Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Native Studies

Mediating Indianness

Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Native Studies

Mediating Indianness

Article excerpt

Cathy Coveil Waegner (ed.), Mediating Indianness. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 2015. 318 pages. ISBN 978-0-88755-779-8. $34.95 paperback.

This collection of essays looks at a wide range of media, including print, film, theatre, hiphop, dance, photography, poetry and interviews. It examines the ways media producers and consumers construct, negotiate and rearrange Indigenous identities in the process of making and using these varied images, words and texts.

The historical range stretches from the 1800s to today. Topics include an analysis of Tecumseh's speeches, popular artistic representations through Buffalo Bill's Wild West shows, various films and plays from the past twenty years, and a conference panel presentation from 2012.

A theme running throughout the book is that Indians are invented, as Vizenor famously said in 1981. How Indians were invented historically and how we might challenge those inventions through critical interpretation and analysis is the focus of roughly a third to a half of the book. Contemporary expressions of how artists, Indigenous or otherwise, invent ever newer images of lndianness by playing with and against expectations, forms the rest. The chapters tend to home in on one media text, or figure, and sustain a focus on this very particular example. The larger story seems to emerge from reading the collection as a whole. Reading this collection introduced me to some artists I hadn't encountered before and made me want to revisit some of the works I'd already seen but would now view in a new light. For instance, I can't wait to watch Jim Jarmusch's 1995 film Dead Man again, or to have an opportunity to view Eric Gansworth's 2008 multi-media performance Re-Creation Story or the Ute community coming out in the spring to participate (or not) in the Northern Bear Dance. I was enlightened about Tecumseh's rhetoric, an interesting piece that would be quite current in the bicentennial commemorations of the War of 1812 and have gained a new appreciation for Sequoyah's encoding of the Cherokee worldview within the syllabary developed for Cherokee writing. Similarly, the discussions of Okah Tubbee, the racial border-crossing performer of the mid-1800s who may have played Indian to access social opportunity and escape the limiting confines of a Black identity in that era, are eerily indicative that the cultural phenomenon of playing a raced identity for personal gain (Rachel Dolezal? …

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