Native Diasporas: Indigenous Identities and Settler Colonialism in the Americas

By Blee, Lisa | Oregon Historical Quarterly, Summer 2015 | Go to article overview

Native Diasporas: Indigenous Identities and Settler Colonialism in the Americas


Blee, Lisa, Oregon Historical Quarterly


NATIVE DIASPORAS: INDIGENOUS IDENTITIES AND SETTLER COLONIALISM IN THE AMERICAS

by Gregory D. Smithers and Brooke N. Newman

University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London, 2014. Illustrations, notes,index. 524 pages. $45.00 paper.

In her ground-breaking book Indians in the Making (1998) and subsequent essay, "Wanted: More Histories of Indian Identity," Alexandra Harmon highlighted the complex process of tribal identity-making around Puget Sound. Her call to scholars to historicize identity categories and markers in the context of colonial encounter has been answered with fascinating and imaginative studies reaching far beyond the Northwest. In Native Diasporas, Gregory D. Smithers and Brooke N. Newman bring together fifteen innovative essays that grapple with the ways individuals and groups constructed and reconstructed indigenous identity across the Americas from the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries.

This ambitious 500-page compilation is divided into three sections that follow a roughly chronological progression. The five essays in part one engage with the theme of diaspora most directly, present productive comparative themes, and offer the greatest geographic and temporal scope. Rebecca Horn's linguistic analysis of Mesoamerican texts from the three centuries following Spanish invasion concludes that indigenous individuals identified primarily by membership in a Native polity, rather than forming a pan-Indian identity as a result of the shared experience of colonialism. It is a fitting way to begin this collection of case studies bound together by the common theme of settler colonial encounters. Michael A. McDonnell's essay comes to a similar insight about the persistence of Anishinabaag identity in the seventeenth-century Great Lakes region. McDonnell argues that Anishinabaag kinship networks played a significant role in ordering relations and events in the pays d'en haut and served as the foundation for an enduring identity beyond the end of Richard White's middle ground. Brooke Newman's excellent essay analyzes the production and implications of the eighteenth-century British narrative denying Black Caribs' self-articulated indigeneity, and with it the possibility that Africans could ensure the continuation of Native beliefs and culture in the British Caribbean. Linford D. Fisher presents an interesting counterpoint to the previous studies of racial mixing and the endurance of identity with his chapter on the Brothertown Indians. This group created a pan-Indian identity around Christianity, sought to move to new lands and to maintain a "pure-blood" Indian community. Fisher contends that the Brothertown Indians faced increasing competition for land with Native refugees and mixed newcomers, and thus the movement demonstrates the particular complexities of colonialism in southern New England and the power of collective agency in maintaining tribal sovereignty.

The five essays in part two focus on the massive land losses that shaped many Native Americans' experiences in the nineteenth century and offer contrasting points on the themes of movement and different survival strategies. Claudia Haake compares Navajo and Yaqui strategies to resist U.S. and Mexican policies of exile and the resulting impacts on tribal identities. While displacement from homelands resulted in new tribal nations or broken individual spirits in Haake's study, Vera Parham notes that Northwest Native peoples found in migratory labor a way to maintain connections to traditional lands, fishing sites, and communities. Individuals' adaptions to wage work also "supported an indigenous Pacific Northwest diasporic community" that was crucial for surviving the colonial experience (p. …

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