Native Hubs: Culture, Community, and Belonging in Silicon Valley and Beyond

Native Hubs: Culture, Community, and Belonging in Silicon Valley and Beyond

by Renya K. Ramirez

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Most Native Americans in the United States live in cities, where many find themselves caught in a bind, neither afforded the full rights granted U.S. citizens nor allowed full access to the tribal programs and resources—particularly health care services—provided to Native Americans living on reservations. A scholar and a member of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska, Renya K. Ramirez investigates how urban Native Americans negotiate what she argues is, in effect, a transnational existence. Through an ethnographic account of the Native American community in California’s Silicon Valley and beyond, Ramirez explores the ways that urban Indians have pressed their tribes, local institutions, and the federal government to expand conventional notions of citizenship.

Ramirez’s ethnography revolves around the Paiute American activist Laverne Roberts’s notion of the “hub,” a space that allows for the creation of a sense of belonging away from a geographic center. Ramirez describes “hub-making” activities in Silicon Valley, including sweat lodge ceremonies, powwows, and American Indian Alliance meetings, gatherings at which urban Indians reinforce bonds of social belonging and forge intertribal alliances. She examines the struggle of the Muwekma Ohlone, a tribe aboriginal to the San Francisco Bay area, to maintain a sense of community without a land base and to be recognized as a tribe by the federal government. She considers the crucial role of Native women within urban indigenous communities; a 2004 meeting in which Native Americans from Mexico and the United States discussed cross-border indigenous rights activism; and the ways that young Native Americans in Silicon Valley experience race and ethnicity, especially in relation to the area’s large Chicano community. A unique and important exploration of diaspora, transnationalism, identity, belonging, and community, Native Hubs is intended for scholars and activists alike.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780822389897
Publisher: Duke University Press
Publication date: 06/01/2012
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 288
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

Renya K. Ramirez is Assistant Professor of American Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Read an Excerpt

Native Hubs

Culture, Community, and Belonging in Silicon Valley and Beyond

By Renya K. Ramirez

Duke University Press

Copyright © 2007 Duke University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8223-8989-7


Disciplinary Forces and Resistance: The Silicon Valley and Beyond

This chapter presents a discussion of my ethnographic methodology as well as the historical and demographic contours of Native Americans in California in general, and Silicon Valley in particular. To facilitate a deeper understanding of my ethnographic approach, it may be useful to examine briefly the historical relationship between anthropology and Native Americans. Indeed, this relationship has been fraught and convoluted, influenced by colonization and oppression.

The Boasian school grew out of the important work of the anthropologist Franz Boas and was based on a theory of cultural relativism. This approach to anthropology worked to undermine the assumptions of unilinear cultural evolution, which was developed in the nineteenth Century and placed Western European and Anglo-American civilization at the top and all other peoples and cultures below them. Although Boas and his students argued that they were committed to showing all cultures as developed forms of social Organization, they still used underlying assumptions of cultural evolution in their studies of "primitive" cultures. Boas, for example, employed the term primitive in many of his titles, such as The Mind of Primitive Man. The book was ostensibly written to demonstrate that all cultures were equal, but nonetheless assumed an implicit distinction between the "civilized" and the "primitive."

These early anthropologists' respect for other cultures encouraged them to search for what they considered pure, unadulterated cultures as their objects of study. Boas was not interested in the social concerns of the present, but wanted to capture the knowledge contained within the quickly "vanishing" cultures of Native America. While the intentions of Boas and his students may have been essentially good, at the same time, they ignored the genocide and disregarded their own membership in the conquering group. Furthermore, the Boasian school was deeply invested in problematic notions of truth and objectivity. For example, the normalizing gaze of the anthropologist was supposed to be objective, impartial, and neutral. Naturally, the problem with this so-called objective distancing was that the anthropologists' assumed sense of innocence was often complicit with imperial domination. In contrast, the equally perceptive analysis by their objects of study was not taken seriously. Consequently, these social scientists could easily ignore protests about the imperial process that were expressed by their objects of study.

