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  • Out of the Melting Pot, into the Nationalist Fires:Native American Literary Studies in Europe
  • Deborah Madsen (bio)

It is difficult to overestimate the differences between Native American studies in Europe and the United States. In Europe there are no dedicated university programs in Native American studies; instead, disciplinary units such as American studies or departments such as English, history, development studies, and anthropology house teaching and research programs in Native studies. The institutional conditions under which Native literary studies takes place in a European context give rise to four primary methodological approaches, which I address below: national (though not necessarily tribal nationalist), multiethnic, universal, and postcolonial. European scholars of Native American literary studies often find themselves grappling with methodological issues that lie between the twin nationalist claims of a generalizing and potentially assimilative "American studies" approach and a Native American literary nationalist approach, like that outlined by Robert Warrior, Jace Weaver, and Craig Womack in their groundbreaking book American Indian Literary Nationalism (2006). It is to these claims that my title gestures while referencing Elizabeth Cook-Lynn's important observation that frequently representations of Native Americans in the literary canon, in the teaching of Native American literature, and in scholarly publications are used as "the basis for the cynical absorption into the 'melting pot,' pragmatic inclusion in the canon, and involuntary unification of an American literary voice" (Why I Can't 96). 1 The category of "Native" is effectively "melted" into another category of cultural experience (with the attendant loss of Indigenous identities, historical experiences, and claims to justice), whether this is the universalizing canon of "literature" per se or, more specifically, a national American (settler) literature, a national [End Page 353] canon of minority "multiethnic" literature that fails to distinguish adequately between Indigenous and migrant literary production, or a transnational "postcolonial" canon. As Wolfgang Hochbruck predicted back in 1991, "creating new reservations for minority literatures would eventually create new problems" (51). It would seem that this problematic time has come. Consequently, Cook-Lynn's insight guides my critique here of some of the directions in which Native American literary studies is currently moving in Europe.

If the term "Native" is a simulated category that brings together under a homogenizing banner the rich diversity of Native tribal cultures, so too is the term "Europe." Much of what I have to say about the current state of Native American studies in Europe is focused upon the United Kingdom and on scholarship written in English. Dynamic research cultures in the field of Native studies flourish across continental Europe in very different institutional and nonacademic contexts. A long history of "Indianism" or Native American "hobbyism," for example, helps to promote Native American studies in countries like Germany, Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Russia, Scandinavia, and Finland. Additionally, Europe is, and has been, an important international forum for Native artists, scholars, and activists. Native people have, of course, been visiting Europe since the sixteenth century. As Naila Clerici reminds us, "Native Peoples know the importance of being heard abroad: in Europe they find an audience fascinated by their cultures and rarely biased for economic or political reasons" (7). Clerici may be overstating the claim to political acceptance; Joëlle Rostkowski, in her account of the failure of Deskaheh, the Cayuga chief of the Iroquois Confederacy, to garner international recognition of the conflict between his community and the Canadian nation-state, underlines the refusal of the League of Nations to acknowledge his tribal nation as a sovereign state engaged in an international conflict with another sovereign state (Canada). However, Rostkowski concludes her account with the reminder:

Deskaheh paved the way for future generations. The interest in international organizations that Native Americans have demonstrated goes back to the first contacts he established within the League of Nations. In the 1930s, an Iroquois delegation went back to Geneva and was again disappointed by the result of its visit. But some Ho-De-No-Sau-Nee remained convinced that international [End Page 354] organizations could be of some assistance to Indians. The Iroquois were among the first tribes who expressed an interest in the United Nations and, in 1949, they sent a delegation to the opening of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-1828
Print ISSN
0095-182X
Pages
pp. 353-371
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-28
Open Access
No
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