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Native Acts

Indian Performance, 1603-1832

Joshua David Bellin

Publication Year: 2012

Long before the Boston Tea Party, where colonists staged a revolutionary act by masquerading as Indians, people looked to Native Americans for the symbols, imagery, and acts that showed what it meant to be “American.” And for just as long, observers have largely overlooked the role that Native peoples themselves played in creating and enacting the Indian performances appropriated by European Americans. It is precisely this neglected notion of Native Americans “playing Indian” that Native Acts explores. These essays—by historians, literary critics, anthropologists, and folklorists—provide the first broadly based chronicle of the performance of “Indianness” by Natives in North America from the seventeenth through the early nineteenth century.

The authors’ careful and imaginative analysis of historical documents and performative traditions reveals an intricate history of intercultural exchange. In sum, Native Acts challenges any simple understanding of cultural “authenticity” even as it celebrates the dynamic role of performance in the American Indian pursuit of self-determination. In this collection, Indian peoples emerge as active, vocal, embodied participants in cultural encounters whose performance powerfully shaped the course of early American history.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press

Title Page

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Copyright Page

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. 1-26

Forcefully captured by Powhatan Indians while on a mission to locate the source of the Chickahominy River, Captain John Smith was held prisoner for a little over three weeks by the Jamestown colony’s Native neighbors...

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1. Lying Inventions: Native Dissimulation in Early Colonial New England

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pp. 27-52

“‘Indian as performance’ is not an idea that has caught on,” writes Craig Womack, “unless one is referring to notorious fakers—the likes of Grey Owl and Jamake Highwater.”1 Womack’s opposition to the utility...

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2. The Deer Island Indians and Common Law Performance

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pp. 53-79

In late October 1675, after the Indians had won a number of strategic battles in King Philip’s War, colonial authorities banished roughly five hundred Praying Indians, all noncombatants, to Deer Island...

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3. Native Performances of Diplomacy and Religion in Early New France

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pp. 81-116

When François Gravé Du Pont came ashore near Tadoussac on May 27, 1603, accompanied by Samuel de Champlain, a small group of sailors, and two Innu men returning to their homeland after a year in France...

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4. Wendat Song and Carnival Noise in the Jesuit Relations

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pp. 117-143

The Jesuit missionaries who worked in eastern Canada in the seventeenth century left extensive descriptions of Iroquoian and Algonquian ceremonial song and dance. These early ethnological writings were included as part...

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5. “I Wunnatuckquannum,This Is My Hand”: Native Performance in Massachusett Language Indian Deeds

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pp. 145-167

On September 8, 1683, Wampanoag queen sachem Wunnatuckquannum conveyed a parcel of land on the eastern section of Noepe, or modern day Martha’s Vineyard, to David Okes, a member of her...

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6. In a Red Petticoat: Coosaponakeesa’s Performance of Creek Sovereignty in Colonial Georgia

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pp. 169-193

In 1733 the Creek trader Coosaponakeesa donned a red stroud petticoat and stationed herself on a bluff overlooking the Savannah River. Along with her husband, a group of local Yamacraw Indians, and the Yamacraw...

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7. Playing John White: John Wompas and Racial Identity in the Seventeenth-Century Atlantic World

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pp. 195-220

In September 1679 John White died and was buried in London, a city more than three thousand miles from his home. His birthplace, as English ears heard and transcribed it, was Assenham..

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8. “This Wretched Scene of British Curiosity and Savage Debauchery”: Performing Indian Kingship in Eighteenth-Century Britain

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pp. 221-247

In early 1765 Virginian militia officer Henry Timberlake led a delegation of Cherokee Indians to London. The trip was cursed from the start. One of the Indians died before the party left America; another died...

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9. Performing Indian Publics: Two Native Views of Diplomacy to the Western Nations in 1792

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pp. 249-280

Native peoples in the Americas have been engaged in diplomatic exchanges with Europeans since contact. In early America indigenous diplomats presented their political positions with a highly elaborated...

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10. Editing as Indian Performance: Elias Boudinot, Poetry, and the Cherokee Phoenix

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pp. 281-307

Elias Boudinot (Cherokee) appeared before New England audiences on numerous occasions over the course of his career as a spokesman for Cherokee rights. He first undertook a speaking tour of New England...

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pp. 309-316

My dad rued the day his bad back got the better of him and he had to give up wearing his cowboy boots. “Justins,” he said, “are what you wear when you really need to put on the...


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pp. 317-319


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pp. 321-333

E-ISBN-13: 9780803239890
E-ISBN-10: 0803239890
Print-ISBN-13: 9780803226326
Print-ISBN-10: 0803226322

Page Count: 344
Publication Year: 2012