Rhetoric & Public Affairs 5.3 (2002) 559-561
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Anti-Indianism in Modern America:
A Voice from Tatekeya's Earth
Anti-Indianism in Modern America: A Voice from Tatekeya's Earth. By Elizabeth Cook-Lynn. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2001; pp. ix + 225. $26.95.
Native American issues have been woefully underreported by the elite press and underanalyzed in public policy journals. General understanding of the history of the various indigenous nations and their treatment by state and federal governments is either lacking or confused. Fortunately, in the last few years, a number of books about historical and contemporary government mistreatment of Native Americans have begun to offer a perspective not found in mainstream discussions of government-Indian relations. Paul Chaat Smith and Robert Allen Warrior's Like a Hurricane: The Indian Movement from Alcatraz to Wounded Knee (New Press, 1996), John William Sayer's Ghost Dancing the Law: The Wounded Knee Trials (Harvard University Press, 1997), and Ward Churchill's A Little Matter of Genocide: Holocaust and Denial in the Americas 1492 to the Present (City Lights Books, 1998) have contributed to our understanding of Indian history and politics. Although the relative success of these books' contribution to mainstream public policy discourse is yet to be determined, those serious about issues of politics, ethics, and rhetoric should pay attention to what they have to say. Similarly, scholars of rhetoric and public policy should familiarize themselves with Elizabeth Cook-Lynn's book, both for what it can contribute to a specific understanding of Native American issues of nationalism and for the general understanding of the intersections of politics and scholarship.
Cook-Lynn is a member of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe and professor emerita of Native American Studies at Eastern Washington University. Her main point [End Page 559] throughout the book is quite simple and devastating in its simplicity: All public policy, identity, and cultural issues relating to Native Americans ultimately can be reduced to the issue of land; to an understanding of nationalism. The book reflects on the themes of nationalism, anti-Indianism, and genocide denial through a number of rhetorical forms: essays, speeches, letters, and a collection of diary entries. Although not written as a progressive development of her argument, the effect is the same. As chapter after chapter documents the acts and effects of anti-Indianism, one cannot but accept its reality and the degree of complicity many of us negligently and unknowingly share in it.
Given the ongoing denial of land to Native Americans, a reality documented repeatedly by Cook-Lynn, one can only read contemporary federal and state policy as a continuation of the earlier genocidal policies of relocation, assimilation, and annihilation. In a time when the rhetorics of nationalism are coming under increasing scrutiny, it is interesting to read an unapologetic defense of such a perspective. As Cook-Lynn herself notes, "I am one of the few who does not rail against Nationalism" (xi). In fact, Cook-Lynn argues for a perspective, whether it is for political activists or Native American Studies scholars, which maintains a focus on "the future of Indian nationhood" (180). Whether one is analyzing fiction (137), religion (166), or academia (178), her most basic test for relevance is whether a work advances the cause of nationhood for Native Americans and whether it critiques institutions that interfere with its realization (167). She believes such a perspective is necessary because
it is only through defending our tribes as nations of people rather than sociological phenomenon or personal agonies, and our specific geographies as essential to social order, that we will take our place in world affairs and the future. It is only through national liberation and tribal autonomy that we will be able to tell our children who they are. As indigenous peoples these matters are absolute. (180)
For her, being an Indian is not about blood, ancestry, and cultural practices. Instead, it is an issue of citizenship: is one an enrolled member of a tribe, is one a citizen of a nation? If a person...