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Frozen in the Past
Preserving the ‘Pristine’ #038; ‘Pure’ Indigenous ‘Other’
INDS207 Module Three Key Theme
Indigeneity is often associated with primitivist notions of
‘tradition’ #038; ‘cultural purity’ that lock Indigenous peoples in the past.
If Indigenous peoples don’t express their Indigeneity in these easily recognisable ways they are all too often treated as being ‘inauthentic’ or fake.
Why is this issue?
Key point: failure to express one’s indigeneity in ways that correspond with the settler imagination has significant implications.
§ “Staged authenticity”: conformity by indigenous people to the
expected images of tourists.
§ MacCannell, Dean (1973), “Staged authenticity: Arrangement of social space in tourist
settings”, American Journal of Sociology, 79(3): 589-603.
§ Conforming to western stereotypes represents a double-edged
sword for indigenous communities.
§ Sissons, Jeffrey (2005), First Peoples: Indigenous Cultures and their Futures, London:
Reaktion Books, pp. 37-59.
INDS207 Why is this issue? Module Three 3
The requirement of cultural authenticity commonly
excludes from official recognition those Indigenous people who, due to colonial processes, have difficulty attaching to pre-European ‘tribal’ forms.
§ Colonialism often involves the severing of indigenous kinship relationships through policies of removal, relocation and assimilation.
§ The Treaty of Waitangi settlement process in Aotearoa/New
§ Indigenous people living in urban centres in Australia.
Where do these ideologies come from and how they can be employed in ways that may enable and/or constrain Indigenous agency?
Where do such ideas come from:
- Primitivism #038; the legacy of “salvage” anthropology.
- Ideologies of cultural purity and authenticity.
- Pseudo-scientific ideas about race and evolution.
- The Noble Savage and ecological indigeneity.
- New Age philosophies and spiritualism.
Preserving the ‘pristine’ and ‘pure’ Indigenous “Other”
This ‘primitivist’ view of indigeneity has been reinforced by a number of scholarly disciplines.
For exle, it is one of the defining characteristics of Australian anthropology:
§ It viewed Aboriginal people in the south-east as
inauthentic, as people who did not live as “Aborigines”, as people who had lost their “Aboriginal” culture and had only a fragmented memory of their (past) culture.
Anthropology and indigenous peoples
A total discursive practice that encodes and reproduces the hegemonic process of colonial settlement.
§ A discipline primarily “…fitted to the needs of those who have
the task of administering to native peoples.”
§ Alfred Radcliffe-Brown cited by Geoffrey Gray (2007), A Cautious Silence: The
Politics of Australian Anthropology, Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press, p. 5.
Objective: “Knowing the native”
§ Anthropological and colonial discourse focused on
understanding the “mentality” of the indigenous people: i.e. the abilities and capacities of “natives” to think—and to act— like white people.
“Whether by accident or design, whether by measuring, quantifying, pathologizing, expunging or essentializing, a comprehensive range of authorities… have produced an incessant flow of knowledge about Aborigines [sic] that has become available for selective appropriation to warrant, to rationalize and to authenticate official definitions, policies and programmes for dealing with ‘the Aboriginal problem”
Settler Colonialism and the Transformation of Anthropology, London: Cassell, p.3.
Its academic role is to record indigenous societies and cultures for posterity.
Primarily interested in describing and analysing peoples with minimal European contact.
Obsession with what were seen as “primitive” cultures and especially on the “pristine” and “pure” indigenous “other”.
Key Charateristics in Australia:
- Obsession with what were considered the “traditional” forms of Aboriginal life.
- Australian anthropology was concerned with the pre- colonial social order to the point of blindness to the contemporary scene.
Physical anthropologists were equipped with callipers, a von Luschan chromatic scale for classifying skin colour and a camera for front and side head shots.
Anthropologists propagated a discourse of blood quantum and “racial purity”.
Von Luschanapos;s chromatic scale: a method of classifying skin colour.
Australia was viewed as a huge museum of antiquated life:
§ “Centuries ago, nature ‘side’ tracked a race in Australia. At the present time, despite some drawbacks or interference from outside, that race remains, to a large extent in primitive conditions. It is capable of casting light on the evolution of human races in a way and to an extent that probably no other can equal.”
§ W.R. Smith, “Australian Conditions and Problems From the
Standpoint of Present Anthropological Knowledge”, AAAS 14 (1913), p. 374.
Scientific expeditions: Salvage Anthropology INDS207 Module Three 13
“To help science complete the knowledge of what is regarded as the only prehistoric race left on the face of the earth-the Australian aborigines”.
This dichotomy between ‘traditional’ and ‘non-traditional’ Aboriginal people weaves its way through relevant anthropological discourse and remains deeply embedded in anthropological thinking.
It promotes a fossilised vision of indigeneity which is regurgitated over and over again.
Central Australia 1932
“There was, and remains so, a lack of interest in the lived lives of people of Aboriginal descent living in urban and rural Australia, especially in south-eastern and south-western Australia, who have been subjected to the most dramatic effects of invasion and settlement and its consequences.”
