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June 18th, 2013 - Posted by Natasha Varner

Last week, First Peoples celebrated the culmination of a five-year collaboration with a reception at the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association’s annual meeting in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Throughout the conference, the outpouring of support and gratitude from NAISA attendees confirmed that we’d fulfilled our mission of supporting the growth of the Indigenous studies scholarly community.

Our partner presses are committed to maintaining much of the work that was initiated over the course of the past five years, and we invite you to read more here about each press’s plans to continue publishing leading books in the field of Indigenous studies.

We also hope you’ll take a moment to browse through the 48 First Peoples titles published between 2009 and 2013 and keep an eye out for forthcoming First Peoples and Indigenous studies titles from the University of Arizona Press, the University of Minnesota Press, the University of North Carolina Press, and the Oregon State University Press.

Although our social media presence will grow quieter in the coming months, our blog posts from the past five years will remain available to the public in our blog archive.

First Peoples will be represented at academic conferences throughout Fall 2013. If you’re on the conference circuit, be sure to check out the First Peoples and partner press combined exhibits at the annual meetings of the American Society for Ethnohistory, the Critical Ethnic Studies Association, the Western History Association, the American Anthropological Association.

We’re sad to see this wonderful collaboration coming to an end, but we’re heartened by the remarkable growth of the field of Indigenous studies that we’ve witnessed and participated in over the past five years. With the new channels for collaboration that First Peoples has established between the presses and our authors and the expansion of the scope and number of Indigenous studies titles produced annually by each press in the initiative, we’re confident that the benefits of this collaboration will be seen for years to come.

June 18th, 2013 - Posted by Natasha Varner

First Peoples editors and authors participated in a publishing roundtable at the fifth annual meeting of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association, which convened last week in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. First Peoples author Rose Stremlau sat on the panel and spoke about her experience with the dissertation revision process. Stremlau–whose book, Sustaining the Cherokee Family: Kinship and the Allotment of an Indigenous Nation, was published by UNC Press in 2011–spoke candidly about some of the challenges of the revision process and the necessity of trusting your editor and peer reviewers. She also asserted that engagement with Indigenous research communities should shift from the current paradigm of “bringing research back” to the community to one of continual engagement throughout the entire research and revision process. Stremlau’s comments were so thought-provoking and helpful for the audience at NAISA that we decided to reproduce them in full here.

I wrote these comments for the first-timers, those authors working on their first manuscript. I am open about my struggles as a writer because it was the honesty of other authors–some in person, others in print–that helped me to understand that writing a book is one of those life experiences that can make you or break you. We all know scholars for whom the creative process is traumatic and, therefore, they are not productive and, generally, are unpleasant to be around. I refuse to be one of them.

There are many important technical components to preparing a manuscript and all of the editors on this panel today are more qualified than I am to discuss those. I can only tell you how, while preparing my manuscript, I reevaluated the role of writing in my life and came to recognize that my work habits were depleting and counterproductive ones. By changing the narrative in my head, I made the creative space to reconceptualize and rewrite my dissertation into a manuscript that I was as proud to send to UNC Press as I was happy to be done with. In other words, I had to revise my writing process before I could revise my writing. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be sitting here today on this panel and representing those who have survived to hold that first, beautiful copy of their published book in their hands.

Because my book began as a dissertation, I have to begin this story there. I wrote my dissertation the way a teen drives when she gets her learner’s permit. I had enthusiasm but no practical experience with a project of this size and I learned with each go around of a section or chapter. The flow of my writing and pace of my work was jerky–quick starts, sudden stops. Concerning the scholarship, there were quite a few near misses along the way. I was told to make changes in order to pass my defense and I didn’t always agree with or even understand them. Sometimes committee members contradicted one another. Over time, I became defensive of my work. Like that overly-cautious driver that no one wants to be stuck behind, I was afraid to get out there again.

My actual dissertation defense was uneventful and my advisors were eager that I start revising for publication. I didn’t. Partly, I was profoundly burnt out and I now recognize that, for me, the writing process after grad school had to become a fundamentally different one in many ways. I want to emphasize one today: the importance of truly believing that the process of producing a book is a collaborative one and accepting that each person–whether reader, editor, or press staff–is someone with an important contribution to make.

This, of course, isn’t something we learn in grad school. In that context, our success or failure is ours even though faculty calls the shots and, for this reason, people who successfully complete dissertations often end up in a co-dependent relationship with them. We need it and can’t imagine life without having to sacrifice for it, make excuses for it, and give endlessly to it. Even if it almost kills us, we literally defend it and, in turn, our very identities as scholars. While writing my dissertation, I became protective of my ideas as though my intellectual credibility depended on them. Changing this thought pattern and making revisions wasn’t going to come easy for me.

And so I did what all writers do at some point. I procrastinated. For two years, my dissertation sat in a drawer. Every now and again, while I was busy being superprofessor or enjoying my life, I would get an email from Mark Simpson-Vos, my editor, asking for a manuscript and snapping me back to professional reality. When I unpacked after a move, I left the dissertation on top of my desk rather than throw it in the drawer again. Still, I ignored it until that semester ended. Only then, after a nice layer of dust covered it, did I stop making excuses, sit down, and read it. I felt sick. Had I really written this? I remembered it being good, smart, and sharp. It had won an award after all. I realized that the previously poorly received criticism was onto something and I wondered how I was going to turn this into a book. I liken this feeling of nauseating, intimate regret to unexpectedly finding an old picture of myself passionately kissing the ex who later became the poster boy for how bad it could get. Would publishing this be the professional version of posting that picture on Facebook?

I needed either an excuse to never look at it again or some fresh eyes on it and new suggestions to fix it. It was only because I was convinced that there was nothing anyone else could say in reader reports that was worse than what I already thought that I sent a barely-revised-dissertation-now-called-a-manuscript to Mark, who sent it to readers. The readers found things to praise but echoed the critiques of my advisors and committee. They also provided new suggestions. Both reports were lengthy. The tone of the second was more direct than the first, and when I read it, I realized that there were worse things one could say about my work than what I already admitted to myself. I regressed into that grad student needing to prove herself and to prevent the world from realizing she was what she most feared: a fraud.

It was somewhere between unprofessional, self-indulgent, but cathartic crying and the second gin and tonic that I acknowledged two things. First, that I trusted my editor. I had no reason to believe that Mark wanted to crush me and destroy my career. Ignoring the fear that the process of revising my manuscript would degenerate into cutting, confusing, paralyzing criticism, I consciously admitted to myself–albeit with hesitation–that I trusted him to have put my manuscript in good hands. When I later found out the identities of the then-anonymous readers, I realized that he had done right by me. I admire and personally like both of the readers more than I can say. Second, I acknowledged how much effort both readers, especially the more critical one (whose comments included, at points, line-by-line detail) had made on my behalf. I had sought help. I had received it.

My marching orders were clear and the extensive comments weren’t insults but investments made in my success because these people had taken my work seriously. I wiped away the smeary eyeliner and sat down at my computer. I resolved to let my defenses go. They weren’t helping. I closed my eyes and did something that I continued to do every time I sat down to write until it was done. I visualized those anonymous readers as present and supportive of me. Over time, I added others to my squad of manuscript cheerleaders. Envisioning a positive reception, I let go of the need to always be in control and right the first time. The staggering amount of work–and it is a lot to completely rewrite a dissertation into a manuscript with a 4/4 teaching load and a two-hour commute–became easier to do, even energizing. My defensiveness had made dissertating miserable, but changing my attitude towards the readers–and through them the editor, project manager, copy editor, and all those who shaped the final product in some way–and understanding this process as a partnership was the means to the end of finishing it, of liking it, of not killing someone while doing it, and of even wanting to do this all again. (I am working on my second book.)

