Deloria’s text Indians in Unexpected Places offers a detail-rich glimpse of the complex relationship Native Americans have with colonial notions of modernity and traditionalism, namely the massive divide between settler expectation and indigenous realities. While I admit that as a member of Native communities, many of the arguments voiced by Deloria, though compelling, seemed a bit self-evident to me—it seems clear that the target audience is primarily comprised of non-Natives, especially since I see the overarching take-away point to be that Natives are Actual Human Beings who don’t exist in an ahistorical essentialized cultural vacuum. That said, any glance at portrayals of Natives in dominant media is enough to prove that the text is a much-needed intervention.

I do, moreover, appreciate Deloria’s dedication to complicating ideas of modernity altogether; rather than simply assert that Natives are modern too (and thus reify the modern/traditional bifurcation), Deloria demonstrates that Natives have played an active role in shaping modernity, and continue to construct paths around settler-imposed imaginations of traditionalism and Native culture while still maintaining identity as Native. In this way, he shows that the tired questions regarding “modernization” and its relation to alleged assimilation are not going to yield answers that speak to the myriad ways in which Native people have related to what is conceived of as modern. Again, this seems somewhat obvious to me, but Deloria does a great job showing the ways in which Northern Plains cultures are, contrary to settler thought, defined by ingenuity and innovation, and have routinely changed due to shifts in circumstance and preference.

So what does this mean for Native cultures? Surely at the very least, that they’re emblematic of Native strength, resilience, and creativity. I recognize that for the purposes of this text, Deloria is much more concerned with how non-Natives are viewing and imagining Natives, rather than how Natives view their own cultures, but this has led me to wonder—is, to some degree, “modern-ness” traditional itself? If we understand Native traditions in their contexts (ie shaped by what was relevant and accessible to Native communities of the time), and are willing to concede that cultural traditions are fluid, wouldn’t this signify a total breakdown in the modern-traditional dichotomy, rather than a straddling of both sides? What is distinctly “un-modern” about practices that are now conceived of as traditional?

  • How can Deloria’s arguments speak to or redefine our understandings of indigeneity? Of culture and modernity?
  • How can we employ Deloria’s interventions in our understandings of (materials shown in class)? We’ve talked several times this semester about complications of a resistance-complicity dichotomy—how do you see this playing out in Native cultural practice, as seen in the examples either provided by Deloria or shown in class? How do Natives play with a modern-traditional dichotomy (that most understand as imagined) as a means of resistance?
  • Do you see Deloria making larger interventions in landscapes of colonial imagination? If so, what do those look like? Again, we’ve talked several times this semester about the relationship between discursive space and material reality—if at face-value Deloria’s text is largely dealing with discursive intervention, how does it relate to past/present/future material realities for Native people?

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