The History and Importance of Decolonizing Native American Ethnography

Ranco, Darren J. Toward a Native Anthropology: Hermeneutics, Hunting Stories, and Theorizing from Within. Wica Saw Review 21, no. 2 (Autumn, 2006): 61-78. University Minnesota Press.

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Darren Ranco is currently an Associate Professor of Anthropology and Coordinator of Native American Research at the University of Maine. In his essay; Toward a Native Anthropology: Hermeneutics, Hunting Stories, and Theorizing from Within, Ranco discusses the topic of Native American representation by non-native Anthropologists. He brings up the idea of anthropologists searching for the Other and this search as a colonial desire. The tendency for the anthropologists to think of the Other as having to be something that is extremely Other is also brought up. Ranco discusses his own challenges as a Native American anthropologist and the backlash he received from his professors in graduate school when he wanted to focus on his own people as he described it. Ranco argues for anthropology which will fight for the rights of Native communities and give back some of the control to Natives over what is said to be their history and their culture. Ranco also argues his point through the words of Bea Medicine when explaining the necessity of the role of Native American anthropologists. Medicine believed that Native American anthropologists could educate other anthropologists on how to be respectful of the communities where they do research and show the importance of relationships among the anthropologist and the subjects. I plan to use this essay to show the argument for more Native Anthropologists to study in their own communities as well as the need for all anthropologists to not only see Native communities they are studying as objects of ethnographic research, but partners in their writings and projects. By viewing Native Americans as partners in ethnographic research instead of simply the objects of the research, an attempt can be made to give some control back to Native Americans as to how their cultures and histories are presented as well as working towards more collaborative efforts among the two.

Simpson, Audra. Mohawk Interruptus: Political Life Across the Borders of Settler States. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2014.

Audra Simpson’s book, Mohawk Interruptus: Political Life Across the Borders of Settler States, focuses on ethnographic work conducted on the reserve community of the Mohawks of Kahnaw? :ke. Located in the southwestern region of Quebec, the Kahnaw? :ke Mohawks’ struggle for their own political sovereignty from the settle state. A major point of conflict is the Kahnaw? :ke Mohawks’ fight for the validity of their own government. Being part of the Haudenosaunee, commonly known as the Iroquois Confederacy, the Kahnaw? :ke Mohawks deny Canadian or American citizenship to help prove the validity and power of their own Haudenosaunee governance. Another step many have taken is traveling with Haudenosaunee issued passports rather than American or Canadian. Simpson describes how the Iroquois National Lacrosse Team (INLT) did not participate in the World Lacrosse League Championship tournament to be held in Manchester, England due to the refusal of the United Kingdom to recognize their Haudenosaunee issued passports. By doing this, Simpson brings up the idea of refusal to play the game. This meaning that the lacrosse players refused to play the game of being either American or Canadian and rather stayed by their Iroquois claim of belonging. Simpson also discusses the complicated issues of what defines Native American citizen. The question of blood quantum and intermarriage are brought up in relation to who should be added to the Iroquois membership rolls. I plan to use Simpson’s work to showcase both the work of Native American anthropologists to decolonize Native anthropology by reclaiming their own history and culture.

Starn, Ori. Ishi’s Brain: In Search of America’s Last Wild Indian. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2005.

In Starn’s book, Ishi’s Brain: In Search of America’s Last Wild Indian, the story of Ishi is unfolded. After wandering out of the San Francisco hills in 1911, Ishi was considered the last of his tribe, the Yahi which Alfred Kroeber would later name them. Throughout the book, Starn not only discusses the problematic treatment of Ishi, but he also describes his own search for the controversial missing brain of Ishi. Starn not only combats the issues of representation but also that of a non-Native anthropologist working with very deeply rooted cultural issues for the Indigenous people of California. Throughout the novel, Starn points out the multiple occasions in which Alfred Kroeber’s wife, Theodora Kroeber, misrepresented Ishi as well as the circumstances in which he lived in her novel Ishi in Two Worlds: A Biography of the Last Wild Indian in North America. I plan to use this source in order to point out some of the issues of representation and the rights of Indigenous peoples in the past. Not only through the eyes of the government, but by anthropologists themselves. An example I plan to use is the frequency of Theodora Kroeber to misrepresent the circumstances in which Ishi lived his life in San Francisco. Many of the alterations she made to his story were sometimes leaving out what some people would have considered injustices which her husband committed against Ishi as well as her tendency to romanticize him as a shaman or healer of some sorts. Another topic of interest in which I plan to use from this source is the thoughts of how Alfred Kroeber treated Ishi as a specimen in most cases, although claiming to consider Ishi to be a good friend. Who has the right to represent Indigenous populations and how they are represented are questions that I will be using Starn’s novel to address in my paper. I will also use Starn’s respect as an outsider in regard to cultural practices where he knows that, despite his desire to attend, he is respectful of the invitation, or the lack of, from the Indigenous people involved.

Tuck, Eve, and K. Wayne Yang. Decolonization Is Not A Metaphor. Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education, & Society 1, no.1 (2012): 1“40.

In Decolonization Is Not A Metaphor, Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang discuss the increasing occurrence of decolonization to be turned into a metaphor, discrediting the meaning and power behind the word. In an attempt to remind readers what is unsettling about decolonization, Eve and Tuck explain the different forms of colonialism and how it is present within North America. One of the main characteristics of colonization in North America which made it different from others was that in settler colonialism, the colonizer is coming to stay. This desire to stay then leads to the inevitable desire to eliminate the Indigenous for the acquisition of their land. Another large portion of the essay is dedicated to five actions which the authors name as settler moves to innocence. These five moves are settler nativism, fantasizing adoption, colonial equivocation, conscientization, at risk-ing/ asterisk-ing Indigenous peoples, and re-occupation and urban homesteading. According to Eve and Tuck, to truly decolonize, there must be a break of the settler colonialism structure. This would then call for the reparation of lands to the Indigenous is decolonization is to even begin. I plan to use this article to discuss the true meaning of decolonization. If decolonization has lost much of its potency due to its use as a metaphor, is it even possible for many to understand the true meaning. Is the sympathy many settlers feel for the Indigenous who they have affected truly enough to bring them to the conclusion that to make up for these wrongs, they must return dispossessed land to those who originally lived on them? I will use the information I have found in this article to lay out the meaning of decolonization and if the settlers will ever make an attempt to decolonize.

Wolfe, Patrick. Settler colonialism and the elimination of the native. Journal of Genocide Research 8, no. 4 (December 2006): 387-409.

In this piece, Patrick Wolfe discusses the inherently eliminatory nature of settler colonialism and how it is still seen today. One point that Wolfe makes is that Black people and Native Americans have both been racialized in the United States, but in opposite ways. For Black people enslaved by those in the US, their reproduction only brought more wealth to their owner. No matter how little blood they had of African descent, they were still considered Black and a slave. Native Americans on the other hand created an issue when their numbers rose, limiting access to lands. This led to the restriction of who was classified as Native American and who was not. Wolfe talk about how settler colonialism does not have the primary reason for colonization be race, but that of taking land. Settlers have come to stay. The Doctrine of Discovery is also explored in this piece. In European understanding, the first to discover the land then had the right to buy land from the natives who lived there. Even though it seems as if this gave the Indigenous population a choice on the matter, it did not always work that way. Wolfe quotes Harvey Rosenthal as saying, The American right to buy always supersede the Indian right to sell. I will use Wolfe’s piece to demonstrate the past and present practice of eliminating the Native American in a post-colonial state.

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The History and Importance of Decolonizing Native American Ethnography. (2019, Jun 24). Retrieved February 7, 2023 , from

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