It's all over the news today that the patent office has taken away that patent for the Washington R**S**ns saying the name is disparaging. http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2014/06/18/patent-office-cancels-washington-redskins-trademark-155362
For this set of readings you are looking at Phil DeLoria's _Playing Indian_ and an excerpt from _Rethinking Columbus_. You also should be reading around in Debbie Reese's blog, American Indians in Children's Literature. My post here serves to open the space for your comments, and I will post a longer comment before class. I'm hoping that you will take on more of the discussion in class :-)
The two readings are considered to be central to Indigenous rhetorics. In “Rhetorical Sovereignty: What Do American Indians Want from Writing?” Scott Richard Lyons defines rhetorical sovereignty as “the inherent right and ability of peoples to determine their own communicative needs and desires in this pursuit, to decide for themselves the goals, modes, styles, and languages of public discourse” (1130). Lyons provides an overview of why sovereignty matters to Native peoples (and “nation-peoples”) and how rhetorical sovereignty is necessary. In “Down by the River, or How Susan LaFlesche Picotte Can Teach Us about Alliance as a Practice of Sovereignty,” Malea D. Powell asks that we decolonize and do the “difficult intellectual work” (40) needed to create alliances and “work toward the survival of our shared communities” (42). In rhetorical alliance, “if my scholarly survival depends on you, then yours must also depend on me” (42). These concepts of rhetorical sovereignty and rhetorical alliance create a frame for our work in the field.
Lyons spends a significant part of his article discussing sovereignty and how that word/idea has been defined and implemented. He examines the distinct interpretations of nations, particularly in the way they are framed by Western and Indigenous ideologies. Initially to justify their own motives, Europeans needed to recognize Indian nations as sovereign, thus legitimizing land claims (451). As time went on, however, an erosion of Native sovereignty became evident. Linguistically, the terms shifted: nation to tribe, sovereign to ward, treaty to agreement all served the imperialism of the now United States (452-53). Still Native peoples persisted in their exercising sovereignty. Lyons points out that Natives define themselves a “a people” or “a group of human beings united together by history, language, culture, or some combination therein__a community joined in union for a common purpose: the survival and flourishing of the people itself” (454). This idea of a “nation-people,” who understand themselves as inextricably woven into culture, community and land, is distinct from the idea of the “nation-state,” or the way that sovereign Western nations define themselves. Imbedded in the idea of rhetorical sovereignty is the “we.” Lyons suggests the “prioritizing the study of American Indian rhetoric … in our graduate curricula and writing programs” (1143). Students can then examine their relationships to Native peoples (much like your map project).
Extending these ideas, Powell argues that we need to look beyond the narrow reliance on European frames that have shaped our current educational practices. We should not privilege one over the other, but rather allow for the importance of each (42). By using her own experiences (telling stories), she explains how she learned to theorize and writes, “human beings learn to produce texts through both theory and practice, by listening and doing; that ‘successful’ texts are collaborative and are meant for the community, not for the self’ and that through continued textural production the community…survives and gives thanks for its survival” (44). She continues her discussion through the example of Susan LaFlesche Picotte who exemplifies how to engage in rhetorical alliances. We can challenge dominant frameworks (even subversively in our classrooms) so that we work together in the sharing of all contributions.
Kutaputash (thank you) for the thoughtful responses to the last set of readings, After reading these, I am sure we will have engaging discussions. I hope you enjoyed the trip to Plymouth and I very much look forward to seeing and interacting with you on June 3.
No other ethnic group in the United States has endured greater and more varied distortions of its cultural identity than American Indians. (Mihesuah 9).
I get frustrated when my friends send me links such as this one about a “powwow party” a mother designed for her little girl because she wanted to be like Tiger Lily in Peter Pan (http://elizabethkartchner.com/2012/06/04/birthday-party-pow-wow/). The mother made a teepee, feathered headbands, arrow and fox party favors—sigh. Or now that football season has started, there is a photo on social media with a football fan holding a severed head of an Indian with headdress---horrific. One of these seems benign in light of the other, but neither is appropriate. Then there is the issue of using Natives as mascots, especially for the Washington DC football team. Thus, Mihesuah’s lists of stereotypes are important to help begin to critically analyze such behaviors.