In 1969, the prominent Native studies scholar Vine Deloria Jr. first talked back to the field of anthropology in Custer Died for Your Sins. Along with other Native scholars—including Bea Medicine, Alfonso Ortiz, Jack Forbes, Robert K. Thomas, and many others—Deloria argues that anthropologists collected ethnographic material that corroborated their own notions of Native culture, often ignoring the economic, social, and political context. He further asserts that Indians should not be considered as mere objects of study; rather, Native Americans' research agendas must be taken seriously by anthropologists in order to increase Native American social and political power in society. Deloria also argues that anthropologists should study how Western paradigms marginalize Indian people, and he recommends that anthropologists assert Native perspectives in courts, educational institutions, and politicians' offices.

Like other Native anthropologists, including Bea Medicine, Jack Forbes, and many others, I critique Eurocentric knowledge frameworks and governmental policies that marginalize Indian people; in addition, I take Indian peoples' research agendas seriously. Indeed, I do not consider Indian people as mere objects of study, but place them in the role of social analysts, bringing their intellectual knowledge into the academy. Moreover, I privilege the perspectives and analysis of Native women who were not only marginalized in urban Indian studies, but also within the discipline of anthropology.

The feminist scholar Trinh T. Minh-ha investigates why Native women have been ignored in anthropological texts. She describes colonial anthropology as a racialized and gendered undertaking, which was historically carried out by white, male anthropologists who ignored Native women and have removed them from the dialogue. She writes:

It seems clear that the favorite object of anthropological study is not just any man but a specific kind of man: the Primitive, now elevated to the rank of the full yet needy man, the Native. Today, anthropology is said to be "conducted in two ways: in the pure State and in the diluted State." ... The "conversation of man with man" is, therefore, mainly a conversation of "us" with "us" about "them," of the white man with the white man about the primitive-native man. The specificity of these three "man" grammatically leads to "men": a logic reinforced by the modern anthropologist who, while aiming at the generic "man" like all his colleagues, implies elsewhere that in this context, man's mentality should be read as men's mentalities.

In the process of focusing on Native American men, many Indian women have been overlooked in anthropology. Vine Deloria's aunt, Ella Deloria, for example, worked with Franz Boas and collected ethnographic Information for him. In 1944, she wrote Speaking of Indians. Unlike her nephew, Ella Deloria was ignored in anthropology and her book Waterlily was not published until after her death. Clearly, she had ventured beyond her "suitable" role as the silent Indian woman. As an Indian woman anthropologist, she also disputed the classic norms of anthropology, which are based on "fieldwork" in a foreign location where there is a presumed distinction between "Native" and "anthropologist." But what happens when the ethnographer's social location is neither "inside" nor "outside" of a not-so-dissimilar reality? What happens when a Native is the ethnographer?

For Ella Deloria and other Native ethnographers like myself, our "insider" Status ultimately can hinder our assertions of ethnographic "authority." The historian of anthropology James Clifford, for example, discusses fieldwork as a method that enables its practitioners to experience at both an intellectual and a physical level the process of translation, which includes language learning, close involvement, and often a feeling derangement of cultural and personal expectations. Thus, fieldworkers usually gain their authority to speak about foreign "others" through a combination of theoretical training, lived experience in the field, and distance from the field of investigation. Clifford's process of "translation" assumes cultural difference between the ethnographer and his "Native." For Clifford, this intense engagement and need for translation gives ethnographic practice its notable Status.

As an Indian ethnographer, Ella Deloria disputed the classic norms of Boasian fieldwork practice by refusing to distinguish herself from her object of study to maintain "objectivity." Her distinctive ethnographic approach repeatedly demonstrated her interconnectedness to tribal communities. In addition, she decided not to use an "authoritative" voice in her ethnographic writing, and let her subjects emerge and declare authorship of their own ethnographic information.