(2007) A Cautious Silence: The politics of Australian Anthropology
Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press, p. 17. .
INDS207 Module Three
North American Context
Critics also identify numerous other exles of
“primitivist” depictions of Native Americans in popular culture.
- Stereotyping by omission—showing Native Americans in a historical rather than modern context.
- How Hollywood stereotyped the Native Americans
James Luna (Luiseño Indian) is a performance and installation artist (http://www.jamesluna.com/mainmenu/)
Challenge and Critique § “Not even Indians can relate Vine Deloria Jnr.
themselves to this type of creature who, to anthropologists, is the “real” Indian. Indian people begin to feel that they are merely shadows of a mythical super-Indian” (1988, p. 82).
§ See Thomas Biolsi #038; Larry J. Zimmerman (eds) (1997), Indians and Anthropologists: Vine Deloria, Jr., and the Critique of Anthropology, Tuscan: University of Arizona Press.
Professor Martin Nakata Challenge and Critique
§ “Ethnology and early
anthropological theory once again informed practices in a way that not only framed the snapshot but also provided a background against which Islander society itself became in reality little more than an offstage presence imagined into being by a scientific audience.”
§ Nakata, M. (2007), Disciplining the savages,
savaging the disciplines, Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press, p.102.
“I suggest that a powerful antidote to the manufactured past now being created for us is the secret history of Indians in the twentieth century. Geronimo really did have a Cadilac and used to drive it to church, where he’d sign autographs. Quanah Parker, the legendary leader of the Comanches, became a successful businessman after the war. He was part owner of a railroad, and endorsed farming and Jesus. At the same time he was leader of the Native American Church and advocated the use of peyote.”
Paul Chat Smith
(2009) Everything You Know about Indians Is Wrong, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, “On Romanticism”, p. 21.
Social Darwinism and Eugenics.
§ Applies the biological concepts of natural
selection to human societies.
§ Life is viewed as a struggle for existence
characterised by Herbert Spencer’s phrase the “survival of the fittest”.
§ The process of natural selection would result in the survival of the best competitors and the elimination of the ‘unfit’.
§ Used to justify social, economic and political
inequalities in wider society as natural phenomena that simply reflected the superiority of the powerful and the inferiority of the weak.
Herbert Spencer Sir Francis Galton
Social Darwinism and Eugenics.
§ ‘Natural selection’ was applied to the idea of ‘race’—i.e.
superior ‘races’ would flourish, while inferior ‘races’ would die out.
§ Social Darwinism underpinned many policy regimes to
regulate indigenous lives.
§ In Australia, it was widely accepted that “Full-blood”
Aboriginal people were doomed to inevitable extinction.
“It has become an axiom that, following the law of evolution and survival of the fittest, the inferior races of mankind must give place to the highest type of man, and that this law is adequate to account for the gradual decline in numbers of the aboriginal inhabitants of a country before the march of civilisation.”
James Barnard (1809-1897)
(1890), “Aborigines [sic] of Tasmania”, Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science 2, p. 597.
‘Smooth the Dying Pillow’
“The romance of extinction”
§ “A dying race”. § The last of his or her tribe; e.g. “last of the
Wide range of euphemisms were used to label the apparent demise of the “Aboriginal race”.
Indigenous Australians were described as ‘fading
away’, ‘decaying’, ‘slipping away’, ‘melting away’ etc.
Firmly entrenched in the colonial discourse.
INDS207 Module Three 27
Biological authenticity—Indigenous people are expected to remain purely ‘other’; this is not required of the descendants of settlers.
The psuedo-mathematics of blood quantum rationalized a
host of oppressive measures in the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
“White society was deemed able to absorb any amount of Aboriginal admixture and remain white, while any amount of European ‘blood’ rendered Aboriginal identity inauthentic and thus a candidate for elimination through assimilation”.
(2005), First Peoples: Indigenous Cultures and their Futures
INDS207 Module Three . London: Reaktion Books, p. 45.
Racial Purity and Authenticity
Settler colonial administrators propagated a discourse of blood quantum, “race” and culture”:
§ e.g. ‘mixed-blood’, ‘half-blood’, ‘mixed-race’, ‘half-caste’,
‘part-Aborigine’, ‘quadroon’ and so on.
§ In Australia, anthropologists confirmed the validity of
these concepts as administrative categories for regulating the lives of Aboriginal peoples.
§ These ideologies of ‘race’ and racial purity, further
undermined the status of many Aboriginal people as ‘real Aborigines’.
Source: A. O. Neville, Australiaapos;s Coloured Minority: Its Place in the Community, Sydney: Currawong Publishing, 1947.
INDS207 Module Three
Repressive biological authenticity is not solely a feature of the Nineteenth and Twentieth centuries.
See Sissons (2005, pp. 46—50) for a discussion of how Native Americans in the contemporary United States are caught in the ideological trap (not of their own making) of blood quantum requirements.
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