Sandy Marie Anglas Grande’s article looks at a myriad of issues around American Indian identity, education and intellectualism. Like other articles we have read about for class, Grande questions the power roles that schools (and popular culture/literature) reinforce. Just as schools adhere to middle-class ideals, Grande argues that schools also disenfranchise indigenous groups and minorities. She believes that American Indians have disparate struggles from other minority groups because they want sovereignty rather than full-on inclusion in democracy.
Much of the article deals with cultural identity and Grande’s beliefs that critical cultural identity is not static – socio-cultural identities are rooted in history and socially constructed. I would agree with this, and I think we could offer examples of groups that were marginalized to different degrees in different points of history. Grande points to the term mestizaje – meaning cultural ambiguity. However, while Grande does not want American Indian identity to be boiled to essentialness, she also recognizes that any efforts must have a clear understanding of American Indians. She says we must be comfortable operating with fluidity to achieve true reform.
One of the most interesting parts of the article was the section about “Identity Appropriation” where she looked at the struggles around who can identify as American Indian and why they might want to. By reducing identity to fixed parameters (such as land ownership) American Indians are quantifying themselves, which “becomes deeply complicated….having to respond to growing pluralism in their own communities and thus the need to define more fluid constructions of Indianness, while also recognizing the pressures of identity appropiation, cultural encroachment, and corporate commodification require more restrictive constructions of Indianness.” (pg 190)
There is a really interesting “This American Life” episode that looks at one tribe in California that for years wanted to attract and welcome “new” identifiers to their tribe, but after their casino money was running low (among other issues), kicked out a numbers of members. You can read a New York Times article here. It begs the question of how do we label anyone’s cultural identity? Can cultural identity ever be defined by fixed terms, or does it depend on too many socio-historic factors? However, can we function as a society without labels?
Grande argues that American Indian intellectuals need to expand their discourse and take into account issues of oppression, racism, sexism and homophobia and to “develop a language that operates at the crossroads of unity and difference.” (pg. 196) An interesting note about Grande as an intellectual is that left a tenure track position at Colby College because she felt the school had institutional racism. I don’t know what else there is to the story, but that’s a fairly bold statement given the economy for academics.
Questions to Ponder (easy stuff, I swear ;)):
- Is “globalization the new metaphor for imperialism”? (pg 185)
- Does mestizaje embody the struggles that many of our students face in their cultures?
- Does American Indian intellectualism threaten the myth that genocide is in white America’s past?
- How do we balance essentialness and fluidity in identity construction?