Nationalisms and Identities among Indigenous Peoples

Case Studies from North America

by Martina Neuburger (Volume editor) H. Peter Dörrenbächer (Volume editor)
©2015 Edited Collection VI, 255 Pages
Series: Nationalisms across the Globe, Volume 16


This book investigates nationalisms and the emergence of national identities among the Indigenous peoples across North America. It examines the many difficulties which the Native communities have had to face in order to assert themselves as nations, as well as looking at the ambiguity of the term 'nation' within First Nations-government relations. The volume gives a broad perspective on the historical development of Native American nationalism and also explores a variety of political, educational, sociological, cultural and even literary viewpoints. The experiences of the Indigenous peoples are compared with the experiences of other Aboriginal groups across the globe, in order to enrich our understanding of global indigenous nationalisms.
The contributors to this volume represent the perspectives of a variety of different First Nations and a wide range of disciplinary fields, from history, anthropology and political science to communications, law, linguistics and literary studies.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Introduction: Nationalisms and Identities among Indigenous Peoples
  • First Nations in North America
  • Outline of the Volume
  • Perspectives
  • References
  • PART 1 Histories and Politics
  • Decolonizing Indigenous Histories and Justice
  • The Philosophy of Indigenous Restorative Justice
  • Colonialism as the Vicious Destroyer of Indigenous Cultures
  • Discussions with the Swampy Cree Elders
  • Conclusions
  • References
  • War and Peace: Issues of Leadership in American Indian Communities
  • Leadership in Indian Country
  • United States Military and American Indian Leadership
  • Historical Perspectives of Peace in American Indian Communities
  • Peace Corps
  • In Their Words
  • Peacekeepers
  • Warriors
  • Leadership Skills of Peacemakers and Warriors
  • References
  • The Akwesasne Mohawk at the Margin of the State
  • Introduction
  • The Border
  • The Tobacco Job
  • More a limen than a limes
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Interviews
  • PART 2 Experiences in Education
  • ‘Planting the Seeds of Change’: Indigenous Education, Nation-Building and Democracy in the United States
  • The Historical Role of Formal Education Among Indigenous Peoples in the US
  • Colonial Education: Contemporary Reality or Thing of the Past?
  • Challenges to Challenging the Status Quo: Indigenous Voices in Education and the Democratic Ideal
  • Indigenous Voices in Education: Historical Disequilibrium and the Challenging of US Democracy
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Transcending the Winter Time: The Legacy of Residential Schools and the Role of Indigenous Places of Higher Learning in an Era of Reconciliation
  • References
  • To Be or Not To Be Native: Residential School, Official Status and Métis Women in Maria Campbell’s Halfbreed and Beatrice Culleton’s In Search of April Raintree
  • Being Métis: The Pride
  • Not Being Métis: The Shame
  • Finding a Chord: Dealing with the Métis Experience
  • References
  • PART 3 Cultural Productions
  • The Native American Hip-Hop Nation: A Nationalist Movement for Sovereignty
  • Nationalism as a Rhetorical Construct
  • Black Nationalism and Hip-Hop
  • Expansion of Hip-Hop into Indian Country: Language Quandaries
  • Constructions of Nationalism in Native American Hip-Hop
  • Summary and Conclusion
  • References
  • The Empire Films Back: Constructing Identity and Resistance Through the Selective Films of Chris Eyre
  • Negotiating Oglala Sioux Identity in Skins
  • The Construction of Oglala Sioux Identity in Imprint
  • Filming Tony Hillerman: Examining Identity and Spirituality in A Thief of Time
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Films
  • PART 4 Comparisons
  • The Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Latin America from International and Comparative Perspectives
  • Introduction
  • The Evolution of International Standards on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
  • ILO Convention 107: The ‘integration of the members of indigenous populations’
  • The Debate on Indigenous Peoples’ Human Rights in the United Nations
  • ILO Convention 169: The Revision of the Integrationist Approach
  • The Rights of Indigenous Peoples to their Lands and the Environment
  • The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
  • The Rights of Indigenous Peoples in the Domestic Law of Latin American States
  • Latin American indigenismo in the Twentieth Century
  • Latin American Multiculturalism and ‘Pluralist’ Constitutionalism
  • Negotiated Agreements on Indigenous Peoples’ Rights in Latin America
  • Indigenous Peoples’ Rights and Natural Resources
  • Conclusions
  • References
  • Mexican Indigeneities in Motion, Mexican Identities in Negotiation
  • A la Mexicana? Indigeneity as a Historically Negotiated Category
  • Indigeneity in the Autonomy Process of the Community Bancos de San Hipólito
  • Indigeneity in Post-/Colonial Sequences from Everyday Life in the Zona Metropolitana de Guadalajara (ZMG)
  • Indigeneity: A Product of Resistive Practices in a Post-/Colonial Power Landscape
  • References
  • The Notion of the Nation Compared: Deafhood and Indianness
  • The Deaf as an Ethnic Minority
  • Deaf Nation and Deafhood: From the French Deaf Banquets to a Deaf World
  • Different Peoples, Similar Experiences: Native Americans and the Deaf Compared
  • People vs. Peoples
  • Blood Quantum and Deafness: Physical and Cultural Difference and Group Membership
  • Education
  • Geographical and Other Spaces
  • ‘Groupness’
  • Connection to the Past
  • Terms and Names
  • Using the Term ‘Nation’
  • Deaf Native American or Native American Deaf: Multicultural Identities
  • References
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Index
  • Series Index

