantic movements. Focusing on mediation in performance art, Sally McBeth presents a well-argued anthropological analysis of the gender aspect in Ute Bear Dance performances in Part Three. Nicholle Dragone's and John Purdy's essays explore mediation as performance in transmedial storytelling in the works of Native American artist Eric Gansworth. Kerstin Schmidt presents a compelling analysis of Minda Martin's Free Land as a hybrid film, incorporating the objective documentary form with personal memoir and creative writing. As Schmidt illustrates, Martin establishes economic inequality as a systemic problem by offering glimpses into her family's history of economic hardship. Part Four of this volume is a hybrid performance titled "Crow Commons," a collaborative effort consisting of poems and reflections, emphasizing improvisation, dialogism, and solidarity among scholars as an alternative to the "competitive search for distinction" in academia.

Mediating Indianness is an impressive gathering of scholarly and creative work that skillfully experiments with the edited volume format by making space for creative writing, poetry, and "creative correspondences" among junior and senior, Native and non-Native scholars and writers. The primary sources under study and creative collaborations sustain a dialogue with the cover photo and other visual media in the volume, opening new venues for active mediation as...


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