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First Peoples: New Directions in Indigenous Studies

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First Peoples: New Directions in Indigenous Studies

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Agitating Images

Photography against History in Indigenous Siberia

Craig Campbell

Following the socialist revolution, a colossal shift in everyday realities began in the 1920s and ’30s in the former Russian empire. Faced with the Siberian North, a vast territory considered culturally and technologically backward by the revolutionary government, the Soviets confidently undertook the project of reshaping the ordinary lives of the indigenous peoples in order to fold them into the Soviet state. In Agitating Images, Craig Campbell draws a rich and unsettling cultural portrait of the encounter between indigenous Siberians and Russian communists and reveals how photographs from this period complicate our understanding of this history.

Agitating Images provides a glimpse into the first moments of cultural engineering in remote areas of Soviet Siberia. The territories were perceived by outsiders to be on the margins of civilization, replete with shamanic rituals and inhabited by exiles, criminals, and “primitive” indigenous peoples. The Soviets hoped to permanently transform the mythologized landscape by establishing socialist utopian developments designed to incorporate minority cultures into the communist state. This book delves deep into photographic archives from these Soviet programs, but rather than using the photographs to complement an official history, Campbell presents them as anti-illustrations, or intrusions, that confound simple narratives of Soviet bureaucracy and power. Meant to agitate, these images offer critiques that cannot be explained in text alone and, in turn, put into question the nature of photographs as historical artifacts.

An innovative approach to challenging historical interpretation, Agitating Images demonstrates how photographs go against accepted premises of Soviet Siberia. All photographs, Campbell argues, communicate in unique ways that present new and even contrary possibilities to the text they illustrate. Ultimately, Agitating Images dissects our very understanding of the production of historical knowledge.

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Chosen People, a Promised Land

Mormonism and Race in Hawai’i

Hokulani K. Aikau

Christianity figured prominently in the imperial and colonial exploitation and dispossession of indigenous peoples worldwide, yet many indigenous people embrace Christian faith as part of their cultural and ethnic identities. A Chosen People, a Promised Land gets to the heart of this contradiction by exploring how Native Hawaiian members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (more commonly known as Mormons) understand and negotiate their place in this quintessentially American religion.

Mormon missionaries arrived in Hawai‘i in 1850, a mere twenty years after Joseph Smith founded the church. Hokulani K. Aikau traces how Native Hawaiians became integrated into the religious doctrine of the church as a “chosen people”—even at a time when exclusionary racial policies regarding black members of the church were being codified. Aikau shows how Hawaiians and other Polynesian saints came to be considered chosen and how they were able to use their venerated status toward their own spiritual, cultural, and pragmatic ends.

Using the words of Native Hawaiian Latter-Day Saints to illuminate the intersections of race, colonization, and religion, A Chosen People, a Promised Land examines Polynesian Mormon articulations of faith and identity within a larger political context of self-determination.

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The Copyright Thing Doesn’t Work Here

Adinkra and Kente Cloth and Intellectual Property in Ghana

Boatema Boateng

In Ghana, adinkra and kente textiles derive their significance from their association with both Asante and Ghanaian cultural nationalism. Adinkra, made by stenciling patterns with black dye, and kente, a type of strip weaving, each convey, through color, style, and adornment, the bearer’s identity, social status, and even emotional state. Yet both textiles have been widely mass-produced outside Ghana, particularly in East Asia, without any compensation to the originators of the designs.

In The Copyright Thing Doesn’t Work Here, Boatema Boateng focuses on the appropriation and protection of adinkra and kente cloth in order to examine the broader implications of the use of intellectual property law to preserve folklore and other traditional forms of knowledge. Boateng investigates the compatibility of indigenous practices of authorship and ownership with those established under intellectual property law, considering the ways in which both are responses to the changing social and historical conditions of decolonization and globalization. Comparing textiles to the more secure copyright protection that Ghanaian musicians enjoy under Ghanaian copyright law, she demonstrates that different forms of social, cultural, and legal capital are treated differently under intellectual property law.

Boateng then moves beyond Africa, expanding her analysis to the influence of cultural nationalism among the diaspora, particularly in the United States, on the appropriation of Ghanaian and other African cultures for global markets. Boateng’s rich ethnography brings to the surface difficult challenges to the international regulation of both contemporary and traditional concepts of intellectual property, and questions whether it can even be done.