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Introduction: Nationalisms and Identities among Indigenous Peoples

First Nations in North America

First Nations1 of the North American continent can look back on an eventful history of cooperation and conflict with, as well as marginalization and recognition by, colonizing and dominant white society. Before the arrival of Europeans, Indian nations had their specific principles of sovereignty. Their norms, values and customs defined governmental forms, policing, regulation of land use and management of conflicts (Lujan & Adams 2004). They exerted complete and absolute jurisdiction over criminal matters within their territories. European colonization confronted them with expansionistic-minded people who forced them to recognize European laws, customs and beliefs as superior.

In aspects of land tenure, intra-Indian conflicts were altered by the European colonization process due to the expansion of European settlement to Indian territories as well as the enormous reduction of Indian population by European diseases (Adelman & Aron 1999). In some regions, First Nations took advantage of rivalry between the colonial powers and their dependence on Indian allies and traders and shaped the parameters of intercultural trade and military engagement. But in the eighteenth century, in most cases, Native Americans were displaced and left the contested areas and the social context of their communities. Due to the independence of ← 1 | 2 → the USA and Canada and the creation of Indian Reservations, the previous situation of frontiers as areas of contact and exchange between cultures was replaced by borders of nation states and of Indian Reservations.

As continuity of this colonial practice and perspective, First Nations cultural identities are considered as confined within the physical boundaries of reserves. All other spaces, in turn, are defined as settler spaces, creating a framework for the construction of the contemporary nation-states Canada and the USA (Wilson & Peters 2005). Although urban Aboriginal peoples consider themselves to belong to communities in both reserve and city and create a new territory of identity by preserving their connection to their originating community and by practising ethnic ceremonies in new environments, a broad societal recognition of their ethnicity remains difficult for First Nations living within dominant society and urban contexts and practising modern economic activities. The re-territorialization of identity represents a creative ways of reinforcing links to the land in urban environments and an attempt to transform the spatial arrangements that still underlie the binaries of First Nations and settler, reserve and city, primitive and civilized.

The policy of separate territories for American Indians and settlers represents a continuous element of land distribution systems from colonial times to independent North American states, step by step reducing First Nations areas. Today many Native Americans suffer in the situation of socioeconomic marginalization, cultural discrimination and societal exclusion (Frantz 1999, Richardson 1993). One of the most visible and ambivalent strategies to gain another position in society and economy is the commodification of ethnicity and culture by selling handicrafts and charging for the watching of ceremonies (Comaroff & Comaroff 2009). Juridical success in claiming property rights on design and knowledge or adoption of modern irrigation agriculture, of mining, of industrial activities etc. show different modes of First Nations in repositioning themselves (Brown 2003, Frantz 1999).

To summarize, the governments of the USA and Canada historically refused to recognize the Aboriginal groups they encountered as nations. However, when they needed their land and natural resources US and Canadian government officials treated Aboriginal leaders as heads of states ← 2 | 3 → and signed treaties with them whose terms had to justify the permanent appropriation of vast lands and resources by the US and Canadian governments. Nowadays, the term nation becomes even more inconvenient because the formally recognized national minorities have the right to ask for linguistic, cultural and educational rights, autonomy and perhaps independence. Thus, a cohort of government officials, bureaucrats and even some scholars in North America came up with convenient terms such as ‘a nation within the state’ or the argument that ‘First Nations’ as a term does not really mean a ‘nation’. Thomas Flanagan, a political scientist from the University of Calgary, expresses quite explicitly his outright rejection of the idea that the First Nations are nations with his book First Nations, Second Thoughts.

Outline of the Volume

This book seeks to shed light on nationalism and the emergence of national identity among the Indigenous Peoples across North America. Focusing on specific subjects it will touch upon the many difficulties which the Native communities had to face to assert themselves as nations as well as the ambiguity and politics of the term nation in First Nations–government relations. One of the major purposes of this compilation is to give a broader perspective of the development of the Native American nationalism not only historically but also from current political, educational, sociological, cultural and even literary points of view. Furthermore, Indigenous peoples’ nationalism and identities will be compared with the experiences of other Aboriginal groups across the globe which gives a broader picture on global Indigenous nationalism.

