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  • Native Acts: Law, Recognition, and Cultural Authenticity by Joanne Barker
  • Manu Vimalassery
Joanne Barker . Native Acts: Law, Recognition, and Cultural Authenticity. Durham NC: Duke University Press, 2011. 296 pp. Paper $23.95; cloth $84.95.

Joanne Barker's Native Acts: Law, Recognition, and Cultural Authenticity is a powerful contribution to analyses of the twinned processes of racialization and recognition of Native peoples within a US federal/colonial framework. Her arguments cut to the core of political questions arising from the mobilization of and investments in particular terminology: recognition, membership, disenrollment, and tradition. Barker focuses on the law, and her emphasis is less on legal precedents and legal [End Page 272] process (in short, on law as a discrete and bounded discourse) than on federal law's interactions with and redefinitions through its relationship with Native peoples. Throughout the book, Barker focuses on the consequences of these articulations on Native-US relations and on relations among Native communities and individuals (217).

Central to the book's arguments is that the articulations and rearticulations of Indian sovereignty through federal recognition are racializing processes that ultimately undercut Native sovereignty. Barker continuously returns focus to federal recognition after the Indian Reorganization Act as an ongoing process never wholly removed from the colonial purview of the United States. Her point of critique of recognition processes is not their accuracy but their utility: toward rearticulating US domination over Natives (37). Etymology is a key method for the book's arguments. Tracing etymologies of recognition, membership, enrollment, and tradition allows her to excavate underlying logics and impulses these words invoke, often glossed or ignored through their unexamined repetition. These etymologies, rooted in Latinate forms, underscore the fact of rearticulation and the long history of imperialism invoked through federal recognition.

The second chapter of the book analyzes the politics of federal recognition as they aff ect the relations between the Delaware Tribe and the Cherokee Nation. Her argument rests on the ways that Delaware and Cherokee sovereignty are articulated through competing invocations of recognition, each posed to the US court system as "discursive weapons" against the other (64). Here, Barker examines recognition as a politics of interpretation, analyzing rearticulations that place the US federal government in the role of final arbiter over resources made available through colonial recognition.

Moving from collective recognition of the "Indian tribe," Barker pivots to analyze the recognition of individual "Indian members" in the third chapter. Invoking Cheryl Harris's arguments on relationships between whiteness and property, Barker argues that recognition functions by pinning legal legitimacy to cultural authenticity, so that tribal membership manifests as a property right that takes tangible form through inclusions or exclusions along the lines of race, gender, and sexuality. This is a process coconstituted by tribal law, a series of discriminations and disenfranchisements from within (97).

In her analysis of Martinez v. Santa Clara in the fourth chapter, [End Page 273] Barker emphasizes decisions made by the Santa Clara Pueblo and US courts to emphasize a particular version of Santa Clara sovereignty. This served to undercut a competing vision of Santa Clara sovereignty and membership articulated by Martinez, her lawyers, and witnesses. Barker highlights that this emerged, in the decision and in the literature that followed, from an acceptance of the paramount importance of the land to the Santa Clara Pueblo in a way that necessitated the All Indian Pueblo Council's reversal of matrilineal and matrilocal customs (108).

Chapter 5 focuses on disenrollments in California gaming tribes. Barker argues here that the tribes have contributed to the reracialization of Native culture and identity by claiming to disenroll the racially inauthentic. Responding to a conservative backlash in California state politics, the tribes rearticulated the language of backlash to position themselves against welfare and illegality in order to claim authenticity and legitimacy as Native (161-62). Doing so, they delineated relations within their communities and, ultimately, their terms of membership to mirror the logics of colonial power. The sixth chapter examines Cherokee and Navajo initiatives against gay marriage and ways that these initiatives invoked a particular form of Christian patriotism that resonated with the militaristic policies of a globally assertive US imperialism. "Authenticity" and "tradition" are invoked in...


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pp. 272-275
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