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Mark My Words

Native Women Mapping Our Nations

Mishuana Goeman


Dominant history would have us believe that colonialism belongs to a previous era that has long come to an end. But as Native people become mobile, reservation lands become overcrowded and the state seeks to enforce means of containment, closing its borders to incoming, often indigenous, immigrants.


In Mark My Words, Mishuana Goeman traces settler colonialism as an enduring form of gendered spatial violence, demonstrating how it persists in the contemporary context of neoliberal globalization. The book argues that it is vital to refocus the efforts of Native nations beyond replicating settler models of territory, jurisdiction, and race. Through an examination of twentieth-century Native women’s poetry and prose, Goeman illuminates how these works can serve to remap settler geographies and center Native knowledges. She positions Native women as pivotal to how our nations, both tribal and nontribal, have been imagined and mapped, and how these women play an ongoing role in decolonization.


In a strong and lucid voice, Goeman provides close readings of literary texts, including those of E. Pauline Johnson, Esther Belin, Joy Harjo, Leslie Marmon Silko, and Heid Erdrich. In addition, she places these works in the framework of U.S. and Canadian Indian law and policy. Her charting of women’s struggles to define themselves and their communities reveals the significant power in all of our stories.


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A Return to Servitude

Maya Migration and the Tourist Trade in Cancún

M. Bianet Castellanos

As a free trade zone and Latin America's most popular destination, Cancún, Mexico, is more than just a tourist town. It is not only actively involved in the production of transnational capital but also forms an integral part of the state's modernization plan for rural, indigenous communities. Indeed, Maya migrants make up over a third of the city's population.

A Return to Servitude is an ethnography of Maya migration within Mexico that analyzes the foundational role indigenous peoples play in the development of the modern nation-state. Focusing on tourism in the Yucatán Peninsula, M. Bianet Castellanos examines how Cancún came to be equated with modernity, how this city has shaped the political economy of the peninsula, and how indigenous communities engage with this vision of contemporary life. More broadly, she demonstrates how indigenous communities experience, resist, and accommodate themselves to transnational capitalism.

Tourism and the social stratification that results from migration have created conflict among the Maya. At the same time, this work asserts, it is through engagement with modernity and its resources that they are able to maintain their sense of indigeneity and community.

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Roots of Our Renewal

Ethnobotany and Cherokee Environmental Governance

Clint Carroll

In Roots of Our Renewal, Clint Carroll tells how Cherokee people have developed material, spiritual, and political ties with the lands they have inhabited since removal from their homelands in the southeastern United States. Although the forced relocation of the late 1830s had devastating consequences for Cherokee society, Carroll shows that the reconstituted Cherokee Nation west of the Mississippi eventually cultivated a special connection to the new land—a connection that is reflected in its management of natural resources.

Until now, scant attention has been paid to the interplay between tribal natural resource management programs and governance models. Carroll is particularly interested in indigenous environmental governance along the continuum of resource-based and relationship-based practices and relates how the Cherokee Nation, while protecting tribal lands, is also incorporating associations with the nonhuman world. Carroll describes how the work of an elders’ advisory group has been instrumental to this goal since its formation in 2008.

An enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation, Carroll draws from his ethnographic observations of Cherokee government–community partnerships during the past ten years. He argues that indigenous appropriations of modern state forms can articulate alternative ways of interacting with and “governing” the environment.

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The Seeds We Planted

Portraits of a Native Hawaiian Charter School

Noelani Goodyear-Ka'opua


In 1999, Noelani Goodyear-Ka‘ōpua was among a group of young educators and parents who founded Hālau Kū Māna, a secondary school that remains one of the only Hawaiian culture-based charter schools in urban Honolulu. The Seeds We Planted tells the story of Hālau Kū Māna against the backdrop of the Hawaiian struggle for self-determination and the U.S. charter school movement, revealing a critical tension: the successes of a school celebrating indigenous culture are measured by the standards of settler colonialism.