Letting go and seeing the book as a collaborative effort prompted me to open up to constant feedback from descendants of the people in the book, community scholars, and elders from the Cherokee Nation throughout my revision process. In our profession, we talk about “bringing the research back” to the community when it is done. Let’s change that. The revision process should include the community at each step. As a non-Indian person, I have struggled–and continue to do so–with the invasive nature of my profession. A member of the tribal council invited me to write about this topic, but I am an outsider. Because of my new attitude about the feedback provided in the reader reports, I sought additional community comments from the beginning. Without intending to make some ethical statement, I just started sending drafts –marked with headers identifying this as a draft and asking the recipient not to copy or distribute it — to anyone who expressed interest in my work as early as I had rewritten chapters to share. If someone commented and replied, I sent them the revised version. If they said their friend or cousin or neighbor was interested, I contacted that person, too. When I had a complete manuscript, I sent that to those who had asked to read it. Some people ended up reading the whole manuscript more than once at different stages.

Most community readers provided a little elaboration or suggested small corrections. A couple pushed back hard on some of my ideas and my trust in existing scholarship with which they disagreed or believed had been done unethically. This process took time and this took money for copies, postage, and a few plane tickets but it changed the way I thought and made the book significantly better and, hopefully, more relevant to those families impacted by allotment. Mark was supportive of this even though it meant I needed more time. That’s an important point: budget the time and come to an agreement with your editor about how you will include community input in your revision process. None of this is quick, easy, or cheap, but it is right and should become a normal part of the publishing process when the topic involves an Indigenous community.

I am aware that I made countless decisions in writing the book. At the same time, I don’t think of it as my book in the same way that I thought of the dissertation as mine. It feels shared, and in doing so, my burden as an author was lighter. It was this difference that enabled me to start again and, more importantly, to finish.

Rose Stremlau is assistant professor of history and American Indian studies at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke.

See Jodi Byrd’s guest post from April 2012 for additional writing insights and advice.

May 30th, 2013 - Posted by Natasha Varner

[This article is crossposted on the UNC Press blog.]

In Recognition, Sovereignty Struggles, and Indigenous Rights in the United States, scholars Amy Den Ouden and Jean M. O’Brien bring together a critical collection of essays that shed light on some of the complex issues surrounding federal and state recognition for Native American tribal nations in the United States. In this excerpt from the introduction, the editors examine the multifaceted benefits, critiques, and challenges that have accompanied federal recognition for the Mashantucket Pequot, especially after their construction of the world’s largest casino complex. Like other contributions to this collection, the Mashantucket Pequot example demonstrates the complexities that accompany federal recognition, especially when situated in the broader legal, economic, and racialized terrain of the United States.

In New England, for example, the myth of Indian disappearance that was generated in the colonial period was reinvigorated in the late twentieth century as tribal nations seeking acknowledgment from the U.S. federal government garnered unprecedented media attention, as did several newly recognized tribal nations that launched hugely successful gaming operations after their federal recognition was secured. Then, as now, the native peoples of New England have faced the charge that they are not “real Indians” and are thus undeserving of recognition by the U.S. government.[1]

As explained by Renee Ann Cramer, a leading scholar on federal acknowledgment and racialized reactions to it, the Mashantucket Pequot tribal nation’s federal recognition by an act of Congress in 1983 and their creation of what is now the largest casino complex in the world, Foxwoods Resort Casino, elicited “intense scrutiny and controversy.” Not only has their casino “been a political hot potato” since the mid-1990s, but their identity as Indian people has been subjected to relentless assaults as well.[2]

Fomenting in public reactions to the Mashantuckets’ casino and in the context of rancorous debates that erupted over other tribal acknowledgment cases in Connecticut at the time, the racist stereotype of the “casino Indian” took hold in the region and has had an increasingly negative impact on public attitudes toward federal recognition.[3] As Cramer argues in a recent essay, a new anti-Indian racism that is “fueled by casino success” has transformed “Pequot” into “a trope for everything a ‘real’ Indian is not,” and the backlash against the Mashantuckets’ economic success–and against Indian gaming more generally–“has turned into a backlash against tribal recognition.”[4]

Thus, the “Connecticut effect” offers an important introductory example of the complexity and contentiousness of recognition and of the way in which it is enmeshed with wider U.S. economic and sociopolitical concerns. Racism and its impact on the rights and futures of indigenous peoples is certainly one of those wider concerns. In the Mashantucket Pequot case, we are compelled to consider how racial assumptions about Indian identity have shaped public assessments of the right to federal recognition.[5] Likewise, we must question how the anti-Indian racism Cramer describes has hampered possibilities for expanding public knowledge of the specific histories of the native peoples in Connecticut, deflecting questions about the historical foundation of late twentieth- and early twenty-first-century federal acknowledgment efforts and the long history of tribal-state relationships.[6]

In spite of what Mark Edwin Miller aptly terms the “deluge of press coverage” that has rendered the Mashantucket Pequots “the dominant face of recently acknowledged Indian tribes in the United States,” what does the public know about the Mashantuckets’ pre-twentieth-century history as a state-recognized tribal nation?[7] Or about the state recognition of other tribal nations in Connecticut? A recent Connecticut Post editorial, “As Wealth Looms, Recognition Fades,” makes a point rarely addressed in the local media: Despite all the public attention to the issue of tribal gaming in the state and the uproar over the federal recognition efforts of the Eastern Pequot, Schaghticoke, and Golden Hill Paugussett tribal nations, Connecticut’s long relationship with the indigenous peoples within its borders–evidenced in its own statutes and laws dating back to the colonial period–appears to be ignored. “You could look it up,” the editorial chides.[8]

More than just tribal nations’ historical relationships with the state have been obscured in the anti-Indian/anticasino discourse that has flourished in the region since the opening of the Mashantucket Pequot casino. Also overlooked is a central question that would help a public audience better understand what is at stake for tribal nations and communities that seek recognition: What choices are available for native peoples in the United States today as they contend with problems of unemployment and lack of adequate access to health care, housing, and education?

As Algonquin scholar Paula Sherman has phrased it in a recent analysis of the Mashantuckets’ struggle for sovereignty and the political and social costs of gaming, “What is required to make sustainable Native communities in the twenty-first century?” Casinos, Sherman contends, have become “the most important tool Native people have today for national renewal”: Mashantucket Pequot “dreams of community revitalization only happened through the adoption of gaming.”[9] Nonetheless, Sherman emphasizes that native people have serious concerns and disagreements about whether gaming is an economically sustainable and culturally appropriate means of indigenous nation building.[10] And as anthropologist Jessica R. Cattelino has argued, a persisting colonial mentality in the United States expects “real Indians” to be poor and casts the economic successes of tribal nations that operate casinos as historical anomalies proving that they have “lost” their “genuine” Indian culture.[11] Read the rest of this entry »

May 28th, 2013 - Posted by Natasha Varner

Throughout the Americas, a boom in oil, gas, and mining development has pushed the extractive frontier deeper into indigenous territories. Centering on a long-term study of Enron and Shell’s Cuiabá pipeline, from Enron to Evo traces the struggles of Bolivia’s Indigenous peoples for self-determination over their lives and territories. In his analysis of their response to this encroaching development, author Derrick Hindery also sheds light on surprising similarities between neoliberal reform and the policies of the nation’s first Indigenous president, Evo Morales. In the following excerpt, Hindery  illustrates the necessity of comprehending the nature of the Morales administration’s development model in order to understand the multiple development paradoxes that exist in Bolivia today. 

Disgruntled over the Bolivian government’s renewed support for a controversial road through the Isiboro- Sécure Indigenous Territory and National Park (Territorio Indígena y Parque Nacional Isiboro- Sécure, TIPNIS), in January 2012 a block of Indigenous legislators from President Evo Morales’s political party, Movement Toward Socialism (Movimiento al Socialismo, MAS), formed a caucus to defend Indigenous rights and keep the project at bay. Although the representatives retained their party affiliations, the act spoke to a broader rift forming between the MAS and some Indigenous groups. The move came as a long- promised countermarch of coca-dependent communities supportive of the highway [1] approached the highland capital of La Paz, without police repression and without much press coverage.

