Philip J. Deloria’s Indians in unexpected places challenges readers not so much to ‘expect the unexpected’, but rather, to reconsider how and why expectations are the root of the problem to begin with. Deloria asserts: “As consumers of global mass-mediated culture, we are all subject to expectations. They sneak into our minds and down to our hearts when we aren’t looking. That does not mean, however, that they need to rule our thoughts” (6). From here, Deloria invites readers, through multi-layered “secret” narratives, to acknowledge the ways western conceptualized iteration of time and historical proofs continue to maintain First Peoples within stereotypical expectations. Launching his series of essays with a 1941 photo of “Red Cloud Woman in Beauty Shop, Denver 1941” where he interrogates the relationship between stereotype, ideology, and discourse. Deloria explains that expectation should be viewed as “a shorthand for the dense economies of meaning, representation, and act” that has held sway over American minds—Indian and non-Indian alike.
    Indians in unexpected places is a series of compiled essays that seeks to (re) describe the stereotypical conceptions commonly held about First People. These essays range from the dual-representation of Indians as violent/pacifist to the careers Indians had in the nascent American sport industry to the juxtaposition of Indians and technology such as the automobile. Of particular intrigue for me was Deloria’s narration of his grandfather. Recounting the story of Vine Deloria Sr. ascendency as an Episcopalian minister, beloved by South Dakota congregations, Deloria situates his grandfather in the pivotal paradigm shift between savagery and pacification, belonging “to that ‘pacified’ generation of Native people who were supposed, once and for all, to be finally assimilating into the American melting pot or simply dying off” (112). Tracing Vine Deloria’s career as a football player, Deloria positions the rise of American consumer sports with that of marginalized bodies. However, as Deloria—as well as Tsing and Paige have—describes:

This new kind of athletic competition could sometimes be seen as part of a refigured warrior tradition, but it also provided an entrée into American society—a chance to beat whites at their own games, an opportunity to get an education, and, even at its most serious, an occasion for fun and sociality. (116)

Indians in unexpected places was a very interesting read, and has given me a much fuller comprehension not only in demystifying imaginaries of western linearity; but more importantly, how to possibly go about teaching First People history in the upcoming semesters to follow as an instructor in comparative ethnic studies.

Discussion Questions:
1 – One of Deloria’s main contentions is to address how Indian history has been documented and disseminated. As a critic to the hegemonic framework that attempts to make "sense of the diverse experiences of hundreds of tribal peoples" (11), Deloria concludes that this framework then becomes a narrative of U.S. government policy. What are your thoughts on this? I wonder if we can ascertain Deloria’s critique—that teaching First People history often becomes teaching about colonial rule—within the same lens that Coombe offers in her notion of cultural appropriation? What has been your relationship with institutional departments such as Ethnic Studies? Did you find it perpetuates or remedies Deloria’s argument? 
2 – Describing that while the Indian athlete was granted access to the nascent U.S. sports economy, at the same time, Black and Latino bodies remained subjugated to institutional discrimination (125). Do you see any parallels in today’s contemporary capitalist moment? Has the era of appropriating marked bodies for specific purposes—or rather expectations—simply redesigned itself to include Black and Latino bodies now? 

Leave a Reply.