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  • Racism, Popular Culture, and the Everyday Rosebud Reservation
  • Thomas Biolsi (bio)

HOW DO WE MAKE SCHOLARLY (and political) sense of the everyday lives of people living in Native communities? By "everyday" I do not mean the episodic moments (and movements) of critical consciousness or resistance (e.g., protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline) or of heightened awareness of racial or colonial oppression (e.g., the Idle No More Movement).1 Instead, I mean the mundane, habituated, and taken-for-granted daily routines that compose most of Native experience. This is not at all to say that the everyday is not power laden or that the personal is not political for Native people. Far from it; there is no question that this everyday world is "structured" by settler colonialism and capitalism in determinate ways, including what we might aptly call "everyday racism."2 But that does not exhaust the everyday world of Native people. Both individuals and the everyday worlds they actively take part in making have what Chris Andersen insightfully calls density—a complexity (and a politics) not reducible to a single subject position. Even if we recognize that the Native subject is complicated by "intersectionality," this does not approach the full complexity of Native density. Andersen quotes Robin Kelley on the density of Black being, which Kelley insists is "not just political struggle but the struggles of everyday life …: fighting, dancing, begging, cajoling, teaching, thinking, loving." Andersen forces us to recognize the "more serious and infinitely less schematic livedness" of Native life.3 Indeed, Andersen's argument is that theorizing the politics of colonialism and racism—which, given the nature of structural accounts, runs the risk of schematization—will be deepened by careful attention to the everyday. After all, most Native people do not theorize settler colonialism or racism or explicitly engage in anticolonial or antiracist action in their everyday lives. Nevertheless, they live both within and against oppression. How do they do it? By examining the everyday world of Native people—and taking the role of embodiment seriously, as Brendan Hokowhitu urges us to do—we can bring to light Native ways of being that have escaped scholarly attention.4 In pursuit of the everyday on Rosebud Reservation, I begin with two South Dakota scenes.

Scene one. From 1910 to 1997 a mural titled The Spirit of the West, created by New York artist Edwin Blashfield, graced the governor's office in the [End Page 77] South Dakota Capitol in Pierre (Figure 1). State historian Doane Robinson described the mural at the time of installation: "South Dakota is represented as a beautiful woman, in the spotlight, with the figure of hope floating over her and pointing forward. Trappers and settlers are beating back and overcoming the Indians who are clinging to her garments, attempting to impede her progress. Outlawry, represented by a dark and hooded figure is scuttling away into the darkness. In the background the prairie schooners of the early settlers are to be seen making their way across the prairie."5 After a long controversy beginning at least as early as the 1970s, in which the mural was severely criticized by Lakota people as racist because of its negative and exclusionary—even genocidal—depiction of Indians, it was walled over by Governor William Janklow (R) in 1997 after he had long resisted making any changes.6 The mural clearly fell into line with a persistent settler-colonial imagination of Indian people as the antithesis of civilization, with no contribution to make to, or modern place in, South Dakota. In the present, white imaginings of incompetent tribal governments that cannot be trusted to dispense justice to non-Indians on the reservation or traveling through it, of lazy people (including "welfare queens") living on "government handouts," and of Indian children who are a menace to white children in public schools are alive and well.7 In 2006 a group of Rosebud Sioux schoolchildren and their parents and guardians sued the off-reservation Winner School District in federal court for creating a "racially hostile educational environment." The plaintiffs claimed that "Caucasian students frequently call Native American students racially derogatory names, such as 'dirty Indian,' 'Black boy,' 'Indian bitch,' or...


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