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Performing Indigeneity: Global Histories and Contemporary Experiences

Performing Indigeneity: Global Histories and Contemporary Experiences

by Laura R. Graham, H. Glenn Penny

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This engaging collection of essays discusses the complexities of “being” indigenous in public spaces. Laura R. Graham and H. Glenn Penny bring together a set of highly recognized junior and senior scholars, including indigenous scholars, from a variety of fields to provoke critical thinking about the many ways in which individuals and social groups construct and display unique identities around the world. The case studies in Performing Indigeneity underscore the social, historical, and immediate contextual factors at play when indigenous people make decisions about when, how, why, and who can “be” indigenous in public spaces.
 Performing Indigeneity invites readers to consider how groups and individuals think about performance and display and focuses attention on the ways that public spheres, both indigenous and nonindigenous ones, have received these performances. The essays demonstrate that performance and display are essential to the creation and persistence of indigeneity, while also presenting the conundrum that in many cases “indigeneity” excludes some of the voices or identities that the category purports to represent.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780803274167
Publisher: Nebraska
Publication date: 12/01/2014
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 464
File size: 13 MB
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About the Author

Laura R. Graham is a professor of anthropology at the University of Iowa. She is a filmmaker and author of Performing Dreams: Discourses of Immortality among the Xavante Indians of Central Brazil. H. Glenn Penny is an associate professor of modern European history at the University of Iowa. His most recent book is Kindred by Choice: Germans and American Indians since 1800

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Performing Indigeneity

Global Histories and Contemporary Experiences

By Laura R. Graham, H. Glenn Penny


Copyright © 2014 Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8032-7416-7


Performing Indigeneity

Emergent Identity, Self-Determination, and Sovereignty


Self-conscious, reflexive public performances of Indigeneity became increasingly common during the second half of the twentieth century, and they are critically important in global politics today. When Indigeneity emerged as a legal and juridical category during the Cold War era, Indigenous cultural performance and display became essential to its articulation, even its substantiation. Indigeneity is no one's primary identity; yet as the essays in this volume make clear, individuals and groups across the globe fashion themselves as Indigenous through performance and performative acts in intercultural spaces. Analyzing a striking variety of performers and audiences within specific historical contexts, the contributors to this collection locate individual subjects and publics interacting to shape emergent Indigenous identities in both intimate places and public spaces across wide geographic and chronological ranges. Taken together, these acts reveal rich dialogic and cumulative processes: each act has the potential to reinforce or challenge the category of Indigeneity; each can be a starting point for new conceptualizations.

Initially, some scholars (e.g., Kuper 2003) greeted with concern the trend toward codifying Indigeneity as a legal category, warning that outward acts of performance might fall back on older notions of primitivism, helping to reassert "essentialist ideologies of culture and identity," which could have "dangerous political consequences." Political and legal definitions of "Indigenous," many observed, were based too frequently on "assumptions of ties of blood and soil," rooted in Euro-American notions of culture and identity that were essentialist, even nationalist (Kuper 2003:395).

While these were valid concerns, such essentialism did not carry the day. Across the globe, people embrace Indigeneity as a process of emergence, a "bundle of generative possibilities" (Pratt 2007:402) rather than an essential category of personhood. Driven by their specific desires for recognition, self-determination, and cultural sovereignty, they perform Indigeneity, as many have long performed it, in public as well as in intimate spaces for their own particular purposes. The dialogic of these performances shaped Indigeneity as we understand it today, and it continues to shape its future.

Performance and Performativity

The concepts of performance and performativity are fundamental to understanding the emergent, processual, and contextual nature of Indigeneity. Scholars emphasize that people fashion and refashion identities through embodied speech and action. Individuals as well as groups produce identities through performances that often entail deeply contextualized and historically contingent creative acts.

While there is no single, homogeneous "performance approach" to the study of human culture and social interaction, the interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary approaches that exist consistently emphasize agency, self-conscious practice, and reflexivity. Participants' reflexivity, their accountability to themselves and their audiences, enables performers to calibrate and recalibrate, to adjust to contexts, including memories of past performances, their immediate situation, and their expectations for the future.

