Rights of passage – the coming of the ‘wild west’ Constructs of identity and their effects upon Indigenous people

Posted in Articles, History, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Native Americans/First Nation, Oceania, United States on 2011-07-03 03:45Z by Steven

Rights of passage – the coming of the ‘wild west’ Constructs of identity and their effects upon Indigenous people

Counselling, Psychotherapy, and Health
Volume 3, Issue 2 (2007), Indigenous Special Issue
pages 39-45

Michael Red Shirt Semchison
M.Ed.Studies; Gr.Cert.Ed.[HE]
University of Queensland, Australia


“We did not think of the great open plains, the beautiful rolling hills, and winding streams with tangled growth, as ‘wild.’ Only to the white man was nature a ‘wilderness’ and only to him was the land ‘infested’ with ‘wild’ animals and ‘savage’ people. To us it was tame. Earth was bountiful and we were surrounded with the blessings of the Great Mystery. Not until the hairy man from the east came and with brutal frenzy heaped injustices upon us and the families we loved was it ‘wild’ for us. When the very animals of the forest began fleeing from his approach, then it was that for us the ‘Wild West’ began.”—Luther Standing Bear, Lakota, 1933.

It was the decade of the 1860s, the time of birth of one of my ancestors Luther Standing Bear who grew to manhood during years of crisis for the Lakota and other nations of the Great Plains. At last the process of colonisation begun in 1492, when we were labeled ‘Indian’, had reached the West. While he was still a young boy the traditional way of life of the Lakota was undergoing dramatic change. Already we had been renamed by the French fur traders and were called the Sioux. The controversial Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 had been legislated and the great Sioux Reservation had been firmly incorporated. In the years that followed virtually every important aspect and institution of Lakota life was subject to change. The annihilation of the buffalo and other natural food sources, plus confinement to the reservation caused the erosion of old traditions and forced our people to depend upon the government for the necessities of life. Our societies of autonomy were weakened and normal avenues of social and political advancement were closed. Opposition to government programs by traditional leaders caused dramatic confrontations which led to efforts to destroy positions of leadership and to create rival headmen more sympathetic to the will of agents and Washington officials. Agency police were recruited through coercion and made responsible to the already entrenched Bureau of Indian Affairs. This provided another onslaught upon Lakota traditions and further strengthened the position of the appointed Indian Agent. Government support of missionaries and their efforts to convert the ‘heathen’ undermined our religion and spiritual beliefs and practices. The prohibition of sacred ceremonies including the Sun Dance, our most important annual religious and social event, was devastating. Last but not least, education programs were developed to hasten acculturation and prepare the Lakota and other Indigenous Americans for assimilation into the dominant white society (Ellis, 1975)…

Through this dissertation I will endeavor to present a picture of the world that continues to exist for Indigenous people, one controlled by a dominant society that persists in grinding out old injustices under new guises. There will be a review of some of the complex actions created via political ontology and social influences that offend morality and common sense; actions explained away routinely by a system of administration relying upon obscurity and intricacy to insulate itself from scrutiny and criticism (Cahn and Hearne, 1969). A comparison of Native American and Australian Aboriginal experiences will be used examining some of the issues that brought conflict into Indigenous communities and centering on constructs of identity. This will include imposed caste systems and blood-quantum measurements used to determine and define a person as being ‘real’ in a culture. How these separate and divide individuals, families and whole communities will be of primary concern.

To better understand the effects of re-identifying people we must step back in historical time to see how the theory and system of ‘other’ came into being. In 15th century Europe use of the term race generally referred to differences between groups within a community based upon rank or social station. When countries such as England and Spain began full scale colonisation during the 16th and 17th centuries the vanquished became regarded as being of a different race because they were unlike their vanquishers. Then the mass movement of people came around the globe by the colonisers and their subjects, especially through the slave trade. The shift in the meaning of race then became crucial as capitalism and nationalism in Europe arose, with the success of these systems dependent upon the accumulation of new resources and military power. These factors and the use of subdued non-European labour led to the belief that Europeans were both culturally and racially superior. By the 18th century racial hierarchies were fixed based on physical differences and a modus operandi for the classification of all natural life as objects, including human beings was established (Hollinsworth, 1998. 35-43). A new worldview had emerged and was readily adopted by most European nations, especially those embroiled in the race for colonial riches to advance their needs for economic and social dominance. By having ‘scientific proof’ through the theory of evolution espoused by Darwin, the dialogue for the identification of humans seen to be inferior and the labeling of them as savages, heathens, deviants or sub-humans became an acceptable tool for exploitation. All non-whites were now categorised as ‘colored’ and put into a place of being ‘other’ to the rest of the world (Blumenbach, 1806). It became legal terminology and thus justified the dehumanisation of all Indigenous people and treatment of them, most notably the Africans, the Native Americans and the Australian Aborigines…

