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Return of the Indian: Bone Games, Transcription, and Other Gestures of Indigeneity

  • Author(s): Minch, Mark Allen
  • Advisor(s): Minh-ha, Trinh T.
  • et al.

Native Americans are currently in what is being called a `renaissance.' A term that in its application to Native Americans was originally understood to have been a matter of literary production, a re-birth on the level of imagination, its focus has shifted recently to the (re)production of peoples themselves through various projects of cultural and biopolitical revitalization. Much of the material basis for this (second) re-birth lies in material culture, more particularly, the collections in museums, echoing the use of stories and rites from the archives in Native American literatures. Rebeginning from and with the ruins: What are these materials collected during the heyday of colonial violence, understood by ethnographers and anthropologists at the time to be `salvage' of the remainders of peoples on the verge of disappearance? In the somewhat rationally organized, but often baroquely cluttered, immensity of fragments, there is produced an odd relation to the post-apocalypse where the collections function as contested political sites of open and incomplete identity formation. Because of the difficulty of materialization in its relation to the scripted imagination, this space of (re)production is both gestural and transcriptive, made emblematic by the relation between the collection and the archive.

Return of the Indian explores the possible uses and misuses of these sensitive materials in their reappropriation by tribes for various revitalization projects, and tries to understand the current situation of Native American identity within such a politics and art of recovery. Drawing on perspectives from philosophy; postcolonial theory and indigeneity; literary theory; art practice; and feminist, gender and sexuality studies, this dissertation seeks a sensitivity to the materials that respects opacity and the role of the interval in the delicate practice of making Indians. Located between what Michael Taussig has called the "rituals" of University based knowledge-production and the politico-tribal praxis of reproduction of indigenous subjects using the University's materials and methodologies, it follows the path and praxis of an indigenous call for return.

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