In order to achieve these goals, a multidisciplinary approach is necessary to give scholars with different disciplinary, social and cultural backgrounds and different methodologies the opportunity to contribute their research on a broad array of issues related to Native American nationalism. The scholars not only represent various fields of study from history, anthropology and ← 3 | 4 → political science to communications, law, linguistics and literary studies but they also represent various First Nations as well as the perspective of scholars across the globe on Native American nationalism. Beyond the case studies, this volume offers analysis and comparisons of the nation-building process and the obstacles along the way of different Native American groups in North and South America and even in a global Indigenous context. It also reveals the contribution of cinema and even hip-hop to modern Native American nation-building, subjects that have been largely neglected in academic studies.

Part 1 of the volume deals with the historical und political background. The first chapter is by the Cree historian John George Hansen (University of Regina), who emphasizes the need to decolonize Indigenous histories and justice from a historical and legal point of view. In ‘Decolonizing Indigenous Histories and Justice’, Hansen writes about the destructive force of colonialism on culture of North American Indigenous peoples, more specifically in terms of different concepts of justice. Whereas Western cultures pursue retributive justice systems, which seek to punish the offender, Native Americans follow a tradition of a restorative justice. This concept aims at restoring peace and equilibrium in the community, at exploring the underlying problems that led to a certain wrongdoing and at reconciling the accused with both his or her conscience and the party that has been wronged. The author explains how this element of cultural heritage was undermined in Canada’s residential schools up to the middle of the last century. As children were taken from their families to be taught Western values, they were deprived of their own respective teachings. They not only learned about retributive justice, through penal violence by teachers, these children also were socialized accordingly, with disastrous consequences for social stability. Hansen pleads for empowerment of Indigenous ways of perception and justice. This, he argues, is essential to decolonization and the end of oppression of the Native American peoples.

The following chapter is by Native American political scientists. Keith Grint (Warwick University) and Linda Sue Warner’s (Northeastern A & M.) ‘War and Peace: Issues of Leadership in American Indian Communities’ deals with the concept of language and leadership in Native American communities and the contradictions that Native American face when serving in the military, describing the historical development of this issue, ← 4 | 5 → the influence of traditions and the connection to leadership. Not only is the participation of numerous American Indians in the First and Second World Wars explained, but also participation in the Peace Corps. Already the oral traditions transfer the duality of warriors and peacekeepers within American Indian tribes. Within this context the authors describe, based on their qualitative interviews with today’s equivalents, the significance of tradition: on the one hand, they influence the decision of serving for war or peace; on the other, they have wide consequences for the Indians who then come back to the community. Otherwise their new leadership skills affect the tribe after their coming back. In the end, the chapter opens some research suggestions: for example, exploring the connection to identity or gender perspectives.

The social anthropologist Sandra Busatta (Lampeter University) then analyses the Mohawk efforts towards nationhood. Her chapter ‘The Akwesasne Mohawk at the Margin of the State’ discusses a plurality of themes embedded in the topic of smuggling and ‘bootlegging’: borders and the social terms of legality and illegality, state control and self-determination. The territory of Akwesasne is a border region in many aspects, including between nations (US–Canada) and provinces (New York State, Ontario, Quebec State). Through the international boundary, the right of ‘border crossing’ and free taxes, smuggling was supported in times of economic slumps. It caused an identity change, from ironworkers to tobacco growers and ‘bootleggers’. A sort of economic self-sufficiency became possible, promoting the development of a Temporary Autonomous Zone (TAZ). Sovereignty and self-government were claimed by most parts of the Akwesasnoron society and this in turn broaches the issue of state control, which is very limited in this region. The text deals with the question of why the nation-states and the local authorities tolerate this form of autonomy. Beyond that it describes, within this context, the large number of changes in the social and economic structure.

In ‘Part 2: Experiences in Education’, Blackfoot political scientist Miranda Laber (University of Tromsø) gives a Native American perspective on the role of education in Indigenous nation-building. She focuses on the implementation of Native American realities into the educational system of the USA and how this would challenge US democracy. The article ← 5 | 6 → raises the question if and how opposing truths and contesting histories can be honored in formal education settings. She points out that the increasing presence of Indigenous and minority voices in mainstream education challenges national mythology, e.g. the perception of Christopher Columbus. Furthermore the article reveals that Indigenous peoples, especially those of the Flathead Indian Reservation, have recognized the importance of the educational system as a means of oppression but also of collective and individual empowerment and a support for grassrooted nation-building. Her article concludes that Indigenous efforts contribute to the restructuring of formal education and may at large challenge the foundations of US democracy.

