Monday, June 4, 2007

Indians in Unexpected Places

"New Horse Power in 1913" - Collage by Arthur Amiotte. Oglala Lakota Artist (1994)

Title: Indians in Unexpected Places (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2004)

Philip J. DeLoria, professor of history and director of the Am. Cult. program at Michigan. Author, also, of Playing Indian (1998) and coeditor of the Blackwell Companion to American Indian History (2002). Describes his areas of interest as "Issues of culture and representation, particularly concerning American Indian people; Environmental and Western American history." His family heritage - as Dakota Sioux - is key to his approach to this book. His father, Vine Deloria Jr, is an activist and historian (see reference to his activity in Krech's Ecological Indian); his grandfather, Vine Deloria Sr, who was a minister and an accomplished college athlete, forms the keystone of Unexpected Places' chapter on athletics.

During modernity, Native Americans, having been supposedly "defeated" at Wounded Knee in 1890, were facing some of the most adverse material (and spiritual) conditions in the history of white occupation. White Americans chose to see Native Americans as stuck in the past, defeated, contained, and/or passive. Deloria's mission is to use selected Native life histories to illustrate how, contrary to "popular" belief, Native Americans during this time were actively seeking out ways to shape and use the processes of modernity (including technology, mass media, film, etc). Through the use of these examples, Deloria asks us to consider the implications of our automatic relegation of American Indians to the realm of the "primitive" through stereotypical imagery, and to challenge the quotidian nature of this "directional" ideology.


Introduction: Expectation and Anomaly: This introduction situates the historical area to be explored in the early twentieth century, when, unexpectedly, "a significant cohort of Native people engaged the same forces of modernization that were making non-Indians reevaluate their own expectations of themselves and their society" (6). Deloria outlines the difference he sees between "ideology" and "discourse", preferring these terms to the more flat "stereotype." He also distinguishes between "the anomalous, which reinforces expectations" and "the unexpected, which resists categorization and, thereby, questions expectation itself" (11). As a broader project, he posits that looking at "secret histories of unexpectedness" such as this one has the power to "change our sense of the past and lead us quietly, but directly, to the present moment" (14).

Red Cloud Woman in Beauty Shop, Denver, 1941. Deloria uses this picture to illustrate how the gap between expectation and possibility for Indian roles both creates humor and reinforces structures of power.

Violence: The Killings at Lightning Creek: One of the first "expected" categories of "Indianness" in the early twentieth century was that of violence. Deloria shows how the massacre at Wounded Knee led to an understanding of the Indian as "contained," and that acts of Indian resistance on reservations were understood from then forward as "breaking out" or "breakouts" (such acts could include hunting illegally or moving from reservation to reservation, as seen in the chapter on cars and technology). These outbreaks, Deloria argues were not feared so much because of their promise of violence, but for "the eruption of resistant forms" of Indian culture. Furthermore, "these stories...helped establish critical contexts for the twentieth-century imagemaking even then beginning to take shape" (49). The fiction of containment meant that white society was apt to "forget" that the twentieth-century Indian was capable of acts such as the 1973 takeover of Wounded Knee (51).

Representation: Indian Wars, the Movie: Here, Deloria discusses the lives of Indians who took part in movie culture, either by acting or producing, and makes a case for their active agency in the new industry (as also articulated by LG Moses in his book about Wild West Shows). Buffalo Bill's "Indian Wars" movie (1914), the Columbian Exposition of 1893, and various pictures including DW Griffith's "Call of the Wild" (1908) are examined. Deloria takes special care to point to Native critiques of pictures which took advantage of Indian stereotypes, and includes an analysis of the pictures by Indian producer James Young Deer. What matters most, according to Deloria, is that "a significant group of early-twentieth-century Indian people...came rapidly to understand the power of representation and cultural production" (105).

The actor Luther Standing Bear.

Athletics: "I Am of the Body": My Grandfather, Culture, and Sports:
This chapter opens with a very personal interlude introducing the life of Vine Deloria, Sr., who was a committed college athlete, and who, as Deloria says, at the end of his life, focused on this aspect of his past even beyond the other work he had done as a minister for, and elder of, the Lakota Sioux: "For my grandfather, race, religion, culture, and family were inextricably tangled with his feats on the playing field" (112). This revelation spurs Deloria to reconsider narratives of Indian athletes which could see them as having been exploited or denigrated by the teams and leagues they played for. Here he discusses the story of Charles Albert "Chief" Bender, a player for the Philly Athletics in the 1910s, the runner and Olympic medalist Louis Tewanima, and the many athletic teams fielded by the Carlisle School. In these situations, he says, "Indian mimicry of Indianness back at white audiences made it clear that there was both a shared sense of expectation and a critical Indian intelligence at work" (130). However, after the reservation system calcified in the post-WWI era, and the athletic system of the greater US rearranged along institutional lines, "the entire cultural, social, and economic system that had supported Indian athletes in the early twentieth century had been transformed in ways that almost completely shut them out" (133).