During the previous year, Bolivia’s main Indigenous organizations had joined Yuracaré, Mojeño, and Chimane Indigenous peoples from TIPNIS in a two- month- long march— the Eighth Indigenous March— from the Amazon Basin to La Paz in opposition to the project. They feared the road would bring development activities that would undercut the livelihood of communities dependent on hunting, fishing, and subsistence agriculture. Several weeks before this seminal march took place, Morales made it clear that he supported the highway when he urged men from the coca- producing Chapare region to woo Yuracaré females into accepting the road: “If I had time, I would go to enamor the Yuracaré comrades and convince them to not be opposed; so, young men, you have instructions from the president to win over the Trinitarian Yuracaré comrades so they don’t oppose construction of the road” (qtd. in Chipana 2011, translation by author).

Image 1.1 Construction of the Cuiabá pipeline through the Chiquitano Forest.

The TIPNIS conflict was seen as a litmus test of whether Morales’s reputedly pro-Indigenous government would respect the rights that Indigenous groups had won since the first March for Territory and Dignity in 1990, and whether Morales would comply with his own proposal to adopt the Indigenous doctrine of “Living Well” (Vivir Bien) over the capitalist, modernist ideology of living better (vivir mejor):

As long as we do not change the capitalist system for a system based on complementarity, solidarity, and harmony among peoples and nature, the measures we adopt will be palliatives that will have a limited and precarious character. For us, what has failed is the model of “living better” [vivir mejor], of unlimited development, of industrialization without borders, of modernity that disregards history, of increasing accumulation of goods at the expense of others and nature. That is why we propose the idea of “living well” [Vivir Bien], in harmony with other human beings and with our Mother Earth. (Evo Morales, November 28, 2008, qtd. in Ministerio de Medio Ambiente y Agua 2008, translation by author)

In contrast to the countermarch, the high- profile Eighth Indigenous March garnered wide coverage in the domestic and international press. The marchers, who were hampered by violent police repression and resistance from coca growers, eventually arrived in La Paz and prompted passage of a law declaring TIPNIS an untouchable area, off limits to highways and other development activities. A statement from a Chiquitano, Isabel García Ipamo, who marched against the highway, captures a feeling of betrayal shared by Indigenous groups and supporters who had grown increasingly weary of Morales’s policies:

The president is the president of the coca growers. He is not representing all of the country. He has always resented the Indigenous peoples of the eastern lowlands of Bolivia. Now we have seen how he is discriminating against this mobilization that we are undertaking, even though we had complete faith in him because he is Indigenous, and even though he is now president because of our support. We thought that he was going to be more sensitive toward Indigenous peoples, but we were mistaken because now we are marching once again. We believed that there werenot going to be more marches asking for our demands, but that is not the case: we continue marching, we continue worse than before, because at least the previous governments respected protected areas. Our constitution establishes that protected areas are untouchable, but in an instant this president wants to undo the TCOs [native communal lands] and protected areas, which we care for extensively. What will happen to the other TCOs if this protected area is not cared for? We have taken great care to ensure that the TCOs are not violated or colonized by the same people that the president now wants to place in all of the TCOs and protected areas. (qtd. in Bolpress 2011a, translation by author)

This individual, a law student who suspended her studies to participate in the march, came from a Chiquitano community located in a large- scale, collective Indigenous territory (tierras comunitarias de origen, or TCO) in the Chiquitano forest. The Chiquitanos, like the Guaraní and many other Indigenous groups located across the country, had sent contingents to support the march in solidarity with TIPNIS communities opposing the road. They knew that the TCOs they had struggled long and hard for during the 1990s were under threat, as was their inclusion in a reputedly “Indigenous” government. For more than a decade, the Chiquitanos, Bolivia’s most numerous Indigenous group in the lowlands,[2] had battled boldly against cattle ranchers, farmers, loggers, mining companies, and transnational energy giants to reclaim ancestral lands through the new mechanism of TCOs.

How could it be that Bolivia’s first Indigenous president, who vowed to “refound” Bolivia as a twenty- first-century intercultural, plurinational, socialist state (Kohl and Bresnahan 2010a:5), was now being targeted by some of the very groups that had brought him to power? How could a head of state with the most radical proposal to address global climate change [3] be simultaneously pursuing an extraction- oriented development model that harmed the marginalized populations he was supposedly defending? How could an administration that implemented a new constitution guaranteeing Indigenous peoples’ rights to land, self- determination, and a healthy environment pursue such a contradictory agenda? And how could a government that was the first to adopt the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as national law advance development projects in violation of Indigenous peoples’ right to free, prior, and informed consent? Read the rest of this entry »

May 22nd, 2013 - Posted by Kathryn DeSandro

The largest group of Indigenous people in the Bolivian Amazon, the Mojos, has coexisted with non-Natives since the late 1600s, when they accepted Jesuit missionaries into their homeland, converted to Catholicism, and adapted their traditional lifestyle to the conventions of mission life. Nearly two hundred years later they faced two new challenges: liberalism and the rubber boom. In Indigenous Agency in the Amazon: The Mojos in Liberal and Rubber-Boom Bolivia, 1842–1932, Gary Van Valen postulates that as ex-mission Indians who lived on a frontier, the Mojos had an expanded capacity to adapt that helped them meet these challenges. He demonstrates that the Mojos were able to survive the rubber boom, claim the right of equality promised by the liberal state, and preserve important elements of the culture they inherited from the missions. The following excerpt from the book’s introduction discusses the failure of the Guayocho rebellion as an exception to the Mojo’s adaptation to liberalism and the rubber boom.

On a hot day in May 1887, a group of Bolivian soldiers halted their march across a flat savanna laced by lakes and tributaries of the Amazon. They were taking ten Indigenous prisoners back to their headquarters in Trinidad, the local capital, but stopped to administer several hundred lashes to each. The soldiers took special delight in whipping an eighty-year-old man before finishing him off with gunshots. They saw that old man, Andrés Guayocho, not as the pathetic figure who begged them for a drink of water before dying, but as the leader of a major Indigenous rebellion. Guayocho was a Christian shaman who used his ability to throw his voice to convince the Mojo Indians that Jesus Christ and deceased Mojo leaders were speaking to them, and attracted hundreds of Mojos away from the ex-Jesuit mission of Trinidad to a new settlement in the backlands. The local government ruthlessly crushed Guayocho’s millenarian movement not so much because of its religious unorthodoxy, but because it deprived the white elite of the Mojo labor necessary for the extraction and export of rubber for the world market.

Figure 3.9 Chacobo family. From Erland Nordenskiold, Indianer und Weisse in Nordostbolivien (Stuttgart: Strecker und Schroder, 1923).

The Mojos who survived this massacre shared the same heritage that had informed Guayocho’s movement: a mixture of Indigenous culture and the Catholic, colonial culture introduced by Jesuit missionaries in the late seventeenth century. However, those who began returning to Trinidad in 1888 asked that they be respected not just as natives with original rights to territory or as fellow Christians, but also as fellow citizens with constitutional rights. In the ensuing years, these same Mojos served in the local military, celebrated Bolivian Independence Day, sang the Bolivian national anthem in their church choirs, sought out modern educations, and participated in private land transactions. They clearly knew about and used the European ideology of liberalism, with its language of citizenship and equality before the law. The contrast between millenarian rebellion and participatory citizenship could not be greater, yet it gives some indication of the incredible range of strategies employed by the Mojos in their relations with the state and the local white elite.