The contribution of Herman Michell (University of Regina, Canada) reveals the painful experiences of cultural loss and traumas of numerous Native American children in Canada using historical research as his methodology. The purpose of the article is to explore the legacy left by residential schools and the overall impact of colonialism experienced by First Nations people in Canada. The focus revolves around the concept of reconciliation and the role of Indigenous places of higher learning in meeting the complex needs of First Nations communities in a post-residential school apology era. During the colonial time, First Nation peoples were put into residential schools with the goal of assimilation. The author points out that nowadays changes in education policy are necessary to deal with the effects of residential schools, e.g. that First Nation peoples can govern their own places of (higher) learning, such as schools and universities, to heal themselves form colonial effects and abuse and develop their own research, methodologies etc. The author contends that First Nation peoples have to develop their own epistemologies for the goal of empowerment and education. He concludes with a presentation of First Nations University that implements this concept.

In her contribution Punyashree Panda (Indian Institute of Technology, Bhubaneswar) deals with literary fiction to give another perspective on educational experiences of Indigenous Peoples in residential schools. Panda searches for the definition of the term ‘Native’ by analysing Native literatures from the USA and Canada. The basis for an Indian identity, distorted myths created by the colonizing forces have to be replaced by authentic ← 6 | 7 → Indigenous myths to resist damages to the cultural matrix by regular intervention of the provincial and federal governments in both Canada and the USA which aim to giving them some new identity. Analysing Maria Campbell’s Halfbreed and Beatrice Culleton’s April Raintree Punyashree Panda shows the role and impact of the residential schools of Canada on the lives of Indigenous people living on the fringes of society. Within this educational system, governments have not only systematically neglected the cultural and sociological connotations of the diverse Native communities, but also have succeeded in dividing and fracturing the Indigenous peoples.

The next section treats cultural productions of First Nations and their importance for Native American Movement. Kevin Johnson (University of Texas at Austin) deals with the role of hip-hop lyrics in the expression of Native American nationalism, analysing rhetoric and political controversy from an anthropological angle. In view of neocolonial structures and racism Natives have long struggled to seek influence on their depiction in popular culture. Johnson outlines the role of Native American hip-hop as a medium for expressing the demand of self-determination, cultural and national identity. Arguing that nationalism is essentially a rhetoric construct, Johnson examines how it is reflected in lyrics of Native artists such as War Party and Tru Rez Crew. Furthermore he explores Black American hip-hop and links it to Black nationalism and the civil rights movement provided the context in which Native American Hip-Hop evolved. In this regard Johnson also highlights the considerable potential hip-hop as a creative medium offers for Natives as well as other minorities around the world to formulate their demand of sovereignty and to defy colonialism.

Brian de Ruiter (Swansea University/Brock University) compares Native American cinema within a global Indigenous context. He talks about the role of Native American cinema and the implications for directors and their responsibilities when representing Native communities on-screen. Through an assessment and comparison of selective films of Arapaho-Cheyenne film-director Chris Eyre the author explores the themes addressed by this director as well as the messages conveyed to his Native and non-Native audience. Eyre attempts to create complex Indigenous characters and a diverse image of Native American identities challenging prevalent stereotypes in US society as established through ← 7 | 8 → Hollywood movies such as Dances with Wolves. Yet Eyre does not completely negate these images, but points out that historical trauma caused by colonialism maintain to affect Native people’s lives even today. For his Native audience Eyre provides the demand of community cohesion. Another important concern of Eyre’s films is to reaffirm the importance of spirituality to these communities. In this regard de Ruiter also shows how Eyre copes with the depiction of spirituality and Native customs in an accountable manner.

The final part of the book includes an examination of the legal status of the Native peoples in North and South America by Monika Ludescher (University of Innsbruck) as well as a comparison with Mexican Native American nationalism by Christina Goschenhofer and Katrin Singer (University of Hamburg). Finally, Anne C. Uhlig (University of Leipzig) discusses a comparison between Native Americans and deaf people by using the methodology of cultural anthropology.


VI, 255
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2014 (November)
anthropology difficulties ambiguity political science historical development
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2015. VI, 255 pp., 2 b/w ill.

Biographical notes

Martina Neuburger (Volume editor) H. Peter Dörrenbächer (Volume editor)

Martina Neuburger is Professor of Social and Political Geography at the University of Hamburg, where she researches socio-political processes in rural and peasant societies in Latin America. Her research into vulnerability, poverty and marginalization concentrates on peripheral regions with fragile ecosystems, such as Brazilian and Bolivian Amazonia and the Peruvian Andes. H. Peter Dörrenbächer is Professor of Human Geography at Saarland University, Saarbrücken, where he studies the development and socio-economic status of border regions and the institutionalization of transboundary regions in western Europe, with a particular focus on French-German border regions. He also has research interests in the institutionalization of Indigenous regions in northern Quebec.


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