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Indigenous Americas

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Bear Island

The War at Sugar Point

Gerald Vizenor Vizenor

Drawing on the traditional ways of Anishinaabe storytelling, acclaimed poet Gerald Vizenor illuminates the 1898 battle at Sugar Point in Minnesota in this epic poem. Fought between the Pillagers of the Leech Lake Reservation (one of the original five clans of the Anishinaabe tribe) and U.S. soldiers, the battle marked a turning point in relations between the government and Native Americans. Although out-numbered by more than three to one, the Pillager fighters won convincingly.

Weaving together strands of myth, memory, legend, and history, Bear Island lyrically conveys a historical event that has been forgotten not only by the majority culture but also by some Anishinaabe people—bringing back to light a key moment in Minnesota’s history with clarity of vision and emotional resonance.

Gerald Vizenor is professor of American studies at the University of New Mexico. He is a member of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, White Earth Reservation. His previous books include The People Named the Chippewa and Griever, for which he won an American Book Award.

Jace Weaver is professor and director of the Institute of Native American Studies at the University of Georgia.

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Everything You Know about Indians Is Wrong

Paul Chaat Smith

In this sweeping work of memoir and commentary, leading cultural critic Paul Chaat Smith illustrates with dry wit and brutal honesty the contradictions of life in “the Indian business.” 

Raised in suburban Maryland and Oklahoma, Smith dove head first into the political radicalism of the 1970s, working with the American Indian Movement until it dissolved into dysfunction and infighting. Afterward he lived in New York, the city of choice for political exiles, and eventually arrived in Washington, D.C., at the newly minted National Museum of the American Indian (“a bad idea whose time has come”) as a curator. In his journey from fighting activist to federal employee, Smith tells us he has discovered at least two things: there is no one true representation of the American Indian experience, and even the best of intentions sometimes ends in catastrophe. Everything You Know about Indians Is Wrong is a highly entertaining and, at times, searing critique of the deeply disputed role of American Indians in the United States. In “A Place Called Irony,” Smith whizzes through his early life, showing us the ironic pop culture signposts that marked this Native American’s coming of age in suburbia: “We would order Chinese food and slap a favorite video into the machine—the Grammy Awards or a Reagan press conference—and argue about Cyndi Lauper or who should coach the Knicks.” In “Lost in Translation,” Smith explores why American Indians are so often misunderstood and misrepresented in today’s media: “We’re lousy television.” In “Every Picture Tells a Story,” Smith remembers his Comanche grandfather as he muses on the images of American Indians as “a half-remembered presence, both comforting and dangerous, lurking just below the surface.” 

Smith walks this tightrope between comforting and dangerous, offering unrepentant skepticism and, ultimately, empathy. “This book is called Everything You Know about Indians Is Wrong, but it’s a book title, folks, not to be taken literally. Of course I don’t mean everything, just most things. And ‘you’ really means we, as in all of us.”

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Firsting and Lasting

Writing Indians out of Existence in New England

Jean M. O’Brien

Across nineteenth-century New England, antiquarians and community leaders wrote hundreds of local histories about the founding and growth of their cities and towns. Ranging from pamphlets to multivolume treatments, these narratives shared a preoccupation with establishing the region as the cradle of an Anglo-Saxon nation and the center of a modern American culture. They also insisted, often in mournful tones, that New England’s original inhabitants, the Indians, had become extinct, even though many Indians still lived in the very towns being chronicled.
 
In Firsting and Lasting, Jean M. O’Brien argues that local histories became a primary means by which European Americans asserted their own modernity while denying it to Indian peoples. Erasing and then memorializing Indian peoples also served a more pragmatic colonial goal: refuting Indian claims to land and rights. Drawing on more than six hundred local histories from Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island written between 1820 and 1880, as well as censuses, monuments, and accounts of historical pageants and commemorations, O’Brien explores how these narratives inculcated the myth of Indian extinction, a myth that has stubbornly remained in the American consciousness.
 
In order to convince themselves that the Indians had vanished despite their continued presence, O’Brien finds that local historians and their readers embraced notions of racial purity rooted in the century’s scientific racism and saw living Indians as “mixed” and therefore no longer truly Indian. Adaptation to modern life on the part of Indian peoples was used as further evidence of their demise. Indians did not—and have not—accepted this effacement, and O’Brien details how Indians have resisted their erasure through narratives of their own. These debates and the rich and surprising history uncovered in O’Brien’s work continue to have a profound influence on discourses about race and indigenous rights.

