Unit 5: The Politics of ” Postindian ” Authenticity Texts:
“Identity in Mashpee” by James Clifford [D2L]
Please read the entire book by Sherman Alexie, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, but pay close attention to the following passage: “Because My Father Always Said He Was the Only Indian Who Saw Jimi Hendrix Play ‘The Star.’
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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 Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven”; and “Junior Polatkins Wild West Show”]
Writing an assignment of four pages
double-spaced on a piece of paper
For details, see the paragraph at the end.
11/29 is the deadline, at 3 PM. Please upload to Dropbox on D2L.
The novel House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday, published in 1969, received the 1968 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. A Native American received the honor for the first time that year. This marked the start of what critics now call the “Native American Renaissance,” when writers of Native American ancestry who had received extensive English language instruction outside of Indian boarding schools started to craft their narratives about how European settlement in the United States affected Native Americans.
James Welch, Gerald Vizenor, Leslie Marmon Silko, Louise Erdrich, Paula Gunn Allen, and Sherman Alexie are just a few authors who fit this description. Compared to early American writings like The Last of the Mohicans, this work offers a totally different perspective on Native American identity. The tales of the Native American Renaissance, however, do not merely glorify Native American identity. The contrary is true in some respects. As you’ll see, these authors’ stories reflect the challenge of finding or preserving an “authentic” Native American identity in modern America — or, as Native American critic and novelist Gerald Vizenor has put it, a “cultural schizophrenia.” In some ways, Native American Renaissance writers imply that maintaining a true Native American identity in the contemporary era is unachievable. In doing so, they represent a “postindian” identity or one that has no longer fully accessed an Indian history, as described by Vizenor. Vizenor contends that Native Americans must instead rely on what he names “survivance,” which, unlike simple “survival,” implies the necessity to adapt to modern society and avoid relying on a more archaic way of life that has long since disappeared.
James Clifford’s essay “Identity in Mashpee” and Sherman Alexie’s collection of short stories, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, are the two texts for this section of Unit 2. They both discuss the conflicts between an older, more traditional Indian world and a newer, more shattered contemporary world. For instance, in Clifford’s essay, he describes a Massachusetts court case in which the Mashpee Indian tribe seeks true “tribal” recognition from the US government. As a result, the basic idea of what makes a Native American tribe “authentic” is utterly up for debate. Similar to Victor, the main character of Alexie’s works constantly weighs his tribal identity—which is tied to the reservation—against the more modern and “white” or “Anglo” identity beyond the reserve, particularly as he experiences it in Seattle. The result is a collection of relatively complex narratives that may not always offer clear-cut views on or solutions to the issues they raise. Instead, they present a Native American identity that is, in fact, distinctly “American,” exactly because it is convoluted, diverse, and ambiguous.
Question for Unit 5:
Please compose a paper in which you contrast and compare the Mashpee Indians that Clifford depicts with the people we meet in Alexie’s short stories, particularly Victor. You should consider what Clifford seems to be stating about Native American authenticity as you read the essay. Does he seem to believe that there is such a thing? You should also consider if you believe the Mashpee tribe has a strong claim to tribal identity.
Victor and the other characters in Alexie can be subjected to the same types of inquiries.
‘s tales. Does he truly own a Native American identity?
Is he truly a part of this society? If not, what obstacles hinder him from assuming this identity?
When examining these tales, you might take into account the following: The relationship between Victor and Thomas Builds
The exchange between Victor and the 7/11 cashier in “The Lone Ranger and Tonto,” the relationship between Victor and his white lover in “This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona,” and the fire in “This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona”).