Performances of Indigeneity are no exception. They are contextually situated embodied speech and action—as well as the products of speech and action—that are anchored in past performances, local traditions, and ideologies. At the same time, they are always creative and forward looking, infused with expected outcomes. We can in fact think of performance as analogous to the Bakhtinian utterance: each new statement is a novel creative act, but one that contains echoes of past voices and opens up the possibility for future conversation and dialogue (Bakhtin 1981).

We can locate the origins of contemporary performance analysis in ideas articulated in Aristotle's Poetics (1961): the notion that life is action and that the purpose of staged drama is to imitate the action of life. While theater is inherently imitative and mimetic, and therefore potentially infused with deception, a concern initially expressed by Plato, performance is not restricted to the theatrical stage, nor are performances necessarily deceptive—although they may be. As Shakespeare's phrase "all the world's a stage" reminds us, performance is part of everyday life and social interaction. Thus, as Clifford Geertz (1980) pointed out, conceptualizing life as drama is nothing new.

Until performance analysis began to take root in the middle of the twentieth century, however, scholarly paradigms for the interpretation of culture and human social life largely ignored the dramatic and performative nature of human interaction. Indeed, twentieth-century scholarship was linguistically inspired and text-centered (see, e.g., Geertz 1973). Attempting to counter the dominance of such paradigms, to shake off the confines of structuralism and structural-functionalism, and to undercut the prevailing metaphors of human beings as machines or animals, several midcentury scholars from distinct fields turned for inspiration to drama and theater. In particular, the ideas of literary scholar and philosopher Kenneth Burke, sociologist Erving Goffman, and language philosopher John Austin provided strong foundations for the "performance turn."

As Corinne Kratz (2004:399) observes, performance analysis initially stemmed from attempts in anthropology and folklore to incorporate greater attention to context and move away from text-centered approaches in dramaturgical models of social theory (see Hymes 1972; Bauman 1984[1977]; Abrahams 1972). Victor Turner's work on the symbolic analysis of ritual, as well as his attention to "social dramas" and the processual unfolding of interaction, inspired scholars in multiple disciplines. Turner, like the folklorist Richard Bauman, emphasized the constitutive nature of performance to counter static structural conceptions of culture and society: performance does not simply reflect culture; it acts to create and transform it.

Building on Victor Turner's work, theater scholar and director Richard Schechner (1985) identified a broad array of social activity as performance. He pioneered analyses of everyday behaviors, including sports and various forms of play. Literary scholar-philosopher Judith Butler pursued this constitutive nature of performance even further, and with great influence. Drawing on Turner and speech act philosophy, as well as phenomenological and psychoanalytic approaches, Butler's (1990, 1993) notion of "performativity" stresses the reiterative power of embodied action and discourse: individuals, she argues, "make" themselves through iterative acts. The self and identity are not stable entities; rather, they shift in and through performance. Thus gender, race, class, ethnicity, and, importantly for our purposes, Indigeneities are materially constituted and embodied within specific historical constraints. People achieve, accomplish, and even improvise Indigeneity through performance and performative acts.

The geography of such acts has been not only global and national but also local and intimate. As this volume demonstrates, poignant performances of Indigeneity that tie such locations together can take place in rather uncelebrated places: in law offices and courtrooms, classrooms and research sites, the halls of art galleries and museums, and the quiet corners of noisy urban centers, as well as during tourist encounters and the meetings of international political bodies, sports teams, hobby groups, and dance clubs. Their ubiquity is a marker of their importance and power, jointly produced by a broad range of actors and dialogical acts.

Even when performances of Indigeneity occur in highly marked settings, such as exhibitions, fairs, festivals, and publicized political events such as the standoffs at Alcatraz or Wounded Knee, they remain dialogic on multiple levels. "Insiders" and "outsiders," performers and audiences, publics and individual subjects continually interact to shape emergent Indigenous identities in public arenas and intimate spaces. Like museums and other heritage management venues, performances become "sites of persuasion," to borrow a phrase from Howard Morphy (2006). They are arenas in which Indigenous People engage broader publics and other interested parties (various types of intermediaries, curators, members of boards of directors, political sponsors) and attempt "to get their versions of history and regime[s] of value acknowledged and disseminated to wider audiences" (Morphy 2006:471–72; see also, e.g., Kratz and Karp 2006; Erickson and Bowechop 2002). Through dialogic processes, Indigenous participants build on traditions that are much older than most scholars assume and act on stages that are increasingly intertwined.