During the nineteenth century, the Mojos brought together Indigenous culture, mission Catholicism, and liberalism to form a hybrid identity, which they used to defend their interests. The Mojos’ hybrid identity gave them an expanded capacity for what has been called “agency.” Agency, the freedom to act, can vary among individuals, groups, and classes in any given historical situation. It is relational, for people operate within a web of social relationships, pushing or pulling against other individuals or groups with their own potential for agency. Any attempt to renegotiate power relations is agency, from engagement in overt resistance such as a rebellion or millenarian movement, to the use of discourse, or language encoding a vision or plan for social relations. The value of agency as a tool of historical analysis lies not in insisting that all people have unfettered agency at all times, but rather in studying what factors promote or limit agency in certain contexts. Agency is especially useful for the analysis of complex Indigenous societies like the Mojos, whose internal differentiations can lead individuals or subgroups to take different actions based on what will benefit each the most. It thus allows for a more flexible treatment of Indigenous history than previous theoretical frameworks permitted, whether ethnographic ideas of closed communities from the 1930s through the 1950s, Marxian accounts of peasant rebellion popular in the 1960s and 1970s, or theories of resistance employed in the 1980s and 1990s.[1]

In this book, I weave the theme of agency through an ethnohistory of the Mojos during the liberal reforms and the rubber boom. Until now, this period in the Mojos’ history has largely been an untold narrative. Their history, exceptional because of the Mojos’ unique historical and geographical situation, has at the same time a much wider significance. Our incomplete understanding of the varieties of Latin American liberalism and of the rubber boom is further illuminated by a detailed examination of Mojo history in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. [….]

Most scholars dealing with this era have interpreted the period of liberalism and export economies as a time of suffering for poor and Indigenous people.[2] But by looking through the prism of agency, we can see that the Mojos were not inherently victims or powerless in the face of changes imposed by others, and that they would prove to be active participants in shaping the course liberalism and the rubber boom would take in their region.

Liberalism, a compilation of ideas from the European Enlightenment, came to inform political thought throughout the Americas by the mid-nineteenth century. Liberal thinkers discarded inherited, preconceived notions of state and economy, including the legal inequality and state-licensed monopolies of the eighteenth century. They conceived of human reason as the key to creating new and better societies, and assumed that reason dictated a new approach to government’s relationship with individuals and the economy. In an ideal liberal society, corporate groups with unique and differing legal privileges would be replaced by a nation of individuals given equal treatment under the law, and individuals would be citizens, not subjects, of the state. The ideal liberal economy would be of the “free market” type, free from state intervention, ruled by the law of supply and demand. Liberals came to believe that by liberating the individual and the economy, they could open the doors to progress, and that education would ensure the continuing progress of the nation. [….]

Just as independence created new possibilities for Latin Americans to experiment with liberalism, it also opened Latin America to a world market dominated by the industrialized nations of Europe and North America. Their industries and industrial societies consumed vast quantities of raw materials, and Latin America helped meet the demand with its resources. In the Amazon basin during the years considered by this book, local elites and foreign capitalists extracted rubber for export in response to this external demand. According to the traditional historiography, the development of Amazonian rubber extraction resulted in massive movements of people into and within the rubber zone, the conversion of rubber workers into debt peons, and the decimation of Indigenous communities through exposure to disease, warfare, and virtual enslavement. Although this depiction largely holds true for Indigenous groups living outside state authority in northern Bolivia, it cannot be applied to the Mojo region, which was transformed without being devastated by the rubber boom. The Mojos themselves were changed by their experience of the rubber boom, but retained their sense of community. By adapting to political and economic change, they remained Mojos. Read the rest of this entry »

May 15th, 2013 - Posted by Natasha Varner

In the growing dialogue about Native language practices and revitalization, limited attention has been given to Indigenous children’s everyday communication. Voices of Play: Miskitu Children’s Speech and Song on the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua is a study of multilingual play and performance among Miskitu children growing up on Corn Island, part of a multi-ethnic autonomous region on the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua. In the book, author Amanda Minks weaves together theories of culture and communication, creating a transdisciplinary dialogue that moves across intellectual geographies.  In the following Q&A, Minks explains why Corn Island is a particularly good place to study  processes of cultural creativity in response to colonialism and the complexities of Indigenous language use, cultural reproduction, and change.

What first attracted you to study children’s play on Corn Island?

In the early stages of my graduate work at Columbia, I had been doing exploratory research studying cross-cultural interaction in peer play among immigrant children in New York City. I already had some background in Latin American and Caribbean studies and had read Edmund Gordon’s book Disparate Diasporas: Identity and Politics in an African-Nicaraguan Community, focused on Creole culture, history, and politics (University of Texas Press, 1998).  Out of curiosity, I took a trip to Corn Island and was absolutely captured by the innovative and diverse practices of communication I overheard there. I was expecting Creole English and Spanish, but I was not expecting to hear kids playing in a mixture of languages, of which I could understand only bits and pieces.

Corn Island sign erected by a regional bilingual-intercultural education project, with a message in English, Spanish, and Miskitu. Photo by author.

As I talked to people I met on the island, I figured out they were Miskitu kids, and when I went back to New York I became obsessed with learning more about Miskitu language, history, culture, and politics. The communicative practices of Miskitu kids on Corn Island brought the issues of cross-cultural interaction that I had been studying into much sharper focus, and I felt compelled to change research topics.

Though it is a small, out-of-the-way place, Corn Island sheds light on much more widespread processes of cultural creativity shaped by colonial and neocolonial histories. Its location in a border zone between the Caribbean and Central America, its history as a site of cross-cultural interaction and mixture, and its contemporary condition as a dynamic community of diverse migrants and founding Creole families all make Corn Island a special place for examining Indigenous peoples’ language use, cultural reproduction, and change.

How do children at play provide insight into the language acquisition process?

In linguistic anthropology, we think of language acquisition as part of a broader process of language socialization, which Bambi Schieffelin and Elinor Ochs initially theorized as socialization (learning) to use language, and socialization through language. From this perspective, children’s language entails a much broader acquisition of practices that are fundamental to cultural reproduction and change.

The paradigm of language socialization always included a range of actors not limited to children, and the recognition that socialization is an ongoing process across the lifespan. However, many of the early studies focused more on adult-child interaction than on children’s peer interaction. When we focus on peer interaction, we are able to see some similarities with child-adult interaction. For example, children are very adept at recognizing cultural norms, making them explicit, and enforcing them in peer play. Other times, in contrast to adults, children’s play reveals much more spontaneity, improvisation, and creativity in the forms and meanings of their communication.

This openness and capacity for transformation make children’s play a key site for tracking processes of cultural change. Taking a broad view of children’s play also enables us to expand beyond language use and to consider music and other aesthetic practices as equally important media for communication and socialization.

When describing your research methods, you mentioned having an older sibling or parent help to decipher and contextualize a younger child’s language. Can you expand on this process?

In language socialization studies, researchers typically transcribe recordings of naturally occurring discourse in collaboration with native speakers. Even when the researcher is a native speaker, this methodology is useful for incorporating other viewpoints of people familiar with the particular social setting, and getting multiple perspectives of “what is going on” in an interaction.  This process may be especially important for studying children’s discourse, because children can be very idiosyncratic and creative in their language use. It is also important because the meaning of an interaction can never be reduced to a literal transcription and translation of the utterances used.

Communication draws on layers of social and cultural contexts that can only be analyzed through ethnographic methods, including a great deal of observation, listening, and analysis in collaboration with people who know the setting and actors very well. In my own experience, working with my co-interpreters was essential not only for the process of transcription, translation, and interpretation; it also provided a small circle of people who deeply understood what the research was about and became some of my closest friends and intellectual companions.

How does a child’s language within the family unit or at play differ from their language used in an education setting?

Playing a marble game called koko mana. Photo by author.

The range of communicative practices that are encouraged and explicitly incorporated in educational settings is usually much more narrow than the range that children use and hear at home and in the peer group. The Miskitu-dominant Moravian school on Corn Island was exceptional in this regard because most children felt comfortable using and mixing a variety of languages in and out of the classroom, even before the school implemented a multilingual-intercultural education program. Still, educational contexts on Corn Island typically used multilingualism as a stepping stone to Spanish-dominant classes in the upper grades. At home and in the peer group, multilingualism was a much more deeply engrained practice of everyday communication that even older children continued to use after they acquired proficiency in Spanish at school.

