Powwow

By Clyde Ellis; Luke Eric Lassiter et al. | Go to book overview

R. D. THEISZ


5.
Putting Things in Order:
The Discourse of Tradition

In the wake of the recent “culture wars” within the academy, the concept of a single Western legitimizing metanarrative or masternarrative – featuring material progress, unified humanism, rational liberalism, and the like (Lyotard 1984, xxiii-xxv) – has been replaced in some circles by the postmodern notion of a myriad of micronarratives or little narratives (Lyotard 1984, 60), which have now come to represent the complexity of our global historical situation. Applying this notion of micronarratives to American Indian nations or cultures would, in turn, allow us to refer to tribal discourses as actual metanarratives in their own right, only within their own, more limited tribal contexts. In the past, outside bureaucratic or scholarly perspectives (Clifford 1988; Said 1979) have often cavalierly assumed inappropriate, interpretive discursive authority without recognizing the validity of tribal nations’ metanarratives. Examining the metanarratives active within contemporary Lakota communities can thus serve an important, and even corrective, heuristic function. I believe two metanarratives may now be said to inform contemporary Lakota culture. The first, less popular in public discourse, is the tandem of formal education and economic progress. The second seeks to celebrate and regenerate cultural integrity through heritage, the Lakota tradition, and particularly, for this inquiry, the powwow complex.

I have elsewhere made the argument that public Lakota identity formation has come to be centered on spirituality and especially on the powwow (Theisz 1987). A variety of sources support the unequivocal centrality of the powwow for self-identification, including Powers (1990), Hueneman (1992), Black Bear and Theisz (1976), Heth (1992), and West (1992). Powers, in his War Dance: Plains Indian Musical Performance (1990), observes that in spite of the spread of the Northern and Southern Plains style of powwow, since 1955 few scholars have devoted their attention to this subject (pp. 3, n, 58). In contrast, he notes, American Indian scholars themselves have recently demonstrated a growing interest in the American Indian song and dance tradition. Four of these important studies, which have been published in the last two decades,

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