Tuesday, March 23, 2010

HUM 221: 'Playing Indian' ... what do the Boston Tea Party, hippies, Dead heads, Campfire Girls and Boy Scouts have in common?

For Friday, March 26, be ready to express yourself in writing on what Mary B. Davis, writing in Library Journal, says, "Americans need Indians in order to define themselves as Americans," and "American views of Indians tell us much more about Americans than they do about Indians." What does this mean for American Indians? What does it mean for us in American popular culture defined more broadly?

Philip Deloria, a Native American studies professor at the University of Michigan, claims in a 1999 book titled "Playing Indian" (Yale University Press) that white Americans throughout history have appropriated symbols and customs from American Indians in working out their own identity in a new nation settled by European colonists. It raises complicated, troubling issues. On the one hand, these appropriations are an time-honored part of what sets us apart from Europeans. On the other, they can be humiliating or infuriating to the people whose cultural symbols we appropriate.

"Whether the focus is on the Boston colonists whooping it up, or on new age, counterculture types setting up tepees in back-to-nature settings," says reviewer Dianne Zuckerman in the Denver Post, "Deloria makes a convincing case for ways in which Americans have used Indian symbols and items for their own purposes and identities."

We won't have time to read the book, but today we will look at several reviews. (I recommend the book, by the way, if you're looking for something to read over the summer.) It is thought-provoking.

The publisher's blurb, quoted in the Barnes & Noble summary of the book, says:
The Boston Tea Party, the Order of Red Men, Camp Fire Girls, Boy Scouts, Grateful Dead concerts are just a few examples of the American tendency to appropriate Indian dress and act out Indian roles. This provocative book explores how white Americans have used their ideas about Indians to shape national identity in different eras - and how Indian people have reacted to these imitations of their native dress, language, and ritual. Deloria points out that throughout American history the creative uses of Indianness have been interwoven with conquest and dispossession of the Indians. Indian play has thus been fraught with ambivalence - for white Americans who idealized and villainized the Indian, and for Indians who were both humiliated and empowered by these cultural exercises
A review in Library Journal by Mary B. Davis, Huntington Free Library in the Bronx, New York City, (as quoted on the Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com websites:
Americans need Indians in order to define themselves as Americans, asserts Deloria (history, Univ. of Colorado). Beginning before the Boston Tea Party, and continuing into the present, Americans have adopted Indian attire, images, and traditions for both political and individual needs. These acts separated us from our European forebears while creating a unique American identity with which we are only partially comfortable, declares the author. As the country evolves, the ways in which Americans identify with Indians also change. ... [Deloria] demonstrates how "Indian play" has always taken on new shape and focus to engage the most pressing issues of a particular historical moment, and he notes that American views of Indians tell us much more about Americans than they do about Indians.
From Kirkus Review, also quoted on the Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com pages, an unsigned reviewer says:
A provocative study of the role of American Indians in forming the character of the US. Following D.H. Lawrences observation that the American character is essentially paradoxical (wanting to savor both civilized order and savage freedom), Deloria (History/Univ. of Colorado) traces the tendency, apparent since the arrival of the first colonists, of Anglo-Americans to appropriate Native American dress, customs, and habits. It was no accident, Deloria writes, that the perpetrators of the Boston Tea Party donned Indian headdresses before sending British cargo into the drink; they at once wanted to disguise themselves and proclaim a kind of solidarity with the continents first inhabitants. It allowed the restrained New Englanders to enjoy freedoms, and even a certain licentiousness, that wouldn't have been possible in plain clothes. Indian societies were deconstructed and imagined in American literature, in secret societies like the Tammany and Cayuga Wolf all-white tribes, and in more open organizations like the Boy Scouts, whose American founder, Ernest Thompson Seton, suspected real Indians of harboring unpatriotic sentiments. Deloria turns up fascinating oddments, including the story of one Colorado Boy Scout troop that went native to the point that the national organization tried to reeducate them, but the scouts managed to reconstruct the secret Shalako ceremony of the Zuni Indians so convincingly that Zuni elders built a special kiva for the masks the young men had made. Deloria notes that although the Boy Scouts of La Junta were not Indians, they were also more than simple, straightforward white boys. He is less admiring of the hippies, Deadheads, and modern New Agers who continue to appropriate elements of Native American religion and culture today. But in the end, he concludes, Indianness was the bedrock for creative American identities, but it was also one of the foundations . . . for imagining and performing domination and power in America.
All of this stuff can be very tricky and deeply controversial, as University of Illinois sports fans discovered several years ago when "Chief Illiniwek" was found to be a "hostile and abusive" stereotype that stereotyped and misappropriated Sioux (Lakota) Indian traditions. As we discuss these issues of cultural appropriation in class, we won't settle them. I doubt any of us will change anybody else's mind. But what we can do is to gain a better understanding of how people on all sides of the issue(s) feel about the issues and why they feel that way.

21 comments:

logan eader said...

I think that in a way the native americans have formed american society. They have shown us how to be more spiritual and care for the earth. However, the tangible things such as cars, casinos and even mascots or team names are not essential in defining ourselves as Americans.

Jake Hill said...

Yes, we learned many values from the indian tradition. They also taught us how to hunt and live in this country. THey define why we are here

Michael Hayes said...