Another key point is that in contrast to educational settings, informal play activities tend to be child-directed, revealing children’s emergent tendencies and preferences for language use (as well as other repertoires of communication). On Corn Island, as in many other places, children’s activities at home and in the neighborhood are overseen by older siblings, cousins, and other peers rather than being closely monitored by adults. Children have considerable freedom to experiment with different modes of communication in their play, but they also have tremendous influence on each other.

A good example is one of my focal groups of children on Corn Island whose cousins from a mainland Miskitu village came to live with them permanently. The new arrivals only spoke Miskitu, while the Corn Island kids spoke more Creole English and Spanish, though they also had a lot of Miskitu knowledge. The parents of the Corn Island kids had discouraged them from speaking Miskitu because they feared it would hinder their success in school. When the Miskitu-dominant cousins arrived, this peer group’s play shifted to incorporate more Miskitu, which their parents were not very happy about. Last summer when I was chatting with some of these kids (now in college in Managua), they laughed heartily when they recalled one of the family matriarchs coming out and yelling at them (in Miskitu), “If I hear you speaking Miskitu, you girls are going to get a whipping!” The irony of this bivalent message was not lost on them, as the mother seemed to be conveying “do as I say and not as I do.” Children adapt to multiple, sometimes contradictory messages in language socialization, and these particular kids ended up greatly valuing and maintaining their multilingualism.

You used recordings and transcripts to help with your research, and in later chapters, you also mention the effects that television and other technology have on language.  How do the use of recordings and other technology help or hinder language revitalization?

Let me first address recording as a research methodology. Recordings are very useful tools to document how people actually use language in everyday practices. However, researchers need to be cognizant of culturally appropriate ways of making and using recordings, and always uphold ethical obligations to the people with whom they work. Ethnomusicologists and anthropologists have a troubled history in this regard, since early research was not always carried out with informed consent of those being studied, and communities often did not maintain control over how the recordings were used. There is no justification for this history, aside from recognizing the limits of our ethical standards at any given moment. But paradoxically, many of the recordings produced under unethical circumstances have become a resource for cultural and linguistic revitalization in recent years, as younger generations use them to learn forgotten practices of their communities.

Contemporary researchers, at least those affiliated with universities, must follow much stricter guidelines for obtaining consent to make and use recordings. Those who work with Indigenous communities often collaborate with them to develop research topics and methodologies that are desired and valued by the community itself. The Miskitu people with whom I worked were open to recordings of various kinds, but I did make a difficult decision to use only audio recording rather than audiovisual recording. Recent language socialization studies have shown the special value of videorecording for capturing a rich interactive context that includes gesture and bodily stance. However, videorecording was not feasible in the public spaces on Corn Island in which children played, in a volatile social context where crime and random (or not so random) violence were a daily reality.

I used audio recording, which was much more discreet from the perspective of passers-by, along with detailed notes and photographs to document children’s play activities. All forms of documentation create a representation of a social interaction rather than reproducing the interaction itself, but recordings still help to reveal the moment-by-moment negotiation of interaction, and to ground the analysis in specific interactions rather than relying on generalizations. Understanding how people use language provides essential insights for designing and implementing effective language revitalization programs, as Barbra Meek has shown in her book in this series, We Are Our Language: An Ethnography of Language Revitalization in a Northern Athabaskan Community (University of Arizona Press, 2010).

Researchers have never had a monopoly on technology. Radio and recordings have long been a source of expressive repertoires on the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua, evident for example in the regional popularity of classic U.S. country music like George Jones and Tammy Wynette. At the time of my study, Miskitu children on Corn Island were the first generation of their families to grow up with regular television viewing, somewhat delayed because of the irregular access to electricity and the relatively recent development of a satellite cable TV system on the island.

Boys playing Nintendo for a fee, and watching for free. Photo by author.

Some observers might view increased television viewing as a threat to Native language maintenance, but I think it was actually part of a broader expansion of communicative resources that continued to include Miskitu and other regional languages (or language varieties). In chapter five of my book, I show how Miskitu kids enacted elaborate pretend play scenarios that involved characters and plots from Spanish-language TV shows, but they often voiced these characters in Miskitu, revealing a creative recombination of figures and voices.

On the mainland Atlantic Coast, community radio and television stations foreground regional languages and cultures, reclaiming technology for cultural and political imperatives at the local and regional level. In order to understand the impact of technology and media in any particular place, we must employ ethnographic methods to see what people are using in their daily lives and how they are using these forms of communication.

What changes do you see happening to Corn Island’s hybrid languages in the future? 

I think that Corn Island will continue to be a vibrant site for hybrid and transformative language use. One aspect that has changed since my research is that use of Miskitu seems to be less stigmatized in public spaces now, so that Miskitu kids at the public school are more likely to use Miskitu openly rather than hiding it. This is partly due to the ongoing changes in demographics and political representation on the island and in the region, as Miskitu identities and cultural practices have been revalorized in official spaces under regional autonomy.

This process is ambivalent, sometimes caught up in the clientelistic management of power at the national and regional level, and not always tied to improved opportunities for the poorest sectors of society.  Nevertheless, a larger argument of my book is that Miskitu kids’ creative practices of communication open up new possibilities for different kinds of political subjectivities and interventions. I end the book on an optimistic note that brings Walter Benjamin’s concept of children’s mimetic cognition into dialogue with some of the Miskitu kids’ current reflections, as young adults, about the political possibilities of their diverse communicative repertoires and the continued maintenance of their Miskitu identities (intersecting, always, with many other kinds of identities).

Amanda Minks is an assistant professor of anthropology in the University of Oklahoma Honors College. Voices of Play: Miskitu Children’s Speech and Song on the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua is now available from the University of Arizona Press.

This book is unique in how it brings together a novel ethnographic focus, ethnomusicology, and linguistic anthropology. Few ethnographies have been written about children in the anthropological literature, and even fewer have focused on children’s interactions. Voices of Play provides a detailed look at the everyday exchanges and the play performances of children and adolescents of Miskitu descent who are marginalized in various ways within the Nicaraguan nation-state.

May 8th, 2013 - Posted by Natasha Varner

[This article is crossposted on the UNC Press blog.]

In Native and National in Brazil: Indigeneity after Independence,Tracy Devine Guzmán examines the contested process of constructing Indianness from Brazil’s independence to the present. Engaging issues ranging from citizenship and national security to the revolutionary potential of art and sustainable development, Devine Guzmán argues that the tensions between popular renderings of Indianness and lived Indigenous experiences are critical to the unfolding of Brazilian nationalism, on the one hand, and the growth of a Brazilian Indigenous movement, on the other. In the following excerpt from the epilogue, she discusses contemporary Indigenous assertions of sovereignty and self-representation, especially in the context of opposition to the controversial Belo Monte hydroelectric dam.  

Although much work remains to educate nonindigenous peoples about Brazil’s indigenous past, present, and future, and to offset the ever-popular lore of benevolent colonialism, racial democracy, and Indian grandmothers “caught with lassos,”[1] many indigenous scholars and teachers choose to prioritize first the educational needs of their own communities. This impetus has inspired national-level conferences aimed at improving the content and delivery of indigenous education and the intensified pro- duction of pedagogical materials in Native languages authored by or in collaboration with Native speakers of those languages.[2] Likewise, university-level programs offering specialized training in bilingual and intercultural pedagogies for indigenous teachers exist in at least nine states, and research centers for the study of indigenous languages, cultures, histories, and philosophies are expanding beyond the domain of state-backed indigenist institutions like FUNAI and the Museu do Índio.[3] Vital changes are taking place, for example, among Terena communities in Mato Grosso do Sul, where instruction in the Terena language is offered to Terena children and adolescents, as well as to Terena adults who may have never had an opportunity to read or write in their Native tongue.[4]

Notwithstanding such positive initiatives, the broader configuration of political, social, economic, and cultural power in which they take place reveals a steep road ahead. As a result of the intensified and institutionalized disempowerment of indigenous peoples and interests during the first decade of the twenty-first century, which culminates in state sponsorship of Belo Monte, it seems unlikely that a substantial number of nonindigenous politicians or citizens will in the near future embrace or even begin to consider the ideas and projects of indigenous intellectuals and communities seriously enough to assess their practical and theoretical implications for the future of national development policy, educational reform, environmental protection, governance, or international relations.