How, Goodyear-Ka‘ōpua asks, does an indigenous people use schooling to maintain and transform a common sense of purpose and interconnection of nationhood in the face of forces of imperialism and colonialism? What roles do race, gender, and place play in these processes? Her book, with its richly descriptive portrait of indigenous education in one community, offers practical answers steeped in the remarkable—and largely suppressed—history of Hawaiian popular learning and literacy.


This uniquely Hawaiian experience addresses broader concerns about what it means to enact indigenous cultural–political resurgence while working within and against settler colonial structures. Ultimately, The Seeds We Planted shows that indigenous education can foster collective renewal and continuity.


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The Transit of Empire

Indigenous Critiques of Colonialism

Jodi A. Byrd

In 1761 and again in 1768, European scientists raced around the world to observe the transit of Venus, a rare astronomical event in which the planet Venus passes in front of the sun. In The Transit of Empire, Jodi A. Byrd explores how indigeneity functions as transit, a trajectory of movement that serves as precedent within U.S. imperial history. Byrd argues that contemporary U.S. empire expands itself through a transferable “Indianness” that facilitates acquisitions of lands, territories, and resources.

Examining an array of literary texts, historical moments, and pending legislations—from the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma’s vote in 2007 to expel Cherokee Freedmen to the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization bill—Byrd demonstrates that inclusion into the multicultural cosmopole does not end colonialism as it is purported to do. Rather, that inclusion is the very site of the colonization that feeds U.S. empire.

Byrd contends that the colonization of American Indian and indigenous nations is the necessary ground from which to reimagine a future where the losses of indigenous peoples are not only visible and, in turn, grieveable, but where indigenous peoples have agency to transform life on their own lands and on their own terms.

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Voices of Fire

Reweaving the Literary Lei of Pele and Hi’iaka

ku'ualoha ho'omanawanui

Stories of the volcano goddess Pele and her youngest sister Hi‘iaka, patron of hula, are most familiar as a form of literary colonialism—first translated by missionary descendants and others, then co-opted by Hollywood and the tourist industry. But far from quaint tales for amusement, the Pele and Hi‘iaka literature published between the 1860s and 1930 carried coded political meaning for the Hawaiian people at a time of great upheaval. Voices of Fire recovers the lost and often-suppressed significance of this literature, restoring it to its primary place in Hawaiian culture.

Ku‘ualoha ho‘omanawanui takes up mo‘olelo (histories, stories, narratives), mele (poetry, songs), oli (chants), and hula (dances) as they were conveyed by dozens of authors over a tumultuous sixty-eight-year period characterized by population collapse, land alienation, economic exploitation, and military occupation. Her examination shows how the Pele and Hi‘iaka legends acted as a framework for a Native sense of community. Freeing the mo‘olelo and mele from colonial stereotypes and misappropriations, Voices of Fire establishes a literary mo‘okū‘auhau, or genealogy, that provides a view of the ancestral literature in its indigenous contexts.

The first book-length analysis of Pele and Hi‘iaka literature written by a Native Hawaiian scholar, Voices of Fire compellingly lays the groundwork for a larger conversation of Native American literary nationalism.

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The Way of Kinship

An Anthology of Native Siberian Literature

Alexander Vaschenko

That these treasures are available to us as writing is a miracle. . . . The writings here, while altogether modern in one sense, are based upon a literature, albeit oral, that has existed for thousands of years. They are the reflections of people who have lived long on the earth, on their own terms, in harmony with the powers of nature. They are invaluable to us who have so much to learn from them. These stories, poems, songs give us a way, a sacred way, into a world that we ought to know for its own sake. It is our own world, after all. —N. Scott Momaday, from the Foreword

The first anthology of Native Siberian literature in English, The Way of Kinship represents writers from regions extending from the Ob River in the west to the Chukotka peninsula, the easternmost point of the Siberian Russian Arctic. Drawn from seven distinct ethnic groups, this diverse body of work-prose fiction, poetry, drama, and creative nonfiction-chronicles ancient Siberian cultures and traditions threatened with extinction in the contemporary world.

Translated and edited by Alexander Vaschenko and Claude Clayton Smith, leading scholars in Native Siberian literature, The Way of Kinship is an essential collection that will introduce readers to new writers and new worlds.

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