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Native Authenticity

Transnational Perspectives on Native American Literary Studies

Deborah L. Madsen

Publication Year: 2010

A survey of current critical perspectives on how North American indigenous peoples are viewed and represented transnationally. An indispensable resource for readers, students, and scholars of Native literatures in North America, Native Authenticity offers a clear, comprehensive, and systematic look at the diversity of critical approaches to the idea of "Indian-ness.” Some of the foremost transatlantic scholars of Native Studies in North America and Europe share their insights on this highly-charged aspect of the contemporary theoretical field of Native Studies. The issue of "authenticity" or "Indian-ness" generates a controversial debate in studies of indigenous American literatures. The articulation of Native identity through the prism of Euro-American attempts to confine "Indian" groups to essentialized spaces is resisted by some Native writers, while others recognize a need for essentialist categories as a key strategy in the struggle for social justice and a perpetually renewed sense of Native sovereignty. Pressure from neo-colonial essentializing practices is in conflict with a politics of cultural sovereignty, which demands a notion of "Indian" essence or "authenticity" as a foundation for community values, heritage, and social justice. Contributors participate in a scholarly and pedagogical search for an intellectual paradigm for Native literary studies that is apart from, yet cognizant with, powerful colonial legacies. The complex politics of Polynesian authenticity versus Native indigeneity is engaged by Native Hawaiian writers as they negotiate conflicting demands upon personal and tribal identities. Related to this questioning is the authenticity debate in Canadian First Nations writing, where the claim to authenticity rests upon a claim to historical precedence; also related is the highly contentious claim by some Chicano/a writers to an indigenous heritage as a claim to authority and "American" authenticity. Essays in this volume are focused upon the diverse and sophisticated responses of Native writers and scholars, while offering comparative perspectives on Native Hawaiian, Chicano, and Canadian literatures.

Published by: State University of New York Press


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-xii

This book brings together original work by some of the foremost scholars of Native American studies in North America and Europe in order to map one specific and highly charged aspect of the contemporary theoretical field of Native American Indian studies. The issue of “authenticity” or “Indianness” generates a controversial debate in studies of indigenous American literatures.

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Introduction: Contemporary Discourses on “Indianness”

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pp. 1-18

In this introduction, I want to offer a survey of the diversity of understandings of “Indianness” that characterize contemporary Native American literature. Native American Indian literary study is based on the assumption that such a thing as “Native Americanness” or “Indianness” exists to define the category of literary expression that is the object of study. In this respect, all Native American Indian literary study rightly supports and is consonant with Native claims to sovereignty...

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1. Questions about the Question of “Authenticity”: Notes on Mo‘olelo Hawai‘i and the Struggle for Pono

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pp. 19-38

Mo‘olelo Hawai‘i (literature, stories, histories) by those with mo‘okūauhau (Hawaiian genealogy) connecting them to the ‘āina (land, environment) participates in an enduring social movement that asserts the distinctiveness of Hawaiians as a lāhui (race, peoplehood, nation) and that is implicitly or explicitly involved in the pursuit of pono (righteousness, justice, well-being), one dimension of which is a call for self-determination or ea (sovereignty, independence, life, breath).1

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2. Cycles of Selfhood, Cycles of Nationhood: Authenticity, Identity, Community, Sovereignty

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pp. 39-68

Over the past generation, an ancient notion has been emerging that underneath the many narratives of identity politics in Native American literatures, a driving energy that animates those stories and poems, either by its presence or its absence, is tribal sovereignty. Explicitly or implicitly, notions of tribal sovereignty and American nationhood have pushed against and around each other in battles, in the courts and Congress, and in daily life on the land and in the cities.

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3. “Back when I used to be Indian”: Native American Authenticity and Postcolonial Discourse

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pp. 69-86

In this chapter I argue that borrowing from postcolonial studies in order to theorize issues of authenticity can help readers of Native American literature understand and address similar concerns in the United States. More specifically, I argue that notions and characterizations of the “authentic Indian” by mainstream or dominant American culture present problems similar to those addressed by postcolonial scholars in other contexts, and thus postcolonial theory off ers a way into discussions of Native American literatures as scholars and Indian authors confront and challenge generalized conceptions of authenticity or in some cases (perhaps inadvertently) themselves perpetuate myths of the authentic.

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4. The X-Blood Files : Whose Story? Whose Indian?

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pp. 87-102

This is a story. Th is is the kind of story that needs to begin with the storyteller, with a statement about her present past, so that you know something about the constellation of other stories that prompt this telling. Or, as my elders would say—this is who I am; this is how I heard it.

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5. Modernism, Authenticity, and Indian Identity: Frank “Toronto” Prewett (1893–1962)

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pp. 103-122

Due to his Indian ancestry, the Canadian poet Frank James Prewett was nicknamed “Toronto” by the illustrious literary friends he met while recovering in England following his service in World War I. Those friends included Virginia Woolf, Siegfried Sassoon, Robert Graves, and the doyenne of the Bloomsbury set, the rich and generous Lady Ottoline Morrell. Each figure found Prewett’s poetry important and his Indian identity both intriguing and meaningful.

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6. Transdifference in the Work of Gerald Vizenor

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pp. 123-132

There is no better way to start a discussion of authenticity than by rereading that greatest of all American satires of the nineteenth century, Herman Melville’s The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade. This work without a coherent plot, without a self-identical protagonist, without any unambiguous message, this medley of fictional and metafictional sections, inset stories, intertextual allusions, repeated reflections on the ...

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7. Traces of Others in Our Own Other: Monocultural Ideals, Multicultural Resistance

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pp. 133-150

While it is undeniable that to some extent the quality of “authenticity” within human groups is linked to physical characteristics, it is far more commonly a matter of a set of customs made up of performance codes and rules that determine membership in and status within the particular group. Performance is a matter of cultural discourses designed to render actions meaningful within the group’s ...

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8. Sacred Community, Sacred Culture: Authenticity and Modernity in Contemporary Canadian Native Writings

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pp. 151-166

The claim that Canada’s First Nations have existed in the land since “time immemorial” is one of immense importance. While Westerners can understand the claim as an assertion of mythic identity and precontact history, fewer understand the claim as an assertion of modernity. That is to say, the location of an “immemorial” authentic identity does not mean that identity is located in a distant or unremembered past, which subsequently needs to be developed in a progressive manner (an evolutionary model of culture); rather, the phrase is indicative of cultural maturity and a self-present, complete, or modern culture (nonetheless, one which is open to productive change and growth).

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In Conversation: Postindian Reflections: Chickens and Piranha, Casinos, and Sovereignty

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pp. 167-182

Let me lead into this latest Vizenor-Lee exchange, an epilogue of sorts to our Postindian Conversations (1999), with an old, dare one say possibly even less than true, anecdote (told to me first by a New Englander about his home state). A local country preacher, heir to hellfire Puritanism, found himself moved to speak to his male parishioners, farm people for the most part, about certain “practices” that had come to his attention to do with farm animals.


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pp. 183-186


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pp. 187-193

E-ISBN-13: 9781438431697
E-ISBN-10: 1438431694
Print-ISBN-13: 9781438431673
Print-ISBN-10: 1438431678

Page Count: 205
Publication Year: 2010

Edition: 1