Founder of the Movimento Indígenas em Ação (MIA), Ysani Kalapalo (fourth from the left) leads a demonstration against the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam in downtown São Paulo, 20 August 2011. Also pictured (from left to right): Yamuni Barbosa, Samantha Aweti Kalapalo, Mariana Aweti Kalapalo, India Tikuna Weena Miguel, Guayra Wassu, I. Wassu, and Tayla Kalapalo. Photo by the author; reproduced with the permission of Ysani Kalapalo.

Native Brazilians’ efforts to counter the privatization of the indigenist bureaucracy and the deleterious effects of contemporary indigenist policy through intensified demands for land demarcation, ethnodevelopment, intercultural education, and other empowering social programs, as well as through heightened cultural activism and political participation at all levels of government indicate, indeed, that the struggle for indigenous self-representation has in some ways just begun. Nonetheless, the viral proliferation of indigenous political commentary and cultural production via the Internet in the form of journalism, fiction, film, video, blogging, and election campaigning (for example) continues to revolutionize the relationship between Native peoples and visual representation, on the one hand, and Native peoples and the written word, on the other. [….]

Rethinking how the representation of indigenous needs and interests works in local, national, and international politics, and reconfiguring the problematic relationship between indigeneity and dominant sovereignty, means more than Native peoples’ being inserted, or even inserting themselves, into existing political structures and institutions—however crucial and challenging that feat continues to be. At the very least, it must also mean rethinking sovereignty in collaboration with indigenous peoples and not for them, while taking into account their interests, values, renderings of the past, and policy proposals with regard to development, education, social welfare, environmental protection, land tenure, governance, and freedom.

As Marcos Terena suggested more than two decades ago, reforming politics and rethinking the political to the collective benefit of Native peoples means building and strengthening interindigenous connections and collaboration across national borders, as well as nationally, while at the same time restructuring the colonialist configurations of power that have shaped relations between Native and non-Native peoples since the Conquest. Seeking to explain his own political trajectory in the context of the Brazilian indigenous movement, he conceded: “After seeing so many of our brothers decimated over the course of four centuries, we discovered that we could not walk alone. It [was] necessary to discover allies for our cause and for the survival of our . . . peoples among the [then] 140 million [nonindigenous] members of Brazilian society.” [5]

The population numbers have changed dramatically over the past two decades, but the urgency of forming such alliances across the dividing lines between indigenous and nonindigenous peoples, and among individuals and groups working within the parameters of other socially and historically formed notions of ethnicity, “race,” class, and geography (for example), most certainly has not. Shared and increasing interest among indigenous and nonindigenous Brazilians in preventing the construction of the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam—because of the social and economic ills it will engender, the environmental destruction it will wreak, and the human rights it will violate—is surely the most significant example of our day. National and transnational opposition to the initiative articulates these issues as ultimately inseparable from one another, thus resonating with the traditional indigenous belief in the inexorable interconnectedness of all human experience, and an increasingly widespread question- ing of dominant notions of progress.[6] “The hurt of one is the hurt of all,” Phil Lane Jr. has long argued, “and the honor of one is the honor of all. . . . Unless justice animates all that we do in human and community work, what we are doing is not development.”[7]

“We are Xingu.” Demonstration against the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam in downtown São Paulo, 20 August 2011. Photo by the author.

Reflecting on his many years of political activism and the culmination of that experience in his candidacy for public office, Marcos Terena expressed optimism about Native participation in the selection of Brazil’s national self-government despite the growing improbability of success for his own bid: “An indigenous candidacy is an odd human feat, but one that manifests democracy—democracy that inspires us to throw off the discrimination that has until now placed us at the margins of the decisions that affect us, and that every four years gives us hope for a voice in a representative body like the National Congress.”[8] That dozens of Native candidates chosen by mainstream political parties to defend mainstream political platforms sought in nationwide elections to represent indigenous interests in concert with the interests of their nonindigenous constituencies destabilizes the colonialist foundations of twentieth-century indigenism. The fact that they continue to work toward this goal in the wake of defeat, and the fact that at least part of the coalition against Belo Monte has come to articulate its opposition in resonance with Native conceptions of sovereignty, give us cautious hope that despite—and perhaps also, because of—the great challenges that together we face, a new political order may be on the horizon.


1. On the circulation of ideas about Native peoples in nonindigenous classrooms and curricula, see A. Lopes da Silva and Grupioni, A temática indígena.

2. On such initiatives across Brazil, see Nincao, “Kóho Yoko Hovôvo”; “Primeiro Encontro Nacional de Educação Indígena”; Professores de Pataxó, Uma história; and Troncarelli, Kaiabi, and Instituto Socioambiental, Brasil e África.

3. As of late 2011, such programs are in place at the Universidade Federal de Roraima (UFRR); Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais (UFMG); Universidade Federal do Amazonas (UFAM); Universidade Federal do Tocantins (UFT); Universidade Federal de Campina Grande (UFCG); Universidade Federal de Bahia (UFBA); Universidade Estadual do Mato Grosso (UNEMAT); Universidade Estadual de Londrina (UEL); Universidade Estadual do Amazonas (UEA); Universidade Estadual da Bahia (UNEB); Universidade Estadual do Mato Grosso do Sul (UEMS); and Universidade Estadual do Oeste do Paraná (UNIOESTE). See Rede, “Conheça a REDE.”

4. Recent initiatives also exist to offer classes in indigenous languages to nonindigenous students, teachers, and researchers (Paulo Baltazar, personal communication; “Base de Estudos Indígenas”).

5. Terena, “Vôo do índio.”

6. And yet the problem of popular perception and media representation remains. The day following the 20 August 2011 manifestation against Belo Monte in São Paulo, the print version of the Folha de São Paulo included not a word about the protest. Instead, it highlighted a new Globo TV reality show called Expedição Xingu, in which eight (nonindigenous) university students would “leave the comforts of the city” and head to the forest, suffering various hardships of the 1950s and otherwise following in the footsteps of the Villas-Bôas brothers. Their adventure “even included participating in indigenous celebrations and fighting with them [sic].” See Castro Torres, “jovens refazem expedição.”

7. Lane, “Indigenous Guiding Principles.”

8. Terena, “Uma candidatura indígena.”

Tracy Devine Guzmán is associate professor of Latin American studies, Portuguese, and Spanish at the University of Miami.

From NATIVE AND NATIONAL IN BRAZIL: INDIGENEITY AFTER INDEPENDENCE by Tracy Devine Guzmán. Copyright © 2013 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher.

“Lucid, intelligent, and thoroughly researched, this book tracks 150 years of public policy and official imaginings around Indigenous peoples in Brazil and the continuing contestatory work of Indigenous leaders and thinkers. Native and National in Brazil offers students of global indigeneity indispensable access to the Brazilian scenario, whose unfolding will shape the future of Indigenous peoples worldwide.”
–Mary Louise Pratt, New York University

May 1st, 2013 - Posted by Natasha Varner

Shona Jackson is the author of Creole Indigeneity: Between Myth and Nation in the Caribbean, an investigation of how descendants of colonial Guyana, collectively called Creoles, have remade themselves as Guyana’s new natives, displacing Indigenous peoples in the Caribbean through an extension of colonial attitudes and policies. Here, Jackson discusses her personal connections to her research.

This book springs from two disavowals and a sense of deep longing. The first disavowal occurred growing up in Guyana where I was born. Many Guyanese, collectively Creoles, are mixed but we are taught to assert our black or Indian (descended) identity to the exclusion of its composite parts—so I was raised to see my self as black despite the obvious Indian and Amerindian (Native) ancestry in our family.

