Pan-Indian identity

 

So I just got the copy of Our Indian Princess by Nancy Marie Mithlo in the mail the other day. It is definitely on the scholarly side of things! (Not that I was surprised by that…) Anyhow, it has been making for an interesting read and Mithlo brings up quite a bit about identity for artists with a focus on Native women artists.

 

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The following passages from pages 64-65 was among the things that I earmarked. (Yes, I’m a page folder—at least I am when I don’t have any sticky tabs handy.)

 

The existence of a pan-Indian sensibility has been critiqued both by Native American and activists who believe that tribal traditions are lost in the embracement  of a homogenized identity and by intellectuals who deny the validity of this generalized descriptive. Authors Terry Straus and Debra Valentino discuss how concerns over the development of an intertribal “Indian” in the American Indian community were common in the 1970s, when pan-Indianism was understood inevitably to displace tribal knowledge, identity, and connection for Native American in urban areas: “Pan-Indianism, an artificial foil invented to facilitate federal policy, was seen gradually and insidiously to become accepted by Indian people as their own identity” (Straus and Valentino 2001: 85-86). This tendency to accept dominant definitions of themselves as an “ethnic group” and a “racial minority” was interpreted at the time as internal colonization and a loss of self-determination.

Straus and Valentino conclude that detribalization, which was feared in the 1970s as a consequence of urban relocation, has developed into retribalization, wherein urban Indians forge relationships with their home communities from an urban base. Straus and Valentino’s argument advances two parallel points: first, “the rift between urban and reservation Indian people is artificial and imposed” (Straus and Valentino 2001:86)—urban in this view is not a kind of Indian, but an experience that most Indian people have had—and, second, the concept of a tribe is an invention of the US government. “’Tribe’ was neither a Native concept nor a native political reality. Tribes began in the conflict and negotiation with non-Indian governments” (86). Defined territories, political units, and tribal leaders were identified to facilitate the concession of lands and rights in the treaty-making phase of American history. This codification of tribal identities was further elaborated under the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934.

Ms. Mithlo is SO COOL!!!

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