Making and Unmaking the Prospects for Rhetoric: Selected Papers from the 1996 Rhetoric Society of America Conference

By Theresa Enos; Richard McNabb et al. | Go to book overview

SCOTT LYONS Miami University, Ohio


Crying for Revision: Postmodern Indians and Rhetorics of Tradition

This presentation is a mixed-blood attempt to make sense of what I think are indigenous rhetorics in development -- and in conflict. Specifically, I want to examine the production of conflicting discourses of survivance (survival + resistance), Indian-to-Indian arguments over the deployment of ethnicity and the uses of what is commonly referred to in Indian country as simply "tradition": cultural practices, ceremonies, modes of discourse, expressions, looks, and poses. I will argue that American Indian uses of tradition and ethnicity are indeed in a sort of postmodern crisis right now, one made tangible in various discursive forms, producing emergent mixed-blood rhetorics marked by temporal and cultural play, new ways of looking, and communal critical poses. By comparing recent calls to tradition made in writing by well-known Indian activists to the more subtle oral pronouncements of Indian young people and elders at an all-Indian language retreat, I hope to complicate the ways we speak of Indian tradition and ethnicity and consider emergent mixed-blood rhetorics.

Rhetorics of tradition have long been in play in Indian country and beyond. On the one hand, Indian intellectuals and activists have worked hard to combat mainstream stereotypes of "traditional" Indians and cultures like the cigar-store Kaw-Liga or Hollywood Indians wearing beadwork and braids. On the other hand, and at the same time, Indian people have also worked to enhance and promote tradition to their young people as a means of survival. This enterprise received a real boost during the American Indian Movement (AIM) of the 1970s, which spawned not only a renewed interest in tradition but also a surge of Indian nationalism as well. One of AIM's leaders, the beaded, braided Russell Means, writes in his recent autobiography of his continuing traditionbased resistance to what he simply calls "Europe," suggesting that "[t]he strength for this effort can only come from the traditional ways, the traditional values that our elders retain." Furthermore, "it cannot come from the pages of a book or a thousand books" because white institutions like literacy or schooling "cannot make a person into a human being or provide knowledge into the traditional ways" (546). And yet there are Native professionals from the fields of Indian education who advocate a return to tradition through schooling (albeit in transformed ways). The Indian Nations At Risk (INAR) Task Force's

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