The Politics of “ Postindian” A uthenticity

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Unit 5:
The Politics of

Postindian” A
uthenticity
Texts:

James Clifford, “Identity in Mashpee” [D2L]

Sherman Alexie,
The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven
[please read the whole book,
but with special focus on the following
: “Because My Father Always Said He Was the Only
Indian Who Saw Jimi Hendrix Play ‘The Star

Spangled Banner’ at Woodstock”; “The Only
Traffic Signal on the Reservation Doesn’t Flash Red Anymore”; “This Is What It Means to Say
Pheonix, Arizona”; “The Lone R
anger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven”; “Junior Polatkin’s Wild
West Show”]
Assignment:
Please write a four

page paper, typed and double

s
paced.
See p
rompt at end for specific
s
.
Due Date
:
11/29
, by 3:00 pm. Please submit to D2L Dropbox.
Background:
In
1968, N. Scott Momaday’s novel
House Made of Dawn
(1969) won the Pulitzer Prize for
fiction. It was the first time a Native American had won the award. This began what critics now
refer to as the “Native American Renaissance,” a period in which a new ge
neration of writers of
Native American descent, having attained an extensive English language education outside of
Indian boarding schools, began to write their own stories about the way in which European
settlement in the U.S. affected Native Americans.
These writers include James Welch, Gerald
Vizenor, Leslie Marmon Silko, Louise Erdrich, Paula Gunn Allen, and Sherman Alexie, among
others. This work provides a very different take on Native American identity than the sort of
image provided in early Ameri
can texts, such as
The Last of the Mohicans
. But that doesn’t
mean that the stories of the Native American Renaissance simply celebrate Native American
identity. In some ways the opposite is true. As you will see, the stories offered by these authors
re
flect the difficulty of locating or maintaining an “authentic” Native American identity in
contemporary America

what Native American critic and author Gerald Vizenor has referred to
as a “cultural schizophrenia.” Indeed, in some ways Native American Renai
ssance writers
suggest that establishing an authentic Native American identity in the modern world is
impossible. In so doing they reflect what Vizenor has referred to as a “postindian” identity, one
that has lost full access to an Indian past. Instead,
Vizenor suggests, Native Americans must rely
on what he terms “survivance”: unlike straightforward “survival,” “survivance,” he suggests, is a
term that connotes the need to adapt to the modern world, and thus stop relying on an older way
of life that is n
ow vanished.
The two texts for this part of Unit 2, James Clifford’s essay “Identity in Mashpee” and Sherman
Alexie’s collection of short stories,
The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven
, both
address the tensions between an older, traditional India
n world, and a new, more fractured
modern world. In Clifford’s essay, for example, he recounts a court case in Massachusetts, in
which the Mashpee Indian tribe sues for actual “tribal” status with the US government. The
result is that the very notion of
what constitutes an “authentic” Native American tribe is
completely up for grabs. Similarly, in Alexie’s stories, the book’s main character, Victor, is
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constantly negotiating his tribal identity (linked with the reservation) over and against the more
mode
rn and more “white” or “Anglo” identity outside the reservation, especially as he
experiences it in Seattle. The result is a group of somewhat complicated narratives that don’t
necessarily provide straightforward or definitive perspectives on or answers t
o the problems they
address. Rather, they sketch out a Native American identity that is in fact uniquely “American,”
precisely because it is complicated, heterogeneous, and fraught.
Prompt for Unit 5
:
Please write a paper in which you compare and contrast the
Mashpee Indians
that we see in
Clifford’s essay
with the characters we encounter in Alexie’s st
ories

especially Victor. When
reading the Clifford essay, you should consider what he seems to be saying about Native
American authenticity. Does he seem to think that such a thing exists? Moreover, you should
ask yourself if you think the Mashpee tribe
has a legitim
ate case for tribal identity
.
Similar
questions can be asked of Victor and the other characters in Alexie

s stories. Does he have an
authentic Native American
identit
y
?
Is he fully connected to this culture? If not, what sorts of
things come between him and this identity?
(
When
analyzing
these stories,
you might co
nsider
the following: Victor’s relationship with Thomas Builds

the

Fire in “This Is What It Means to
Say Phoenix, Arizona”; Vic
tor’s relationship with his white girlfriend in “The Lone Ranger and
Tonto”; the exchange between Victor and the 7/11 clerk
in “The Lone Ranger and Tonto

).