- Real Indians: Identity and the Survival of Native America
In Real Indians, Eva Marie Garroutte attempts, ambitiously, to combine the work of cultural diagnosis with a project of cultural revivification. The first half of her lucidly written study aims to assess the explanatory power and ethical adequacy of four currently available modes for the assertion or negotiation of Native American identity: claims that base themselves, variously, upon law, biology, culture, and self-identification. Later, having established the lacunae of all these means of identity-formation, Garroutte seeks to ground a more cohesive and comprehensive approach to Indian self-definition in what she calls, a little awkwardly, "Radical Indigenism."
Garroutte's negative hermeneutic is perhaps more compelling and successful than the positive. At times, it is true, the early chapters themselves would benefit from a still more polemical turn in the writing: Garroutte records without comment, for example, the opinion of Frank D., a Hopi geneticist and one of twenty-two interviewees drawn upon by the book, concerning the dangers of Indians' intermarriage with non-Indians. If this is perhaps Sartrean "antiracist racism"—a defensible strategy in times of communal danger—it also strikes an uglier note and fits oddly within a text that states its interest at the outset in plural, hybrid forms of identity.1 In [End Page 346] general, however, Garroutte's account of the problems besetting current attempts to fix Indian authenticity is careful, nuanced, and marked not only by an eye for logical inconsistency but by compassion for those subjects insecurely, even painfully, situated between these different definitions. She shows, for instance, the paradox whereby efforts to locate Indian identity in "culture" prove to be just as fixed and constraining as descriptions in terms of either biology or legal status. Instead of allowing for a sense of Native practices and beliefs as variable, adaptive, ceaselessly self-renewing, the paradigm of Indian culture which is authoritative at present in the United States constructs it as "a mysterious something that only exists apart from intentional human activity. It can never come into being; it must forever be preexistent. It cannot be chosen; it can only be given—at the time of birth, or very close to it" (69).
The distinctiveness, if not necessarily the success, of Garroutte's book, however, lies in its subsequent initiative of communal reparation. Acknowledging the crises attending all "the many competing definitions of Indianness" and "the level of pain that characterizes many discussions about identity among American Indians" (99), she seeks to energize and harmonize her community by the project of Radical Indigenism. Put briefly, such a process involves setting aside inadequate formulations of Indian identity and orienting Native America instead around two principles of kinship which she finds expressed continuously—if heterogeneously—across tribal histories and which she labels "relationship to ancestry" and "responsibility to reciprocity" (118).
For all its boldness, this attempt to ground Indianness in kinship seems as fraught with difficulty as those categorizations of Indian identity in terms, say, of legal status, blood quantum, and cultural practice. While Garroutte seeks throughout her book's second half to mediate between "primordialist" and "instrumentalist" accounts of identity, she may thereby only be displacing—rather than resolving—radical differences among tribes themselves. Those Indian witnesses she quotes earlier who are wedded to definitions of identity based exclusively on either blood or cultural performance are likely to be disappointed in equal measure by Garroutte's suggestion that the connection to ancestry she cites as vital for communal renewal may be achieved both by actual "genealogical relatedness" and by "the transformative mechanism of ceremony" (127). In such Utopian moments, she seems prematurely to annul those intra-Indian disagreements, even conflicts uncovered by her own research.
Problems also occur when Garroutte tries to evoke what she perceives as the Native American culture of reciprocity. At its weakest, her description fastens upon lowest common denominators such as mutual help and a respect for elders that are shared—or at least aspired to...