[Indians & Anthropologists: Vine Deloria, Jr & the Critique of Anthropology]

By Waldram, James B.; Biolsi, Thomas et al. | Anthropologica, January 1, 1997 | Go to article overview
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[Indians & Anthropologists: Vine Deloria, Jr & the Critique of Anthropology]


Waldram, James B., Biolsi, Thomas, Zimmerman, Larry J., Anthropologica


Thomas Biolsi and Larry J. Zimmerman (eds.), Indians and Anthropologists: Vine Deloria, Jr. and the Critique of Anthropology, Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1997, x + 226 pages, $45.00 (cloth), $19.95 (paper).

The legacy of Vine Deloria, Jr.'s Custer Died for Your Sins continues to plague anthropology in complex and amusing ways. A single chapter in his 1969 book, devoted to "Anthropologists and Other Friends," presented a satirical, biting and hilarious send-up of the discipline from the perspective of a Native American scholar. Certainly there was some truth to Deloria's claim that anthropology was little more than a fancy form of colonialism, and anthropologists intellectual vultures. What puzzles, however, is not so much that Deloria was hardly the first to make these accusations, but that, for American anthropologists in particular, his words had such a dramatic impact. Following his publication, the American Anthropological Association convened what might be seen as crisis meetings designed to defend anthropology and respond to the critique. What followed was a major shift in the direction of the discipline, giving an impetus to the emerging field of applied anthropology, as practitioners attempted to reconfigure their work so that Native Americans benefitted.

This volume consists of 10 chapters by various contributors, plus an introduction by the editors and, not surprisingly, a final comment from Deloria himself. The papers vary in style and tone, but all address in one way or another the question: what has the impact of Deloria's critique been on anthropology and Native American studies? Most papers have been written specifically for this volume, and the addition of one previously published paper (by Peter Whitely) strengthens an uneven text. The papers range from intellectual ruminations about Deloria and the state of the discipline, to case studies, personal reflections and largely irrelevant polemical statements. While the editors appear to establish a postmodern/postcolonial tone in their excellent introduction, there is no uniform theoretical orientation to the volume. This is unfortunate, as it seems that the postmodern critique appears to offer the best insight into the issues raised by Deloria.

It is not possible here to discuss each chapter in the volume. From my view, the most interesting chapters include the introduction and several papers contained in the section titled "Ethnography and Colonialism." Thomas Biolsi, for instance, employs the framework of primitivist discourse to critique the work of early-20th-century ethnographer Haviland Scudder Mekeel and its role in redefining Lakota culture and governance.

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