Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Indian Play

First off, I just loved the title of this article "Indian Play: Students, Wordplay, and Ideologies of Indianness at a School for Native Americans" by Lisa K. Neuman in the American Indian Quarterly.  Indian Play sounds awesome and imagine having tea parties with buffalo or engaging in silly wordplay with a beaver? Actually, Tea Parties with Buffalos is going to be the name of my punk band.  Neuman defines Indian play as "...a creative process through which educated and highly articulate students negotiated the meanings of Indianess and produced new Indian identities."  I'd like to think we are doing some Indian play right here on this blog.

Giclee Canvas Print, Bison on Mustard Paprika, 8x10, American Buffalo, Southwest Colors, Bison Art, Buffalo Art:
Strangely I could find no pictures of Buffalo's
going to a tea party.  But I will make sure that
one is created.  The world needs it.
This article brought forward a number of new to me facts and ideas.   Firstly the author is interested in an American school called Bacone College.  She notes that it was established in 1880 by a Baptist minister who wanted to train Indian students to be teachers and preachers and that the school highlighted the "Indian" nature of the school as a positive factor when raising funds.  As part of this focus they also hired Indian staff and provided curriculum and activities in "Indian arts, histories, and cultures" so that the students, for the time, had an unusual ability to "publically engage ideas about what it meant to be Indian and educated." 

In the article she explores the history of the school through the words of the students gathered either from the student paper or through interviews with former students.  She is particularly interested in their use of wordplay and humor as a means to explore this issue of identity.  This space for Indian play was complimented by a collegial environment, which was reportedly free of violence and where students were not isolated from other adult Indians or surrounding Indian communities.

She mentions that some students were fearful that, "if they were educated they might no longer be considered "Indian" by their communities" and that some faced teasing when returning to their home communities.  The students played with these themes through two long running fictitious newspaper characters, one the stereotyped ignorant Indian who couldn't understand why anyone would want an education and the other "educated" Indian who defied the stereotypes of that role (and was stupid).

Neuman is careful to note that this Indian play does not imply agency or resistance on the part of the students.  She sees that their dialogue was primarily an internal discussion on the changing status of the students themselves, but at the same time she notes that in some cases, cultural persistence can also be read as resistance.  We are still here.

Given the nature of the school, it also brought together students from different tribes and was thus  unintentionally a space to explore early-pan Indian identity, with students sharing cultural information with each other as well as exploring similar challenges through the Indian play.

I  also personally found this article interesting, as the family history was that James Brady Jr  (Jim Brady) was accepted into Oxford and choose not to go as he felt it would make it difficult for him to maintain a connection with the people.  It makes me think about how difficult it must have been for someone like him to go away into that very Europeanized space and what that would require that person to give up in terms of identities.

What is your Indian Play today?

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