Academic journal article Intertexts

"It's a Double-Beat Dance": The "Indian Cowboy" in Indigenous Literature, Art, and Film

Academic journal article Intertexts

"It's a Double-Beat Dance": The "Indian Cowboy" in Indigenous Literature, Art, and Film

Article excerpt

i knew a little mixedblood girl
who used to tell people
she was
"part cowboy"
and
"part Indian"
--Kateri Akiwenzi-Damm, "howdy partner"

In Whisky Bullets: Cowboy and Indian Heritage Poems, Secwepemc-Okanagan author Garry Gottfriedson takes as his inspiration the life of a reservation cowboy. Gottfriedson, whose family's involvement in ranching and rodeo extends back six generations, explores the ethos of cowboy life and the apparent contradictions embodied in the "Indian Cowboy." Gottfriedson posits as his exemplar of masculine identity a rugged and--despite the confessional tenor of some of these poems--stoic cowboy image, a figure firmly located in frontier history. Yet, in appropriating the cowboy role for himself, he also shifts its meaning away from the colonial ideology in which it is historically embedded. Disturbing the "cowboy and Indian" dichotomy, Whisky Bullets brings together two seemingly disparate identities that Western chronicles and Hollywood cinema have often placed in opposition to one another. Gottfriedson's poems point to an indigenous cowboy culture, a hybridity that inverts the appropriation of indigenous masculinity during Western colonial expansion. Looking at the cowboy in Gottfriedson's writing alongside the work of authors and artists who trouble this iconic figure, I raise questions about the performance of masculinity in different cultural and historical contexts and the complicated desires that shape these gender identities. In their emulation and re-working of the contested cowboy figure, these authors and artists reveal the much more interactive cultural histories that emerge from borderland spaces.

While the last decade has seen a growing body of work on indigenous feminisms and indigenous queer or two-spirit identities, indigenous masculinity has gone largely under-theorized in discussions of gender and sexuality. (1) A number of indigenous writers acknowledge how decolonization is linked to re-evaluating gender relations in their communities; still, there remains a dearth of studies on masculinity in indigenous and tribal contexts. As imbricate fields of inquiry, masculinity studies and feminism share a similar critical position from which to think about gender and colonization. As an extension of our commitment to that critical position, they ask that we acknowledge self-critically that when we talk about gender, we do so from a particular cultural context. "In speaking of masculinity at all," cautions Raewyn (R. W.) Connell, "we are 'doing gender' in a culturally specific way" (68). Masculinity studies, as Tim Edwards points out, has become increasingly aware of its own epistemological foundations, but even as critics gesture toward the need for studies of masculinity that address racial and cultural differences, few have offered sustained examinations of male identities within such contexts. Just as Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua's This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Colour problematized the unitary subject position assumed by second-wave Anglo-American feminism and thus "open[ed] the way for alternative discourses and theories" (Alarcon 29), so too might we begin to think similar questions about indigenous masculinity and the multiple, at times conflicting, identities that indigenous men articulate from their own borderlands.

Talking about indigenous masculinity requires confronting the diverse ways that male identity is constituted in different cultural, as well as spatial, historical, and material contexts. As Brian Klopotek puts it, "'Native American' encompasses hundreds of different cultures with varying conceptions of masculinity, and even within each tribal culture, different people will have different ideas about the virtues, faults, and responsibilities of manhood" (270). Masculine identity, understood differently within different tribal and regional contexts, also bears the imprint of colonialism--whether it be as a result of patriarchal legislation that transformed models of governance in indigenous communities, or in the sites of cross-cultural encounter that produce hybrid practices. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.