Moreover, Ella Deloria challenged the classic norms of ethnographic practice by refusing to turn the polyvocal experience of fieldwork into an authoritative account of an entire people. Clifford asserts that the ethnographic writer in the classic period usually reduced the polyphonic and dialogic realities of fieldwork to a coherent and simplified narrative of a people. A holistic description replaced individual interlocutors and the dialogic experience of fieldwork. Clifford writes: "It is important though to notice what has dropped out of sight. The research process is separated from the texts it generates and from the fictive world they are made to call up. The actuality of discursive situations and individual interlocutors is filtered out. But informants—along with field notes—are crucial intermediaries, typically excluded from authoritative ethnographies. The dialogical, situational aspects of ethnographic interpretation tend to be banished from the final representational text." In contrast, Ella Deloria challenges these classic notions of ethnographic practice. In The Dakota Way of Life, she uses many informants and identifies them by name. By placing herself at the center of the ethnographic text along with her informants, Deloria transfers ethnographic authority away from anthropologists to the Dakota people. She also shares her ethnographic authority with her informants, and gives them a chance to interpret their own reality.

Because I am a Native woman ethnographer, I follow in the footsteps of Ella Deloria, Bea Medicine, and many others. Like them, I could be ignored because of my Status as a Native woman who chose to engage in fieldwork at "home" rather than with "exotic others" in a distant location. Unlike Deloria and Medicine, both Native Americans who lived on their reservations, I am a person of mixed blood and was raised in an urban setting. As I have already mentioned, my father, who was of English background, was the son of a farmer, traveler, and adventurer in New York State. Through my father's experiences traveling with his father as a child, he met many Native Americans. Consequently, he wanted to work with them. When he was an adult, he decided to visit John Collier, a Bureau of Indian Affairs commissioner, to ask him for a job. During my father's visit, Collier told him about Henry Roe Cloud, a Winnebago, who was assisting Collier with the Indian Reorganization Act that went on to end the boarding school system, set up tribal governments, and support cultural pluralism rather than assimilation. Collier also mentioned to my father that Cloud's daughters—of a similar age to my father, who was then in his twenties—were attending private universities on the East Coast. Wanting to find out more about Henry Roe Cloud, my father decided to visit the second eldest Cloud daughter at Vassar College. That young woman, Anne Woesha Cloud, would later become his wife, my mother. In the end, my father did not get the job with Collier, but my parents fell in love and got married. Together they had five children— Woesha, Mary, Trynka (my sister, who is now deceased), Robert, and me. For much of my childhood in the sixties and early seventies, my family lived in Palo Alto, California. Our home was just a few miles from Hewlett-Packard, an important Computer Company. I felt connected not only to the burgeoning technology boom of Silicon Valley, but to the world of the reservation. Every summer, my mother took me to visit my reservation in Nebraska. During these annual trips, I learned about my tribal family history, danced at powwows, and visited my Winnebago relatives. Naturally, all of this personal history has influenced my decision to focus my research on urban Indians' lives as part of the Native American diaspora, rather than focusing on tribally based reservation life. In addition, because of my own mixed identity I chose to focus on urban Indians' mixed identity experiences.

Beyond my personal history, I have also, of course, been influenced by the scholarship and ethnographic work of anthropologists in the great tradition of the field. As is true of probably all scholars, and particularly those of us who hail from outside the world of white male academic tradition, I have had a simultaneous urge to push beyond some of the past academic scholarship.

Approaching the ethnographic work of Alfred Kroeber offers one clear example of the ways I find myself interacting with the existing literature, although there are certainly many others as well. Influenced by static assumptions of culture, Kroeber called the Muwekma Ohlones "extinct." His statement underscores the complicated relationship between anthropologists and Native Americans. I heard the Ohlones discuss their frustration and anger at Kroeber, because of Kroeber's Statement. These Ohlones argue that public, city, and federal agencies, as well as other Native Americans, are still influenced by his "extinct" proclamation. That influence makes it difficult for the Ohlones to become federally acknowledged, even though Kroeber retracted his determination during the 1950s land claim hearings. Other Native Americans, in contrast, assert that Kroeber did important work, because he documented their culture, and saved songs and other valuable information for their descendants. Kroeber assembled an enormous amount of information from all parts of California. His hard work must be recognized—he left behind a huge record of Native California's history and culture—but the legacy is not without some complications, as we can see.