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The Fourth Eye

M ori Media in Aotearoa New Zealand

Brendan Hokowhitu

From the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi between Indigenous and settler cultures to the emergence of the first-ever state-funded Māori television network, New Zealand has been a hotbed of Indigenous concerns. Given its history of colonization, coping with biculturalism is central to New Zealand life. Much of this “bicultural drama” plays out in the media and is molded by an anxiety surrounding the ongoing struggle over citizenship rights that is seated within the politics of recognition. The Fourth Eye brings together Indigenous and non-Indigenous scholars to provide a critical and comprehensive account of the intricate and complex relationship between the media and Māori culture.

Examining the Indigenous mediascape, The Fourth Eye shows how Māori filmmakers, actors, and media producers have depicted conflicts over citizenship rights and negotiated the representation of Indigenous people. From nineteenth-century Māori-language newspapers to contemporary Māori film and television, the contributors explore a variety of media forms including magazine cover stories, print advertisements, commercial images, and current Māori-language newspapers to illustrate the construction, expression, and production of indigeneity through media.

Focusing on New Zealand as a case study, the authors address the broader question: what is Indigenous media? While engaging with distinct themes such as the misrepresentation of Māori people in the media, access of Indigenous communities to media technologies, and the use of media for activism, the essays in this much-needed new collection articulate an Indigenous media landscape that converses with issues that reach far beyond New Zealand.

Contributors: Sue Abel, U of Auckland; Joost de Bruin, Victoria U of Wellington; Suzanne Duncan, U of Otago; Kevin Fisher, U of Otago; Allen Meek, Massey U; Lachy Paterson, U of Otago; Chris Prentice, U of Otago; Jay Scherer, U of Alberta; Jo Smith, Victoria U of Wellington; April Strickland; Stephen Turner, U of Auckland.

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Inter/Nationalism

Decolonizing Native America and Palestine

Steven Salaita

The age of transnational humanities has arrived.” According to Steven Salaita, the seemingly disparate fields of Palestinian Studies and American Indian Studies have more in common than one may think. In Inter/Nationalism, Salaita argues that American Indian and Indigenous studies must be more central to the scholarship and activism focusing on Palestine.

Salaita offers a fascinating inside account of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement—which, among other things, aims to end Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land. In doing so, he emphasizes BDS’s significant potential as an organizing community as well as its importance in the creation of intellectual and political communities that put Natives and other colonized peoples such as Palestinians into conversation. His discussion includes readings of a wide range of Native poetry that invokes Palestine as a theme or symbol; the speeches of U.S. President Andrew Jackson and early Zionist thinker Ze’ev Jabotinsky; and the discourses of “shared values” between the U.S. and Israel.

Inter/Nationalism seeks to lay conceptual ground between American Indian and Indigenous studies and Palestinian studies through concepts of settler colonialism, indigeneity, and state violence. By establishing Palestine as an indigenous nation under colonial occupation, this book draws crucial connections between the scholarship and activism of Indigenous America and Palestine.

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Like a Loaded Weapon

The Rehnquist Court, Indian Rights, and the Legal History of Racism in America

Robert Williams Jr.

Robert A. Williams Jr. boldly exposes the ongoing legal force of the racist language directed at Indians in American society. Fueled by well-known negative racial stereotypes of Indian savagery and cultural inferiority, this language, Williams contends, has functioned “like a loaded weapon” in the Supreme Court’s Indian law decisions. 

Beginning with Chief Justice John Marshall’s foundational opinions in the early nineteenth century and continuing today in the judgments of the Rehnquist Court, Williams shows how undeniably racist language and precedent are still used in Indian law to justify the denial of important rights of property, self-government, and cultural survival to Indians. Building on the insights of Malcolm X, Thurgood Marshall, and Frantz Fanon, Williams argues that racist language has been employed by the courts to legalize a uniquely American form of racial dictatorship over Indian tribes by the U.S. government. 

Williams concludes with a revolutionary proposal for reimagining the rights of American Indians in international law, as well as strategies for compelling the current Supreme Court to confront the racist origins of Indian law and for challenging bigoted ways of talking, thinking, and writing about American Indians. 

Robert A. Williams Jr. is professor of law and American Indian studies at the James E. Rogers College of Law, University of Arizona. A member of the Lumbee Indian Tribe, he is author of The American Indian in Western Legal Thought: The Discourses of Conquest and coauthor of Federal Indian Law.

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The People and the Word

Reading Native Nonfiction

Robert Warrior

Much literary scholarship has been devoted to the flowering of Native American fiction and poetry in the mid-twentieth century. Yet, Robert Warrior argues, nonfiction has been the primary form used by American Indians in developing a relationship with the written word, one that reaches back much further in Native history and culture. 

