URBAN RENEGADES: The Cultural Strategy of American Indians by Jeanne Guillemin

URBAN RENEGADES: The Cultural Strategy of American Indians

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A young sociologist's study of the Micmac Indians, who occupy decrepit reservations in the Maritime Provinces of Canada, and migrate around' the Northeast as marginal wage-earners. Guillemin's sympathetic picture shows a monotonously stunted existence, the urban Micmac have all the problems of displaced Appalachians and stateside Puerto Ricans. The book tries to place a favorable light on the fragility and shallowness of relationships in an environment of extreme poverty where children are shunted around and men are viewed as sources of income while ""romantic love"" is foregone. The driving, drinking and gossiping which constitute social life are unrelievedly dismal, and the accumulation of superstition, fatalism, and belief in a ""rigid, inherent"" personality seem to have less to do with any Indian cultural residuum than with the general demoralization of deprived fringe populations. Guillemin is so eager not to seem like a do-good social worker that she becomes positively callous to the potential damage of what she calls the ""informal and flexible circulation"" of offspring. In a chapter on her problems with field work, she indicates that she tried to get beyond a romantic idea of cultural relativism in approaching the Micmac, but she appears to have simply substituted numbness: ""we have really done nothing better, just differently."" As if the Micmac themselves have chosen this generally ugly, stultifying way of life as a conscious ""strategy,"" rather than being thrust into it. The constraint Guillemin felt among the Indians is quite understandable since she had no particular knowledge or perceptions to offer them; while abstaining from the usual goods-and-services role of non-Indian bureaucrats. The book represents a depressing reiteration of the grimness of life at the bottom--not a testimony to the vibrancy of Indian culture.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1975
Publisher: Columbia Univ. Press