Becoming Indigenous

Indigeneity as a global identity emerged during the Cold War era. Notions of scarcity and growing concerns about environmental degradation during the twentieth century together with the emergence of human rights discourses provided critical background for the successful rise of Indigenous politics in national and international arenas. As historically marginalized and seemingly disparate Native Peoples across the globe have found common cause in the emergent, and often elusive, Indigenous category (see Heatherington 2010:52; see also Gupta 1998), the performance of Indigenous identity as a means of establishing membership in this community becomes increasingly important.

Whereas once the ideas about technology and progress that defined industrialized states characterized the natural world as something that was dangerous and must be tamed or regarded it as a depository of raw materials that could and should be harnessed, a new postwar consciousness increasingly recognized the natural world as valuable precisely because of its diversity. This perspective redefined the natural world. It cast nature as consisting of both known and unknown resources that, if left unprotected, could be foolishly destroyed.

At the same time, the ravages of liberal and neoliberal economic projects and the political experiments unleashed on the world during the "age of extremes" (Hobsbawm 1996) bankrupted the principles of assimilation and homogenization tied to past modernization projects. Particularly after Auschwitz and the public spectacle of the Nuremberg Trials (1945–46), human rights became ever more important in international debates and a new language of genocide and ethnocide joined, and in some cases displaced, earlier positivist discussions of acculturation, elimination, extermination, integration, and removal.

Within these postwar contexts, Indigenous Peoples' arguments about the value and validity of their distinct cultures, lifeways, and knowledge gained unprecedented political traction (see Niezen 2003, 2004, 2009). Individual governments, international bodies, and nongovernmental organizations increasingly regarded Indigenous Peoples, their languages, cultures, and knowledge, and their experiences as valuable (see, e.g., United Nations 2007, 2011). Especially since the 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) affirmed the existence of general environmental rights, Indigenous Peoples—particularly those who could demonstrate their close relationships to specific environments and their need for land, water, and natural resources for the purposes of sustaining unique lifestyles, cultures, and even subsistence economies—have been well positioned to make political claims that draw together human rights and environmental issues (Inter-Commission Task Force on Indigenous Peoples 1998; Conklin 2006).

Environmental discourses that developed during the 1980s and 1990s often positioned Indigenous Peoples either as elements of the natural landscape or as natural guardians and stewards of threatened environments. At the same time, environmentalist concepts provided people who could make claims to being Indigenous with new forms of political argumentation and new national and international allies.

Even before discussions about Indigenous rights were developing in international forums, activists and politicians began participating in metacultural debates related to notions of culture and heritage in international arenas (see Sixth International Congress of Architects 1904; Getty Conservation Institute 2009). After World War II these discussions intensified, leading to a series of international charters, conventions, and declarations.

When UNESCO began developing a set of heritage categories after World War II, specifying different types of heritage over time (see Turtinen 2000), these categories and cultural instruments became increasingly relevant to Indigenous Peoples and their interests. The UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage, adopted in 2003 and implemented in 2006, is the most recent such instrument and is directly related to performance as contextually situated expressive action.

In the United States, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), passed by Congress in 1990, is the most prominent example of how heritage management discourses engaged Indigenous Peoples' demands in relation to cultural patrimony and human remains on a domestic front. It signaled a major shift in national policy recognizing Indigenous rights, and it has been a model for similar domestic legislation in other nations.

Thus, while performances of Indigeneity were by no means new in the twentieth century (cf. Bellin and Meilke 2011; Wilmer 2009), the stakes inherent in being identified and recognized as "Indigenous" reached new levels in the systems of identity-based politics that proliferated after World War II. Among other things, such recognition affords diverse peoples admission to identity-based international forums, organizations, and alliances, such as the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, the International Working Group on Indigenous Peoples (IWGIA), and the World Council of Indigenous Peoples. It offers them the ability to appeal to international instruments, such as UNDRIP and International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention No. 169. It also provides them with access to a range of "transnational connections" (Hannerz 1996; Hodgson 2011).