I think that we do need them to define ourselves. They were here in America before we were and they are still here today. they are a valuable people and are part of our society though we dont see them much around here. It is hard to define a culture without citing its origins which would be Native Americans. I do believe we need them because they played a large part in the founding and creating the country we live in today.

Catey Rutschke said...

I think it is partly yes and partly no. Americans have adopted some of Native American's traditions and also we name a lot of products or school name's after them. But Americans also have their own values and traditions that have not been influenced by the Native Americans. So yes, they do play some role in our lives today as Americans but it is not exclusive, and we do make our own traditions,solely on American values.

mikefleshman said...

Yes I believe that we define ourselves as Americans because of the Indians before us. A lot of what we experience today is from the Indians. The farming industry is a big part of our society in central Illinois. Without the help of the Indians, we would not know how to farm today. Americans have come up with their own traditions though. Most of our sports traditions were not from the Indians. We do not need the Indians to define ourselves in that aspect.

Jessica said...

I dont think we necessarily NEED Native Americans to define ourselves. Although they have given us a lot of ideas such as naming cars, mascots, cities, ect. Indians have also given children an imagination by playing cowboys & indians and other games that have to do with the outdoors & nature. The movies & books that have been made about Native Americans i think were just to teach us more about their cultures.

Chris Day said...

I think we do need the Indians in order to define America. They had lived on this land long before we invaded them. They were here first and they are still around today. They gave us a start here, yet it is amazing how far we have come.

Roman said...

I think Americans do need Indians to define ourselves because they are such a big part of our history. They helped us survive the first winter, we took their fighting style of guerilla warfare, and they helped establish trade. This is kind of contradictory though that our ancestors moved here to be independent, and we are in fact dependent upon the natives for our beginning as a society.

Tara Proctor said...

I don't think we need Indians to define ourselves as Americans now, I believe that in the past people did. But I think we have passed that point. We still can appreciate what the Indians did in the past and what they did to help our country become independent. We like to name cars, sports names, and such after Indians because maybe the herritage of land or just because the names are cool.

Tara Proctor said...

I don't think we need Indians to define ourselves as Americans now, I believe that in the past people did. But I think we have passed that point. We still can appreciate what the Indians did in the past and what they did to help our country become independent. We like to name cars, sports names, and such after Indians because maybe the herritage of land or just because the names are cool.

Lucas Baugher said...

No I dont think we do. Everybody knows the history of the United States. It is well known that the Indians were roaming the Americas well before the whites came. That being said, I think most Americans are proud of the history of the Indians. This is why many professional sports teams and even college athletic teams choose Indian related names as a nickname or mascot. This, in my opinion, is honoring the Native Americans for what their people or race stood for. I also believe that white Americans want there to be a boundary between them and the Indian culture, but they want to be connected to it as well. They want to make sure they are known as the dominate race, but that the Indian race was very important to them long ago.

Cait131 said...

I can say both yes and no to answer this question. Us Americans have been influenced by many things that dealt with the Indians. We have gotten a lot of products from them, certain things are named after them and even many sports team throughout America are named after them. But we also have many things that have nothing to do with the Indians, that we have came up with ourselves.

Michael D. said...

As a SOCIETY we do not necessarily need Native Americans to define ourselves. There are plenty of societies that thrive without the Native American influence. As AMERICANS we do need Native Americans to define who we are. Part of being American is the “coming together” of many cultures to define who we are. That’s what makes us American. We especially need the Native Americans to define us because they are the first Americans. They were here before us and we learned a lot about the geographical make-up and natural resources from them. In fact many of our cities and towns are named after Native American people. So whether we like it or not, the Native Americans have influenced our way of living.

TMAC said...

I think yes and no. We do need them to a certain point define us as Americans. One becuase they were here long before all of us and lived and walked on this land. They taught us the spiritual aspect of life, and the choice of believing in one or many gods. They taught us a lot on how to live off the land together. But we have also developed our own beliefs and rules to follow. But yes they did help us out some.

dave maziarz said...

i believe we need indians in order to define ourselves. afterall they were here first. its hard for us to be able to identify ourselves without the culture that was dominate at the orgin of our time. while not huge the native americans do play a role in our lives today.

Brad Selvaggio said...

i believe that the idians have shaped us as americans. they have shown the americans spirtual things and a sense of health.there are a lot of things in the world that are indian named but nothing that had shaped us as americans.

Tom said...

Yes americans need indians to define ourselves because it is the origins of this nation. Alot of the things that we have learned when we once landed in america have been shown to us by indians. through out the years schools have taught us that indians showed us how to farm and grow crops as well as to hunt and gather in this country. they were also our main source of trade. if it wasnt for indians our culture wouldnt be what it is today so i think its save to say that we should give credit to the indians.

Kyle K. said...

americans have needed indians since people from europe landed on this country. we learned a lot of things from the native americans that we use today. we learned how to trade with these people when we first landed. when we did this we traded some of our culture for theirs and even though some people might not realize it, this culture is still in our lives today

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calenevill said...

yeah, we have pulled alot of our values from the indian ways, but some we still have from our forefathers that laid the land like george washington. they gave us the necessary sources on how to plant and fish. they showed us how to live off the land. we could not have been such a great country if they had not laid the "fruits" of the land for us.

Kathleen said...

I don't think we need them to define ourselves but I do think they are an important part of our history. Not only do we have cars and teams named after them to honor them, like the Chicago Blackhawks, but we also have carried on their traditions. indians don't define us but they are very important to us.