Mihesuah is probably more of what one would call a nationalist in the field of Native Studies, yet her points throughout are ones that provoke awareness. I call her a nationalist because as an enrolled member of a federally-recognized tribe, she often holds a bias against unenrolled people. But that is a longer discussion we will have at a later time. The important contributions are bringing awareness about misrepresenting and misappropriating Native cultures as well as restoring dignity to Native peoples. This introduction works nicely with Thomas King in that Mihesuah briefly touches on issues that King raises in his book.
First, I love King, and I especially love this book. That is not to say that you must also love it, but I do think it is an important book to read. I appreciate his use of story and how he sets up his audience to understand stories. Then he tells several which intertwine with one another. These stories raise issues not only about Native peoples, but of all the kinds of –isms out there and playing out in our world. He comments on how he/we become “chained to these stories” (9), how they are “wonderous and dangerous” (9-10). He points to the differences between Western and other world views. He becomes particularly pointed about issues that Native peoples face including racism, being placed in the past, and sovereignty.
I’ve known Malea Powell for a long time, yet each time I read this work (or hear her speak on it) my intellectual self is re-awakened. While both of us have been engaging story as theory, I am stunned by her work here in which she re-thinks her own scholarly endeavors and takes them to a different. I saw her speak at an Octalog two years ago. She began by displaying a wampum belt made by one of her graduate students, and said, “this is not a thing.” We have both been pushing against, as she writes, “our discipline’s inclination to fetishize the text above the body, combined with a narrowness of vision that insists on connecting every rhetorical practice on the planet to Big Daddy A & the one true Greco-roman way” (2). I’m sure you have had experiences with seeing everything as a text, and this, too, has been an approach I’ve used. It has had its value, but as someone who also engages in practices of her ancestors, I appreciate the work Malea is doing here.
Thus in my classes, I bring this self to my teaching. Students not only gain knowledge from readings and discussions, but also learn how writing and makings were important to the transmission of knowledge. In my classes, I have also been engaging students in thinking about things and practicing making. These makings, as Malea Powell writes, “are significant for understanding Native rhetorical traditions is because as things they provoke, create, and prompt the stories that tell us who we are in relation to one another. They instruct us about our responsibilities to each other, and to the land” (Rhetorical Powwows). However, they cannot merely be treated as just things, but as rhetorical practices which can speak about themselves. Such a teaching model also grounds our course in local Native space and honors Indigenous peoples because every university must recognize that it is built on what were once and are still Native lands.
Selu marks the Cherokee telling of a Corn Mother story, inviting us to learn how and why Ginitsi Selu is honored and continues to be “practical advice’” to maintain balance. As Wilma Mankiller writes, “How can we possibly keep our world from spinning out of balance if we don’t have a fundamental understanding of our relationship to everything around us?” (ix). Awiakta points out throughout Selu that it is continually more difficult as we get further and further from the land through our machines: cars, faxes and now computers, cell phones…and on. And as the human race supports these machines, we destroy the mother which sustains us, namely the Earth. One only needs to turn on the news today to see the ravages of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico—weeks of oil spewing into the ocean now coming ashore and destroying habitats of wildlife. Our greed has done this, our centering on the self rather than living in balance. A lack of respect, a lack of giving back. I cannot help but feel that Mother Earth is pushing back with all the earthquakes, floods and tornados—we must be more aware and treat her with respect. As Awiakta speaks of corn, I am also reminded of the interventions of humankind to alter that corn with genetic modification (same with soy). In doing so, we have created an unhealthy product. While genetic modification has occurred naturally, these new procedures take from “the seed, the spirit” of the Corn Mother. Yet, Awiakta speaks to the destruction in her own upbringing, the Tellico Dam, the “atomic wastelands,” and her own experiences with prejudice. Within her telling of the Selu stories and how she came to know them, she provides insights to issues Native peoples, particularly Native women, face.
The multigenre nature of Selu is interesting. Awiakta uses story, poetry, the drawings of Mary Adair and other voices to comprise her text. Some might argue that this form and presentation is not scholarly, yet I would argue it challenges the shape of scholarly discourse. It reminds me of what Lee Maracle has said (to paraphrase) there is theory in every story—the difference is that Indigenous peoples have known that. One only needs to look at Awiakta’s discussion of Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony to understand further. Not only does Awiakta tell us that “through poetry, we make a quantum leap into the essence of the story” (161), but she takes us into a theoretical discussion of story, of how these ideas are “unsettling” and disturbing” causing a critical engagement of the person (mind and body) with the text. This is important when confronting Native writing.