The second disavowal occurred after I left Guyana at the age of seven. In my first diaspora home, the U.S. Virgin Islands, identity was articulated in terms of its exclusion and difference from other Caribbean identities, especially those not yoked to U.S. political economy. When I arrived in the continental U.S. in 1989, I realized that although Guyana had taught me to see myself as black, the term African American did not include this child of the Americas.

The author at age two in Guyana.

Black identity in the U.S. was asserted in terms of an African past and not in terms of its cultural multiplicity and connectedness, for example, to Caribbean and Native cultures. Additionally, blackness in the United States has been constructed in large part against whiteness, while in the contemporary Caribbean it was understood in terms of its difference from later arrivants and links to other black cultures. By age 15 I had lived on two continents and two islands and was at home neither in the Caribbean diaspora nor in the black diaspora. So few people even knew about Guyana, much less that it is a mainland country included in the Caribbean/West Indies because of its culture and history, which significantly repeats but substantially differs from those more well-known archipelagic ones such as Jamaica. And those who knew enough not to mishear “Ghana” knew nothing more than Jim Jones, El Dorado, and, the most confidently discharged response from a professor at George Mason (where I was an adjunct): “Yes, there is a species of frogs there that they lick.” I am afraid of frogs.

Multiethnic, multi-religious, creative, brilliant, and impoverished, where the riot of nature threatens every slab of concrete laid down against it, the Guyana I knew seemed in the United States subject to an unrelenting fiction and one that could not grant me true belonging anywhere in the world. These disavowals and fictions of identity led me to question how we as blacks, primarily in the Caribbean, come to belong: how we in other words become Indigenous and why and how certain exclusions or limits become essential to this process. It led to a rethinking of indigeneity not from the perspective of Native status, but from that of the techniques of settler power and how they inform the modes of belonging of those involuntarily brought to the new world, specifically enslaved and indentured peoples.

“Creole indigeneity” is the term I use to capture these modes of belonging of subalterns that refashion settler power. In the book, I demonstrate how this occurs across political, historical, and literary narrative to produce a new social structure and “grammar” of being that can support and reinscribe the post-contact grammars of subaltern settlers whose mode of becoming rests now not on the time of prior origin but on the time of their labor, deeply embedded within modernity. Creole Indigeneity rethinks Enlightenment humanism, as it is adapted by subalterns for their own ontological and political sovereignty. It also achieves a rethinking of the project of postcolonial nationalism in the Caribbean as a nativizing project to institute that new “man,” or in the words of the late Guyanese president Forbes Burnham the “real man,” of the postcolonial humanist project and its inscription of labor as the new time of belonging for non-Indigenous arrivants. In this dual critique, the book looks at how blacks and Indians reproduce or rewrite the labor of the formerly enslaved and indentured and utilize it as a legitimating narrative for nation building, belonging, and social being. The book therefore includes two chapters on political discourse that center on Forbes Burnham and Cheddi Jagan. It also engages the Calibanesque literary tradition, which is the site of constant articulation of this belonging in and through labor. It is in this tradition that the grammar of native being for blacks and Indians is articulated and the subaltern subject becomes the sovereign subject within western modernity. Not only have we reached the productive limit of the Caliban tradition which reproduces the conditions for bourgeois humanism—conquest, Native displacement, and modern labor—but it leads to a misreading of Indigenous writing because it is always viewed through the epistemological strategies of labor.

The most difficult part of this work has been confronting the way in which the reworking of indigeneity for Creole being has and continues to require the subordination and displacement of indigenous peoples in the Caribbean. In Guyanese society and politics, they are marginalized by every successive administration. Moreover, while they did not provide labor for the Caribbean plantation to the extent of blacks and Indians, they are brought into the regime of labor of our discourse and forced to continue to work for Creole being, where they serve as the limit of Creole humanity. The displacement of the region’s aboriginal peoples both in cultural discourse and in political economy has become essential for Creole being and sovereignty.

Author Shona Jackson

Shona Jackson is author of Creole Indigeneity: Between Myth and Nation in the Caribbean and associate professor of English at Texas A&M University.

“Shona Jackson’s Creole Indigeneity breaks open a long-standing conundrum on the relationship between diasporan blacks and the modes of indigeneity with which they are both intersected with and/or located as oppositional to by dominant discourses in the West. Simply put, it is must-reading for all scholars of blackness and the African Diaspora because she does indeed ‘illuminate those interwoven histories beneath the surface’ that inform our broad and deeply complex ancestries.”

—Michelle M. Wright, Northwestern University

This guest post also appears on the University of Minnesota Press blog.

April 24th, 2013 - Posted by Natasha Varner

A view from Saint Vincent island, where author Beth Rose Middleton traveled to participate in the conference, “The Garifuna: Land, Reparation, and Human Rights.”

Since the 2011 publication of Trust in the Land: New Directions in Tribal Conservation, land trusts in the United States have increasingly come together to discuss ways to support one another and to support the growth of Native land conservation. Today, Beth Rose Middleton, author of Trust in the Land, provides an update on some of the latest developments in tribal conservation and land trusts. Middleton also details a new collaboration she’s fostering with the Garifuna people of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines in an effort to increase the global scope of her work to promote social justice, Indigenous rights, and thoughtful stewardship of land and cultural heritage.

The Indigenous conservation initiatives discussed in Trust in the Land are expanding in exciting new ways, both domestically and internationally. The book, which was developed in dialogue with partnering Indigenous organizations and agency staff, is contributing to a strong movement of Indigenous private land conservation, stewardship, and re-acquisition in the United States and beyond.

Within the United States, the number of Native land trusts has continued to grow. While two Native land trusts (the InterTribal Sinkyone Wilderness Council and the Native American Land Conservancy) are profiled in full in Trust in the Land, there are now at least seven full-fledged Native land trusts in the United States and more are forming. To share the work of these inspiring Native land trusts, I have organized and participated in several collaborative presentations with leaders of groups profiled in the book (to the Land Trust Alliance, the California Indian Conference, and the Environmental Protection Agency Region 9 Regional Tribal Operations Committee), and given presentations on the book to tribes upon their request. Many seem to be using both the “how-to” chapter by Dr. Kurt Russo (Chapter Six: “The Art and Science of Creating a Native American Land Conservancy”) and the 12 chapters of inspiring examples of applications of the model. Students have also been using the books in university classes, and examining the more theoretical chapters on environmental justice and private conservation, in addition to the applied examples. It is a good feeling to get to collaborate with the Native land trust leaders and with educators in Native studies, environmental studies, and other programs, and to see this work being applied to achieve Native land conservation and land restitution.

Native land trusts in the United States have begun to come together to discuss ways to support one another and to support the growth of Native land conservation using these particular private conservation tools. Trust in the Land has been able to support this movement, and it has been my honor to provide volunteer support to an emerging group of Native land trusts. We have been discussing the possibility of a future text on Native land trusts specifically, so there may be a “sequel” to Trust in the Land.

Outside of the United States, the Garifuna people of the greater Caribbean and Central America have expressed interest in the private Indigenous conservation models profiled in Trust in the Land. I have begun a dialogue/collaboration with them regarding applying private conservation tools in their context. The rest of the blog will focus on this emerging collaboration.

In general, Indigenous peoples internationally are applying diverse legal and political strategies to protect cultural and natural heritage. This often includes negotiation with surrounding nation states to develop programs and priorities to protect Indigenous homelands, or with private corporate and NGO actors. With limited success, Indigenous peoples have been able to draw upon supportive language in international frameworks, such as the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the United Nations Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Culture and Natural Heritage.

Trust in the Land is focused on American Indian tribes’ use of private conservation tools such as conservation easements and land trusts to protect their homelands. As Sally Fairfax et al. remind us in Buying Nature (MIT Press 2005), these tools for citizen-initiated conservation have been around since the foundation of the US and are a permutation of English common law. They are a unique public-private hybrid, enabled by public laws and often public monies, yet initiated and funded by private organizations and their members. These private conservation mechanisms provide important and useful tools for tribes, Native non-profits, and Native community groups looking to re-acquire, re-gain access to, or re-gain rights to steward their homelands.