Focusing on autobiographical writings and critical essays, as well as communally authored and political documents, The People and the Word explores how the Native tradition of nonfiction has both encompassed and dissected Native experiences. Warrior begins by tracing a history of American Indian writing from the eighteenth century to the late twentieth century, then considers four particular moments: Pequot intellectual William Apess’s autobiographical writings from the 1820s and 1830s; the Osage Constitution of 1881; narratives from American Indian student experiences, including accounts of boarding school in the late 1880s; and modern Kiowa writer N. Scott Momaday’s essay “The Man Made of Words,” penned during the politically charged 1970s. Warrior’s discussion of Apess’s work looks unflinchingly at his unconventional life and death; he recognizes resistance to assimilation in the products of the student print shop at the Santee Normal Training School; and in the Osage Constitution, as well as in Momaday’s writing, Warrior sees reflections of their turbulent times as well as guidance for our own. 

Taking a cue from Momaday’s essay, which gives voice to an imaginary female ancestor, Ko-Sahn, Warrior applies both critical skills and literary imagination to the texts. In doing so, The People and the Word provides a rich foundation for Native intellectuals’ critical work, deeply entwined with their unique experiences. 

Robert Warrior is professor of English and Native American studies at the University of Oklahoma. He is author of Tribal Secrets: Recovering American Indian Intellectual Traditions (Minnesota, 1994) and coauthor, with Paul Chaat Smith, of Like a Hurricane: The Indian Movement from Alcatraz to Wounded Knee.

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The Queerness of Native American Literature

Lisa Tatonetti

With a new and more inclusive perspective for the growing field of queer Native studies, Lisa Tatonetti provides a genealogy of queer Native writing after Stonewall. Looking across a broad range of literature, Tatonetti offers the first overview and guide to queer Native literature from its rise in the 1970s to the present day.

In The Queerness of Native American Literature, Tatonetti recovers ties between two simultaneous renaissances of the late twentieth century: queer literature and Native American literature. She foregrounds how Indigeneity intervenes within and against dominant interpretations of queer genders and sexualities, recovering unfamiliar texts from the 1970s while presenting fresh, cogent readings of well-known works. In juxtaposing the work of Native authors—including the longtime writer–activist Paula Gunn Allen, the first contemporary queer Native writer Maurice Kenny, the poet Janice Gould, the novelist Louise Erdrich, and the filmmakers Sherman Alexie, Thomas Bezucha, and Jorge Manuel Manzano—with the work of queer studies scholars, Tatonetti proposes resourceful interventions in foundational concepts in queer studies while also charting new directions for queer Native studies.

Throughout, she argues that queerness has been central to Native American literature for decades, showing how queer Native literature and Two-Spirit critiques challenge understandings of both Indigeneity and sexuality.

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The Red Land to the South

American Indian Writers and Indigenous Mexico

James H. Cox

The forty years of American Indian literature taken up by James H. Cox—the decades between 1920 and 1960—have been called politically and intellectually moribund. On the contrary, Cox identifies a group of American Indian writers who share an interest in the revolutionary potential of the indigenous peoples of Mexico—and whose work demonstrates a surprisingly assertive literary politics in the era.

By contextualizing this group of American Indian authors in the work of their contemporaries, Cox reveals how the literary history of this period is far more rich and nuanced than is generally acknowledged. The writers he focuses on—Todd Downing (Choctaw), Lynn Riggs (Cherokee), and D’Arcy McNickle (Confederated Salish and Kootenai)—are shown to be on par with writers of the preceding Progressive and the succeeding Red Power and Native American literary renaissance eras.

Arguing that American Indian literary history of this period actually coheres in exciting ways with the literature of the Native American literary renaissance, Cox repudiates the intellectual and political border that has emerged between the two eras.

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Red Skin, White Masks

Rejecting the Colonial Politics of Recognition

Glen Sean Coulthard

Over the past forty years, recognition has become the dominant mode of negotiation and decolonization between the nation-state and Indigenous nations in North America. The term “recognition” shapes debates over Indigenous cultural distinctiveness, Indigenous rights to land and self-government, and Indigenous peoples’ right to benefit from the development of their lands and resources.

In a work of critically engaged political theory, Glen Sean Coulthard challenges recognition as a method of organizing difference and identity in liberal politics, questioning the assumption that contemporary difference and past histories of destructive colonialism between the state and Indigenous peoples can be reconciled through a process of acknowledgment. Beyond this, Coulthard examines an alternative politics—one that seeks to revalue, reconstruct, and redeploy Indigenous cultural practices based on self-recognition rather than on seeking appreciation from the very agents of colonialism.

Coulthard demonstrates how a “place-based” modification of Karl Marx’s theory of “primitive accumulation” throws light on Indigenous–state relations in settler-colonial contexts and how Frantz Fanon’s critique of colonial recognition shows that this relationship reproduces itself over time. This framework strengthens his exploration of the ways that the politics of recognition has come to serve the interests of settler-colonial power.

In addressing the core tenets of Indigenous resistance movements, like Red Power and Idle No More, Coulthard offers fresh insights into the politics of active decolonization.

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