- Indian Country: Essays on Contemporary Native Culture
Indian Country consists of a collection of essays on topics that include resistance movements, treaty rights, and land claims as well as powwow traditions, the significance of the drum (and ways of researching it), the repatriation of artifacts and images, and Native women. Throughout her analysis of negotiations in Native communities (urban and reserve, [End Page 169] Canada and United States) of 'different – even opposing – discourses of emerging cultural and political possibility' Valaskakis emphasizes 'the enduring sensibility of being Indian.' She positions herself as 'insider-outsider': as a Chippewa (otherwise known as Ojibway or Anisnabe) of mixed ancestry, she and her brother grew up in Lac du Flambeau in Wisconsin, becoming 'living boundaries between the city and the reserve, the Chippewa and the outsider.' She sees herself as 'allied to Indian Country and a mix of border zones, academic, urban, and social.' This view of her own positionality shapes her epistemological vantage point and creates an intriguing and insightful account of 'interrelated realities: individual and collective, past and present, Indian and Other.' Her explorations, written in the 'adopted' vocabulary of cultural studies, draw the reader into a continuous movement of interpretations; closures are constructed as contingent since Native 'communities are not cemented in unity and belonging, but in a dynamic process of change and difference' – a continuum erased by the discourse of museum collections and the media, which prefer to dissolve contradictions inherent to lived experiences.
In the chapter 'Rights and Warriors: Media Memories and Oka,' for example, Valaskakis illustrates her methodological approach 'grounded in historical experience and current practice' by 'reading' the different re-presentations of Indian warriors from their role of allies in colonial wars, to protectors of their own people, to their demonization in resistance movements like AIM and Oka, to gangs in urban centres. She concludes, 'The media dissolved the difference between warriors who were protecting Indian land from an invasion of the police, the army, or business, and warriors who were barricading the Mercier Bridge between Kahnawake and Montreal.' It is this 'social imaginary of the monolithic warrior,' she further argues, that attracts unemployed Native youth, turning them onto the wrong warrior path and, as the dominant narrative, highlights militancy but does not allow newcomers 'to identify Native people as owners and occupants of North American land.' The re-appropriation of the warrior image in Native discourses today is one example of the 'web of representations' in which Natives and newcomers are bound together. Valaskakis illustrates her emphasis on multiple representations of Native realities in the image of the book cover, which shows a photograph of her great-grandmother Margaret Gauthier who gave her ceremonial dress to the Smithsonian Museum in the late 1920s. The photo is multiplied as four images reflecting on each other, with a faint mirrored image, mysteriously allusive, in the background. Considering the author's critical analysis of research that centres on so-called artifacts as 'representations of power' rather than 'agents of power' (as she explains in the chapter on the significance [End Page 170] of her father's Midé water drum), this image on the front cover featuring her great-grandmother's ceremonial dress is revealing. It reflects upon her methodology throughout in that it validates the lived experience of her ancestor whose individual story was considered unimportant while she was alive ('No one asked who she was') while it deconstructs a unitary notion of Native identity so much part of the colonial imaginary.
Having read Valaskakis's book, researchers in 'Indian Country' will never again consider Native people and their articulations 'transparent' but will extend their research into composite methods of 'interpreting practice, decoding silence, and reconstructing absence' – only to arrive at '"truths" [that] are ... changeable and ambiguous.'