- Fighting Colonialism with Hegemonic Culture: Native American Appropriation of Indian Stereotypes by Maureen Trudelle Schwartz
Representations and misrepresentations of Native Americans pervade dominant culture and result in material consequences for Native peoples in present-day neocolonial society. These portrayals are varied and often contradictory, associating Native Americans with anachronism, ecology, nobility, savagery, and spirituality. Maureen Trudelle Schwartz’s Fighting Colonialism with Hegemonic Culture: Native American Appropriation of Indian Stereotypes examines the ways in which Native peoples have actively engaged with dominant typecasts—resisted and subverted these images—in order to empower themselves and their communities. Through a diverse series of case studies, most of which focus on movements, commercial products, and collaborations and conflicts between Native Americans and non-natives, the text demonstrates that “In the hands of American Indians, hegemonic culture can, therefore, be said to have become a tool against colonialism rather than simply a tool of colonialism” (189).
Trudelle Schwartz situates contemporary case studies within the framework of historical circumstances and the structural violence of federal Indian policy. Consequences of the Dawes Act of 1887, which divided tribal land into individual allotments unable to compete with commercial farms, and relocation programs from the mid-1940s to the early 1950s resulted in Native American urban migration. The text posits that as a result of relocation, urban Native youth felt culturally and spiritually disconnected, which led to feelings of discontent that helped to propel American Indian activism. Native Americans living in urban areas employed creative methods for forming Native communities by focusing on pan-Indian identities as opposed to disparate tribal affiliations. Such pan-Indian identities have frequently been informed by Plains Indian cultures, which notably have also been the basis for Hollywood portrayals of Indianness. American Indian Movement (aim) members embraced these Hollywood representations for their own political purposes, donning dress that fit dominant expectations of Native Americans in order to attract media attention.
From discussing the embodiment of hegemonic culture by aim members, Trudelle Schwartz transitions to more contemporary case studies of Native and non-native commercial products. The author argues that Native Americans—recognizing the value of Indianness in today’s capitalist economy—have elected to market products to consumers based on mainstream understandings of Native peoples. Trudelle Schwartz also examines non-native products and Native and non-native collaborations that utilize representations of Indianness. The scholar shows that responses of Native Americans to these products have varied widely. Some items—such as those that associate Native American leaders and spiritualties with alcohol and drugs—consistently incite protest, while others that are manufactured by Native peoples—such as frybread mixes, herbal teas, and wild rice—do not. Trudelle Schwartz highlights that Native peoples respond differently to products that play on stereotypes of Native Americans. [End Page 90]
The appropriation and commodification of Native American spiritualties is sometimes viewed as a continuation of the genocidal process. Trudelle Schwartz argues that typecasts of Native Americans as ecological and spiritual are related. For instance, in the earth-based, New Age movement, typically disgruntled, white middle-class Americans have attempted to practice Native American forms of spirituality. These spiritualties are enticing to New Agers because they perceive that Native peoples live harmoniously with the land and removed from the corruption of modernity. Due to mainstream discourses that view Native Americans as impoverished and ecological, tribes who have decided to develop their land and/or utilize national resources are often faced with the onus of defending their actions.
Whether Native Americans choose to accept or reject typecasts often reflects an agency that responds to the particular historical and political context. Trudelle Schwartz argues that the products produced by Native peoples “serve as cultural interventions to disorient the hegemonic culture historically used to oppress Native Americans” (187). Yet the reclaiming of these typecasts “has the potential to result in misunderstanding” (187). While mainstream representations relegate Native Americans to the past, Trudelle Schwartz utilizes Native American studies scholar Tom Biolsi’s fourfold concept of indigenous space to...