PLAYING INDIAN by Philip J. Deloria

PLAYING INDIAN

KIRKUS REVIEW

A provocative study of the role of American Indians in forming the character of the US. Following D.H. Lawrence’s observation that the American character is essentially paradoxical (—wanting to savor both civilized order and savage freedom—), Deloria (History/Univ. of Colorado) traces the tendency, apparent since the arrival of the first colonists, of Anglo-Americans to appropriate Native American dress, customs, and habits. It was no accident, Deloria writes, that the perpetrators of the Boston Tea Party donned Indian headdresses before sending British cargo into the drink; they at once wanted to disguise themselves and proclaim a kind of solidarity with the continent’s first inhabitants. It allowed the restrained New Englanders to enjoy freedoms, and even a certain licentiousness, that wouldn—t have been possible in plain clothes. Indian societies were deconstructed and imagined in American literature, in secret societies like the Tammany and Cayuga Wolf all-white —tribes,— and in more open organizations like the Boy Scouts, whose American founder, Ernest Thompson Seton, suspected real Indians of harboring —unpatriotic sentiments.— Deloria turns up fascinating oddments, including the story of one Colorado Boy Scout troop that went native to the point that the national organization tried to reeducate them, but the scouts managed to reconstruct the secret Shalako ceremony of the Zuni Indians so convincingly that Zuni elders built a special kiva for the masks the young men had made. Deloria notes that —although the Boy Scouts of La Junta were not Indians, they were also more than simple, straightforward white boys.— He is less admiring of the hippies, Deadheads, and modern New Agers who continue to appropriate elements of Native American religion and culture today. But in the end, he concludes, Indianness —was the bedrock for creative American identities, but it was also one of the foundations . . . for imagining and performing domination and power in America.— A valuable contribution to Native American studies, and worthy of attention by readers in many fields.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-300-07111-6
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Yale Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1998




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