While the Ohlones have expressed their anger at Kroeber, at the same time they are thankful for the fieldwork of the linguist and ethnographer John R Harrington, who closely documented their lifeways during the early part of the twentieth Century. Indeed, Harrington's work has assisted the Ohlones' struggle to become federally acknowledged. They are also appreciative of the extensive work of the anthropologists Alan Leventhal and Les Field. Their collaborative ethnographic approach provides a model for other anthropologists, since it is closely aligned with the tribe's goal to become federally acknowledged.

Unlike the method of classic anthropologists such as Kroeber, my ethnographic approaeh does not rely on static notions of culture. I do not describe rituals such as the sweat lodge ceremony in great detail. Sweat lodges are sacred rituals that are too often commodified and appropriated by New Agers; I do not want to provide these thieves of our culture with additional information to use for their own monetary gain. I also will not elaborately discuss these very personal ceremonies, because Native Americans have been stereotyped as "close to nature" and "spiritual." Instead, my ethnographic description provides a sustained critique of classic anthropological approaches; I work to challenge the naturalizing of the Western, masculine gaze by placing Native peoples' narratives and analysis in the foreground; I labor to turn the gaze back onto anthropology itself in order to undo the damage of its colonial past (see chapter 4).

I describe many mundane gathering sites, such as meetings among activists, as well as Indians' kitchens and living rooms. By focusing on these ordinary places, I attempt to disrupt the stereotype that we are either "medicine people" possessed of exotic shamanic wisdom or alcoholics stuck in Indian bars. I also concentrate on these spaces to emphasize that there are no Native American neighborhoods. Indeed, American Indian Community in the San Jose area is not bounded but is maintained during meetings, sweat lodge ceremonies, powwows, and other social gatherings. Last, these spaces, which are often mobile and transient, are important, because this is where much hub-making occurs. Pivotal conversations between Indian activists occur in meeting rooms, schools, and mobile homes, as well as in cars, spaces that have the ability to collapse geographic distance and join people across great distances.

Moreover, to highlight the intersubjective and dialogic nature of field-work, I incorporate my field notes into the text. In my narrative analysis, I take the interviewee's story as the focus of investigation. Narrative, not only the subject of literary study has influenced history anthropology and folklore, psychology, sociolinguistics, an d sociology. To put it simply storytelling is what we do with our research and what our interviewees do with us. There are many ways to study narrative. There is the life story approach, often a subject of social history and anthropology, which concentrates on autobiographical materials. A second approach is personal narrative, which examines short, topically specific stories that revolve around characters, plot, and setting. Typically interviewees tell their stories in response to questions, and the stories revolve around what the interviewee experienced. Others have elaborated this approach by including more than short episodes, as well as an assortment of experiences. A third approach revolves around long sections of talk that develop over the course of a number of interviews.

My own approach draws on the second tradition by focusing on how Native Americans make sense of their lives through narrative, especially during life transitions, such as migration and relocation. In my analysis, I examine how the interviewee organized the narrative and ask why it was told in that way. The strength of this methodology ultimately lies in its ability to highlight human agency as well as emphasize the importance of polyvocality. By using long slices of narrative, I give Indians space to analyze their own experiences. In this way, I hope to share my ethnographic authority with Indians in this study, privileging their perspective and analysis of their lives.


Excerpted from Native Hubs by Renya K. Ramirez. Copyright © 2007 Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Introduction 1

1. Disciplinary Forces and Resistance: The Silicon Valley and Beyond 27

2. Gathering Together in Hubs: Claiming Home and the Sacred in an Urban Area 58

3. Laverne Roberts’s Relocation Story: Through the Hub 84

4. Who Are the “Real Indians”? Use of Hubs by Muwekma Ohlones and Relocated Native Americans 102

5. Empowerment and Identity from the Hub: Indigenous Women from Mexico and the United States 126

6. “Without Papers”: A Transnational Hub on the Rights of Indigenous Communities 155

7. Reinvigorating Indigenous Culture in Native Hubs: Urban Indian Young People
Epilogue 171

Epilogue 199

Notes 209

Bibliography 241

Index 263

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