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American Quarterly 53.1 (2001) 156-164
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Breaking Iron Bonds, Elucidating Fluid Boundaries:
"Indians" in American Studies
David Anthony Tyeeme Clark
University of Kansas
IN 1970 VINE DELORIA JR. RECOGNIZED THE POVERTY OF AMERICAN STUDIES when it fails to take stock of exclusions. "It is necessary to outline the Indian point of view as a contribution to the discussion," Deloria wrote in his second book, We Talk, You Listen. "Further generalizations about how we are all alike--all people--are useless today. . . . All we can do is try to communicate what we feel our group means to itself and how we relate to other groups." 1 Despite ongoing efforts since 1970 in American studies to be inclusive and aware of what it leaves out, there is no identifiable "Indian point of view" in recent efforts to define the field, not in the pages of the summer special issue of American Studies edited by Norman Yetman in 1997, nor among the pages of the American Quarterly essays reintroduced by Lucy Maddox in Locating American Studies two years later. 2 Still mostly missing in the year 2001 from the central concerns of American studies constituted in its [End Page 156] professional publications and annual meetings are the original "Americans" themselves, the Natives, the Indigenous Peoples, the "First of this Land," the most Indian of Indians.
Vine Deloria's words are the necessary context for introducing Indians in the Making and American Indians in the Marketplace to an American studies reading audience. Keeping with tradition in American studies, this review essay will reflect on the need for expanding those efforts aimed at re-locating studies of American cultures, this time as the unsettled, entangled effects of countless ongoing exchanges among myriad indigenous and multifarious settler populations. Those unsettled, entangled effects are Indian. But who are Indians, or more appropriately what is "Indian"? 3 (Please note that I ask these questions in the present tense). Answers to these questions are not as obvious nor are they as unconnected to the epistemological, ethical, and practical limitations of American studies as they at first might seem. Current academic practice mostly disregards altogether the wishes and needs of those indigenous communities they study. This last point raises the question, for whom is this knowledge supposed to be useful: the professional-managerial class of academicians or Indigenous Peoples? Can it serve both?
Indians in the Making and American Indians in the Marketplace address the omissions of Locating American Studies while examining material culture and the impact of capitalism on ideas about Indians, both among the descendants of Indigenous Peoples and settlers. Through focusing on Indians at the turn of the twentieth century, Alexandra Harmon and Brian Hosmer challenge orthodox American tropes of self-affirmation and national origins that feature mo ko ma na [the white man] either replacing the savage Indian or becoming the majestic Indian "with all that is bad and cruel left out." 4
Clearly situated outside certain settler fantasies and desires, "Indians" within the pages of Indians in the Making and American Indians in the Marketplace do not disappear. Nor do they artlessly assimilate. Rather persons who have been constituted as Indians in always active, often voluntary relationships with settler populations merely change form and substance. By emphasizing the material, political, and cultural adjustments made by indigenous persons and their descendants, Harmon and Hosmer successfully expand narrower tropes of self-affirmation and national origin. The texts and voices favored in both books elucidate how economic relationships become cultural [End Page 157] exchanges that blur boundaries that have too often been assumed to separate settler and indigenous populations, thereby bringing into question widely-held notions about both racial and cultural purity. Thus, I...