"Chief" Bender, of the Philadelphia Athletics.

Technology: "I Want to Ride in Geronimo's Cadillac":
Here Deloria examines expectations that Indians would not be participating in the technological revolutions of the early twentieth century, with the most obvious exemplar being automobility. He looks at photography and advertising of the time period that portrayed Indianness as an *inspiration for* automobility (signifying freedom, fleetness, etc) without making a place for Indians themselves in the picture (hence, the photograph of Geronimo in the Caddy, which Deloria sees as a sight-gag set up by a white photographer, but then proceeds to use as a way to interrogate Geronimo's investment in being so portrayed). Indians who bought cars, using money gained from the sale of reservation land or oil, were seen as spendthrifty, while whites who mortgaged houses while keeping cars (see Middletown) were not. Meanwhile, in the lives of Indians, automobility "allowed Native people to imagine an even broader vision of Indian country, one that transcended individual tribes and places and helped create new expressions of the pan-Indian and the intertribal" (153).

Geronimo in the Cadillac.

Music: The Hills Are Alive...with the Sound of Indian: White fascination with the "primitive" in the early twentieth century led to white musicologists and composers visiting Indian reservations to try to "salvage" their music. Here, Deloria outlines the creation of an "Indian sound", which signifies, per Deloria, all of the expectations of what-is-Indian: "primitivism and social evolution, violent conflict, indigenous nationalism, Indian disappearance, the romance of the forbidden exotic, the haunted American landscape..." (184) However, he writes, there were also Indian performers in the realm of musical "high culture", most significantly, Tsianina Redfeather, a Creek Indian who performed in pieces which encapsulated Indianness (especially "Shanewis", an opera). Deloria examines how Redfeather was prized for her authenticity, but how her talent was sometimes written off as a result of a "natural" Indian gift, stripping her of agency for her accomplishments. As happened in the athletic realm, Indian musical performers lost the public's attention by midcentury.

"Princess" Tsianina Redfeather.

Conclusion: The Secret History of Indian Modernity: Deloria reiterates his idea that "expectations exist in relation to concrete actions" (225) and explains that this is why "stereotypes" such as the ones that manifest themselves in the Tomahawk Chop or the P. Diddy/Nelly song "Shake Ya Tailfeather", matter to Indian realities. Deloria writes, summing up, "These expectations have concerned, among other things, Native technological incapacity, natural proclivities toward violence and warfare, a lack of social development, distance from both popular and aesthetic culture, and an inability to engage a modern capitalist economy" (230). He then diverges into a brief discussion of how African-American culture overtook Indian culture as the touchstone of modernism, pointing to the urbanization of African-Americans as a significant factor (238).

In the Journal of American History, Gretchen Bataille wrote that Deloria's book succeeded at its project, but did not offer very much more in the way of in-depth criticism. Meanwhile, in Reviews in American History, Leonard Sadosky lauded Deloria for managing to find a mode of examination that eschewed the traditional tragic story of Indian victimization by governmental forces, and calls the book "cultural history at its best".

The Pawnee word for "car", when cars first came out, was kiriir aawis tarusta, which means "smoking anus" or "smoke from the anus dragging" (154). In 1940, "the Cherokee actor Victor Daniels apparently applied to the Bureau of Indian Affairs for federal recognition for a new tribe - what one reporter called the 'Demille Indians' of Hollywood" (80).

Leads to follow up on: The broadside for the 1912 movie "Custer's Last Fight" pitched the movie as "educational - every school boy and girl should see it!" (82) The Redpath Chatauqua Collection, which is at U. Iowa.

New words:
"sodality" ("association or confederation with others; brotherhood, companionship, fellowship").

Books to follow up on:
Primary: John Joseph Matthews, Sundown (1934); Luther Standing Bear, My People, The Sioux (1928).

Secondary: Christopher Castiglia, Bound and Determined: Captivity, Culture-Crossing, and White Womanhood from Mary Rowlandson to Patty Hearst (1996); James Clifford, The Predicament of Culture: Twentieth Century Ethnography, Literature, and Art (p-back, 2002); Ivan Karp and Steven Levine, eds, Exhibiting Cultures: The Poetics and Politics of Museum Display (p-back, 1991); Joy Kasson, Buffalo Bill's Wild West: Celebrity, Memory, and Popular History (2000); Jacquelyn Kilpatrick, Celluloid Indians: Native Americans and Film (1999); Stephen Leuthold, Indigenous Aesthetics: Native Art, Media, and Identity (p-back, 1998); Andrew Brodie Smith, Shooting Cowboys and Indians: Silent Western Films, American Culture, and the Birth of Hollywood (2004).

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