In many nation-states this recognition also entitles individuals and groups to specific benefits, such as rights to land and other resources. In several Latin American nation-states, for example, such as Ecuador, Colombia, and Venezuela, new constitutions designate seats in the national congress specifically for Indigenous representatives. In other cases the language of Indigeneity may not be particularly effective, or its effectiveness may change according to historical circumstances (cf. Li 2000). Dorothy Hodgson (2011), for instance, argues that after adopting the language of Indigeneity, the Maasai of Tanzania later retreated because its utility in the national context proved to be less effective than expected. Elsewhere, as in Indonesia, as Tanya Li (2000) shows, some peoples who could legitimately claim Indigenous status have chosen to reject it.

Native Peoples may have other, even multiple motivations for displaying their difference: some may have primarily economic interests (see, e.g., Meyer and Royer 2001; Comaroff and Comaroff 2009), while others may be driven by pedagogical or humanistic objectives (see Graham 1995; Myers 2002; Morphy 2006). Their goals may be, for instance, "to become known" or to demonstrate their unique knowledge of the world and the beauty of their culture (Graham 1995, 2005; Pellegrino 2009); or they may be to protect unique knowledge of the world (see, e.g., Coombe 1998; Brown 2003) and manage cultural patrimony. Such motivations may also combine in a variety of ways.

Nevertheless, as a number of scholars have argued, these political transformations have had their share of pitfalls (see, e.g., Conklin and Graham 1995; Heatherington 2010; Tsing 2005; Warren 1998; Ball 2012). The costs of riding the coattails of romanticized Indigeneity, for example, can be quite high—especially when Indigenous Peoples do not control the means and forms of their representation to larger publics (see, e.g., Conklin and Graham 1995; Conklin 2006; Hodgson 2002b; Brosius, ed. 1999; Brosius 2003; Chernela 2005; Moore et al. 2003). Gatekeepers intervene, funding bodies gain new power to designate who is and is not Indigenous, and complicated power dynamics develop between those who have achieved those designations and others who would have them.

Thus, while the territorial basis and historical primacy of Indigenous Peoples' positions offer powerful underpinnings for legal claims to economic resources and political rights, which some governments and international bodies have recognized, the ambiguities and contradictions inherent in Indigenous identity make performance and performativity especially important. In many cases performances add weight to these claims, for performance is a powerful means of expressing, asserting, and also constituting Indigenous identity. For peoples who, at first glance, may not fit with common stereotypes of the "Indigenous"—agriculturalists, pastoralists, or "urban Indians"—performance may assume even greater importance as a means of asserting claims based in difference.


Excerpted from Performing Indigeneity by Laura R. Graham, H. Glenn Penny. Copyright © 2014 Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA PRESS.
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Table of Contents


List of Illustrations,
1. Performing Indigeneity: Emergent Identity, Self-Determination, and Sovereignty Laura R. Graham and H. Glenn Penny,
2. Living Traditions: A Manifesto for Critical Indigeneity Bernard Perley,
3. Culture Claims: Being Maasai at the United Nations Dorothy L. Hodgson,
4. A White Face for the Cofán Nation?: Randy Borman and the Ambivalence of Indigeneity Michael L. Cepek,
5. Performed Alliances and Performative Identities: Tupinamba in the Kingdom of France Beatriz Perrone-Moisés,
6. Rethinking Sami Agency during Living Exhibitions: From the Age of Empire to the Postwar World Cathrine Baglo,
7. Not Playing Indian: Surrogate Indigeneity and the German Hobbyist Scene H. Glenn Penny,
8. The Return of Ku?: Re-membering Hawaiian Masculinity, Warriorhood, and Nation Ty P. Kawika Tengan,
9. Bone-Deep Indigeneity: Theorizing Hawaiian Care for the State and Its Broken Apparatuses Greg Johnson,
10. Haka: Colonized Physicality, Body-Logic, and Embodied Sovereignty Brendan Hokowhitu,
11. Genders of Xavante Ethnographic Spectacle: Cultural Politics of Inclusion and Exclusion in Brazil Laura R. Graham,
12. Showing Too Much or Too Little: Predicaments of Painting Indigenous Presence in Central Australia Fred Myers,
13. Cities: Indigeneity and Belonging Mark K. Watson,

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