In May 2011, just a few months after Trust in the Land was released, I had the opportunity to attend a conference at York University in Toronto, Ontario, entitled “Our Legacy: Indigenous-African Relations Across the Americas.” After giving my paper, I mentioned that Trust in the Land had just come out, and passed a copy around to the group.

There was a strong presence at the conference of Garifuna people from Belize, Honduras, Saint Vincent, and the Grenadines. The Garifuna are a distinct ethnic group in the Caribbean that are descended from Indigenous Africans brought to the Americas by slave traders, and Caribs, who are Indigenous to the Caribbean. Africans and “Yellow Caribs” intermarried and formed distinct communities, which became known as Garifuna. Garifuna people speak their own language (Garinagu) and have a unique culture. In 2001, the United Nations Education and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated the Garifuna Culture a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Cultural Heritage.

The Garifuna homeland is Saint Vincent in the eastern Caribbean. Following war with the English and the French, remaining Garifuna were captured in October of 1796 and incarcerated on a small, rocky island in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines called Balliceaux. While many perished on Balliceaux, the survivors were shipped across the Caribbean in February 1797 to the island of Roatan off of the cost of Honduras. The descendants of present-day Garifuna communities in Belize, Honduras, and Nicaragua trace their heritage to this forced relocation from Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

A group of Garifuna who remain in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines have formed the International Garifuna Heritage Foundation (IGHF). Ms. Browne intimated to me the Garifuna desire to protect the Island of Balliceaux, which is in private ownership and in danger of sale and development. The Garifuna people are concerned about disregard for this site of their struggle and survival; a landscape of cultural patrimony. As such, they are interested in learning about the conservation tools that other Indigenous peoples are using to protect sites of trauma and survival and cultural renaissance.

A cultural presentation by young Garifuna women at the October 2012 conference, “The Garifuna: Land, Reparation, and Human Rights.”

The IGHF had an international conference in February 2012, to which I submitted a paper entitled “Opportunities for Using Conservation Easements/ Land Trusts to Protect the Island of Balliceaux.” The paper began an exploration of how to apply conservation easements and land trusts (a potential Garifuna Land Trust) in the context of SVG and broader Caribbean environmental and cultural resource protection law. This investigation is ongoing, in dialogue with Garifuna partners. I am currently undertaking a literature review of environmental and cultural legal tools in the Caribbean and examining the ways in which the activities of conservation and cultural NGOs are enabled in the Caribbean. A group of presenters from the 2012 IGHF conference are preparing papers for a special issue that we hope will be published in Caribbean Quarterly.

I am very excited about this international application of the work begun in Trust in the Land. As my father and all of my paternal relations are from Belize, Honduras, and Jamaica, the work begun in Trust in the Land has helped to re-connect me to one (as a mixed-race person, I have multiple sites of origin) of my homelands in the Caribbean. I hope that this work, which is deeply important to me both personally and in broader terms of social justice, Indigenous rights, and thoughtful stewardship of land and cultural heritage, will be of use to Indigenous peoples worldwide.

As I noted in my first blog entry, I believe that Indigenous applications of private conservation tools—conservation easements and land trust structures—is nothing short of revolutionary. We are taking a legal instrument that was and can still be used in a colonial fashion—that is, asserting control over Native lands without Native consent—and re-fashioning it into a tool that Native entities can use to assert sovereignty and gain ownership of, or at least a stake in, the management of traditional lands.

Beth Rose Middleton has published articles in Economic Development Quarterly, the Journal of Political Ecology, Ethnohistory, Environmental Management, Smoke Signals, and News from Native California. She is an assistant professor at the University of California, Davis in the Department of Native American Studies, where she has developed courses on Native public health, Native environmental policy, and federal Indian law.

Middleton illuminates a new and exciting avenue for advancing tribal sovereignty and environmental justice in Indian country.


Beth Middleton’s Trust in the Land is a well-researched, well-written book which offers an important analysis of private conservation tools as a way for Indigenous peoples to reacquire ownership of their traditional lands and, perhaps more importantly, re-establish a relationship with these lands by reasserting their rights of stewardship as the land’s original inhabitants.


April 17th, 2013 - Posted by Natasha Varner

Historians gathered in San Francisco last week to attend the 2013 annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians. The meeting, which took the theme “Entangled Histories: Connections, Crossings, and Constraints in U.S. History,” featured several panels that examined historical trends and future directions in the field of U.S. history.

Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert with “The Indian School on Magnolia Avenue: Voices and Images from Sherman Institute,” the book he co-edited along with Clifford E. Trafzer and Lorene Sisquoc.

A panel organized by Donald Fixico on American Indian history included First Peoples authors Rose Stremlau (Sustaining the Cherokee Family, UNC Press 2011) and Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert (The Indian School on Magnolia Avenue, OSU Press 2012). In his comments on the panel, Sakiestewa Gilbert underscored the importance of engaging Indigenous scholarship and theory when researching and writing about Native communities:

“Some scholars need to do a better job consulting the work of Native historians and other thinkers when we research and publish on their Indigenous communities. When we write about the Choctaw or Kiowa, we ought to honor their people by citing and listening to their scholars and other writers. I’m thinking here of Choctaw historian Jacki Thompson Rand, Choctaw writer LeAnne Howe, and Kiowa historian Jenny Tone-Pah-Hote. And when we write about the Diné, we ought to ask ourselves how the scholarship of Diné historians Jennifer Nez Denetdale, Lloyd Lee, and many others, might enlighten our understanding of their people.”

Sakiestewa Gilbert discussed a recent experience in which the peer reviewer of an article he submitted to a major scholarly journal mistook his use of a Hopi theoretical framework for a lack of theory. That experience and other observations of historiographical trends led him to argue that, “as Native historians, we need to continue asserting and introducing Indigenous frameworks of understanding in ‘mainstream’ academic history journals with the hope of demonstrating that there are ways of thinking about Native history that go beyond the theories and models so commonly used and accepted by western historians.”

A Sunday morning panel brought together some of the founding members of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association (NAISA), an organization established in order to create a space for the Indigenous studies scholarship that has been chronically marginalized in other disciplines. The panel–consisting of Robert Warrior, K. Tsianina Lomawaima, Jean O’Brien, and Phil Deloria serving as chair–discussed the development of the Association from the first planning conference call among the founding members to, over the course of just a few years, a vibrant organization with an international membership and a forthcoming academic journal.

Robert Warrior commented on some of the trends he’d seen emerge at NAISA conferences over the course of the past few years. When the conference first met in Oklahoma in 2007, he said, there were many panels organized around a specific tribe or region but that there were now more panels comprised of scholars doing work on some central theme or idea in various places across the globe. Warrior cited queer Indigenous studies as an example of an intellectual trend that had developed in panels and conversations at NAISA meetings and that continues to gain traction as a critical subdiscipline. Read more about the Association’s history and founding principles here.

Amy Lonetree chats with colleagues at a launch event for her book, “Decolonizing Museums: Representing Native America in National and Tribal Museums.”

Together, the American Indian history and the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association panels demonstrated the remarkable growth of Indigenous studies scholarship over the past decade. They also underscored the fact that, although Indigenous studies now has its own thriving academic community, there is still work to be done when it comes to decolonizing western intellectual paradigms and the institutions that support them.

While both panels were inclusive of Native and non-Native scholars alike, Sakiestewa Gilbert ended his talk with a powerful reminder that regardless of the ethnicity of the researcher, Indigenous voices should be centered in scholarship on Indigenous peoples:

“We have a message to tell about our history and cultures. And we have a responsibility to tell these histories in ways that are meaningful and useful to our people. When we write about our communities, our voices matter. They have always mattered.”

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