“Travels of an American Indian into the Hinterlands of Soviet Russia”: Rethinking Indigenous Modernity and the Popular Front in the Work of Archie Phinney and D’Arcy McNickle
- American Quarterly
- Johns Hopkins University Press
- Volume 66, Number 2, June 2014
- pp. 385-416
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After returning from a five-year journey to the Soviet Union in the late 1930s, Nez Perce anthropologist Archie Phinney urged formally educated Indians to go “beyond old tribal horizons toward a racial identity” to link Native struggles for self-determination with racial struggles for justice in the United States and abroad. Pan-Indian, cosmopolitan, and self-reflexively modern, Phinney represented a crucial link between Native American intellectuals in the 1930s and 1940s and other radical intellectuals of color. While Phinney was perhaps the most prominent Native American to openly support the Soviet Union, a small but nonetheless visible presence of Native Americans in socialist organizations created unemployed councils on reservations, agitated for extended federal aide to Native communities, fought against the deportation of Mexican Americans in San Francisco, and even ran for the US Senate on the Communist Party ticket. These social movements suggests ways we can reread the first modern Native American novel, D’Arcy McNickle’s The Surrounded, in context of the 1930s transnational movements, deploying theories of minority self-determination to suggest an indigenous nationalism in conversation with third-world liberation movements around the world. Together, these sources shed light on how Native American contributions helped shape the “radical modernity” of the Popular Front era, as well as how Native American intellectuals deployed ideas of modernity to fashion new forms of indigenous sovereignty.