- Native Acts: Indian Performance, 1603–1832 ed. by Joshua David Bellin and Laura L. Mielke
Native Acts establishes performance—alongside keywords in other recent edited collections such as literacies and media—as an important conceptual node in the network of scholarship that composes the emergent field of early Native American studies. As Laura Mielke notes in her lucid introduction, the contributors participate in “the elusive but necessary recovery of Native people’s role in the intercultural performative contexts of the colonial Americas, often (and necessarily) through texts that are themselves complex performances from within intercultural contexts” (3). In the terms furnished by Diana Taylor in The Archive and the Repertoire: Performing Cultural Memory in the Americas (Duke UP, 2003), these scholars examine the archive to learn about the interaction between indigenous and colonial repertoires, recognizing that the archive itself may be a site of such interaction.
Although Mielke frames the volume with reference to performance studies theorists like Taylor, only some of the essays draw on scholarship in that field. Another framing reference is Philip Deloria’s Playing Indian (Yale UP, 1998); in the afterword to Native Acts, Deloria notes that his influential study of the phenomenon of whites assuming the stereotyped roles of Indians deliberately eschews the topic of “Indians playing Indian” (313). The essays in Native Acts take up that issue, as well as the complementary and sometimes conflicting phenomenon of Indians playing “white,” even literally (the Nipmuc John Wompas’s English surname was “White,” although Jenny Hale Pulsipher points out that the racial connotation is anachronistic). The organizing premise for the volume is that Indians had agency in their own representations: that European accounts of Indians “walking by the shore” or “shouting, howling and singing,” however mediated, are records of Indian performances; that whether they were deeding land, visiting London, or editing a newspaper, Indians were role-playing (37, 130). The common denominator in the contributors’ approaches is that, in Mielke’s phrase, they “read with Native acts in mind” (12). [End Page 821]
The organization of the collection is roughly chronological, but also geographic and thematic. The first two chapters focus on seventeenthcentury New England. Matt Cohen calls attention to the epistemological challenge “Algonquian dissimulation” has posed to colonists and colonialist scholars alike (37). Drawing on scholarship in native as well as performance studies, Cohen suggests that the “advantage of performance as an analytical rubric” is that it facilitates a shift away from “absolute standards for authenticity or truth, sovereignty, or property” towards “relationality” (45–46). Nan Goodman points out that “performance” also has meaning in a “legal sense”; she analyzes histories and documents pertaining to the Christian Indians who were “banished” to Deer Island in Boston Harbor during King Philip’s War, concluding that the certificates and petitions filed on behalf of and by this community, attesting to their acts during the conflict, call into being a status as subjects under the English common law (53).
Chapters 3 and 4 analyze protoethnographic accounts from New France. John Pollack focuses on Samuel de Champlain’s 1603 account of a religious dialogue with a “grand Sagamo” whom he speculatively identifies as the Innu (Montagnais) leader Anadabijou (95). He argues that despite the skepticism about Champlain’s representation, the storytelling should be regarded as motivated by the mutual “recognition that both sides’ stories must form part of the work of building intercultural cooperation” (99). The musicologist Olivia Bloechl examines “the Jesuits’ tendency to hear echoes of Carnival in Wendat ceremonial performance”: her analysis validates this comparison, concluding that “Native and European communal song traditions” shared a “common utility as occasions for resistance to cultural interference by outsiders” such as the Jesuits themselves (137).
The subjects of chapters 5 and 6 are individual native women. While land deeds are most commonly understood as a European genre, one that formulaically ventriloquizes Indians consenting to their dispossession, Stephanie Fitzgerald compellingly reads Massachusett-l anguage Indian deeds attributed to the Wunnatuckquannum, the “Wampanoag queen sachem” of Noepe (Martha’s...