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Anthropological Quarterly 76.3 (2003) 561-563

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Bataille, Gretchen M. (ed.). 2001. Native American Representations: First Encounters, Distorted Images, and Literary Appropriations.Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

As an archaeologist who has worked with Native Americans, and as a parent who is constantly faced with the impossibly naïve picture of Indian people that is presented to our children, the issues raised in the title of this book are of considerable interest to me. The many ways that Native Americans are represented in various media are not only an interesting academic problem; they also impact the real lives of real people. That makes this an issue that should not only be discussed among interested intellectuals, but also one that should be brought to a wider audience.

While I didn't really expect this book to be one that I could recommend to the average person interested in improving the representations of Native Americans in the real world (it is a conference volume after all, and so most emphatically not the real world), I found this book even more frustrating than I expected. In many ways, it represents both the best and the worst of what has come to be called post-(fill in the blank—processual, colonial, modern, deconstructionist) analysis. While some of the articles make some very good points with varying degrees of success, many of them are so mired in jargon that, even if there was a good point buried in them, it was difficult to figure out [End Page 561] what it was. And I have a PhD in anthropology. I offer the following examples from the book:

"One could say that this particular cross-cultural application of Lyotard's differend challenges his notion that the differend signifies a negation, but that would be too reductive."
"What such guides, as a whole, do is create a gap that one can read differently: as hypocrisy, as fragmentation, as more or less intended subversion or deconstruction, or as the manifestation of a discursive problem that in our post-deconstructionist perspective leads to the more or less automatic self-subversion of the discourses employed."
"Field logics of cyclic interchange have made indigenous agency visible to colonized peoples if not to their colonizers intoxicated by the violence of dualities."

I understand the various points being made, but would most people make the effort?

This raises an interesting point that I have rarely seen addressed in post-pro/col/mod/dec analysis. Since most academics, particularly those who present papers in the same symposium, already agree that the representations of Native peoples range from suspect to insulting, why are we still writing papers that only other academics (and not even all of those) can understand? Shouldn't we be trying to convince everyone else instead?

Amid the jargon, however, there are some good points made here, in reasonable language. Despite what seems to me to be an excessive number of citations of other authors, the first paper, by Louis Owens, makes an interesting point echoed in different ways by Kathryn Shanley, David Murray and Hartwig Isernhagen: in order for Native American writers to reach the larger population, they must present their point of view in a way that can be understood by that population. However, by doing so, they may sacrifice their status as "outsiders" or even compromise their identity as "Indians." It is ironic when authors comment on how it is unfair to impose a definition of "Indianess" on anyone and then go on to suggest that popular writers such as N. Scott Momaday and Sherman Alexie aren't somehow "real Indians" because their writings appeal to non-Indians. Still, this is a good point—how to convey the experience of being Native American to someone who is not Native American, without compromising [End Page 562] that identity. These authors suggest that this is done with varying degrees of success.

The papers by John Purdy and Hartwig Isernhagen are specific analyses of particular media, Disney versus Native American film in the first case and the state guides produced by...


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