Native Americans and the Christian Right: The Gendered Politics of Unlikely Alliances

By Slagle, Jefferson D | Cithara, May 2010 | Go to article overview
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Native Americans and the Christian Right: The Gendered Politics of Unlikely Alliances


Slagle, Jefferson D, Cithara


Native Americans and the Christian Right: The Gendered Politics of Unlikely Alliances. By Andrea Smith. Durham: Duke University Press, 2008. Pp. xxxix, 356. $24.95.

Native Americans and the Christian Right is a bold fusion of activism and scholarship that aims to reshape the ways in which Natives and Christians think about one another, targeting as its end political coalitions that recognize commonalities while rejecting insistence on complete ideological conformity among allies. Smith intervenes in a range of issues, including the institutional racism of the prisonindustrial complex, the pitfalls and possibilities of race reconciliation rhetoric, the respective roles of Native and white scholars in indigenous studies, relationships between Native scholars and the broader Native population, the place of western philosophical thought in Native studies, the possibilities for re-centering feminist debates around the concerns and perspectives of indigenous women, and the meanings of sovereignty in Native politics. On each of these issues, she strikes a complex, collaborative pose that renders the book a concrete performance of precisely the sort of bridge-building it advocates: a reimagining of the "religious and political configurations of Christian Right and American Indian activism as a way of talking about the larger project of rethinking the nature of political strategy and alliance building for progressive purposes" (xi-xii).

The title of this book is in fact somewhat of a misnomer, as Smith demonstrates that evangelical Christian politics are far from a monolithic construction and that the term "Christian right" is in fact reductive in its use as a descriptor of evangelical social thought. This tactic is indicative of the book's approach, which dismantles "uncritically held assumptions about what constitutes progressive politics and who is able to participate in them" (xii) - in fact, as she demonstrates, those whom both Natives and evangelicals have assumed to be natural allies or adversaries often prove quite the opposite. She presents Native coalitions with ranchers, sport fishermen, and a small office within Con Edison, as well as alliances forged by homeschoolers, pro-gun advocates, and pro-life groups with feminists, Satanists, and the ACLU, while simultaneously outlining the pitfalls of Natives' alliances with white feminists and progressive nonprofits who have aims that are often incompatible with indigenous interests. To be sure, Smith does not cast the alliances she describes as historically paradigmatic - rather, she posits that these coalitions demonstrate the possibilities for configuring similar alliances with other such "unlikely" groups, including evangelical Christians.

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