Removal was one of the deciding factors in the disenfranchisement of indigenous people and had a dual role to play. The first was the establishment of reserves or missions to restrain and control them under the authority of appointed government officials or missionaries from various church groups. This led to further corruption on all levels and miscegenation occurred. Incidences of miscegenation were already in evidence as it was part and parcel of contact with outsiders, be it consensual or forced. However, it seemed to escalate with reservation life and more children of mixed ancestry were born into these communities, which led to the second role of removal. Taking children from families and placing them in specially created residential institutions provided the means to civilize, acculturate and assimilate them into the dominant society. It was here that one of the most insidious elements of fragmentation was to occur, the division of nations by blood quantum and a caste system of identification. Children were separated and identified according to physical appearance and complexion. Those of fairer skin were seen to be less savage, more worthy of saving and easier to blend into white society, while those of darker skin were labeled as less desirable. Already alienated from parents, families, land and cultural knowledge, they were now alienated from each other (Read, 1981). It mattered not if it was the Kinchela Girls Home in New South Wales or the Carlisle Residential School in Pennsylvania; the story was the same and the attitudes of the caretakers similar. Richard Pratt, the Superintendent at Carlisle stated “I am a Baptist, because I believe in immersing the Indians in our civilisation and when we get them under holding them there until they are thoroughly soaked.” All evidence of ancestral culture was to be eliminated and replaced through the processes already legislated (Utley, 1964). Yet another construct of identity and one that has served governments well right into contemporary times.

By the first half of the 20th century most Native Americans and Australian Aborigines had experienced a deprivation of autonomy through aggression, suppression and institutionalisation. However, it was the caste barrier of color prejudice and discrimination that separated them from mainstream society and made them outcasts in their own lands. Already there was demarcation of identity using terms such as, fullblood, half-breed or half-caste, quarter-blood or just plain ‘breed’, all measured on appearance. Kinship and membership in nations, tribes or clan groups, cultural knowledge and rights to them had been disregarded. Only those seen as full-blooded were acknowledged as being the ‘real’ Indians or Aborigines. This was based on the ‘Rule of Recognition’ established by the British and adapted in the Americas in 1825, which holds that only a person whose non-white ancestry is visible is of that ancestry. While originally formatted to refer to persons of African heritage, this was also applied to Native Americans (Gotanda, 1995. 258). It is also evident in Australia where Aborigines no longer controlled by reserve conditions were controlled by a color bar and caste system that created two distinct social environments of black and white. In this system people can be either assigned or denied opportunities depending on provisos outside their control, regardless of any abilities they might have. One extreme and officially sanctioned example of this existed until 1949 whereby the Education Department of New South Wales could exclude identifiable Aboriginal children from state schools if Anglo/European parents objected to their presence. Racism was entrenched and prejudice rampant. Identity was used as a political tool to enact power over others by putting them in a place of being ‘other’ and this process goes through all the cognitive structures of society. Economically and socially this created a multi-faceted cycle of impoverishment that entrapped Aboriginal communities on every level. Then they were blamed for it, while the real cause of economic deprivation and political powerlessness was overt and covert racial discrimination (Broome, 1994. Ch.9)…

Read the entire article here.

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InSide/OutSide Cultural Hybridity: Greenstone as Narrative Provocateur

Posted in Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Oceania, Papers/Presentations, Women on 2011-07-03 01:22Z by Steven

InSide/OutSide Cultural Hybridity: Greenstone as Narrative Provocateur

Australian Association for Research in Education (AARE)
International Education Research Conference 2003
2003-11-30 through 2003-12-03
Auckland, New Zealand

Tess Moeke-Maxwell, HRC Post Doctoral Research Fellow
Department of Psychology
University of Waikato

This paper is a revised chapter located in my PhD thesis ‘Bringing Home The Body: Bi/multi Racial Maori Women’s Hybridity in Aotearoa/New Zealand (2003). An earlier version of this paper is to be published as a chapter in Provocations: On Sylvia Ashton-Warner and Excitability in Education. Editors: Cathryn McConaghy (University of New England) and Judith P. Robertson (University of Ottawa).

Toward evening—we know it is evening—a canoe puts off from the bank of That Side and sets off over the river. In it are Huia and Memory and Sire paddling back from That Side to This, all chanting a paddle song the old one has recently taught them, keeping instinctive time with the paddles, which is one sure time they know—any instinctive rhythm. It is in Maori of course.

Behold my paddle!
See how it flies and flashes;
It quivers like a bird’s wing
This paddle of mine….

But as they reach This Side landing an unrest stirs in Huia. Her allegiance to her koro on That Side confronts her feeling for Puppa on This Side. In the crossing of the polished surface of the river is the crossing from the brown to the white, although she’s too young to know it, and the emotional racial transition is not polished like the face of the river holding the gray of the sky in her waters and the glamorous gold of the trees; it is something with smudges on it, something with jagged angles. The racial transition is a sunken branch cutting the mirror surface (Ashton-Warner, 1966, pp. 63-4).

Essentially, this paper is a summary of the ideas presented in my doctoral thesis whereby I examined bi/multi racial Maori women’s cultural hybridity in Aotearoa/New Zealand. In my concluding chapter, I utilised Sylvia Ashton-Warner’s (1966) novel Greenstone to highlight bi/multi racial women’s hybridity in her portrayal of Huia’s coming and going, from one side of the river where she lives with her Pakeha family to the Other, the ancestral home of her people and the place where her Maori grandfather still lives. Ashton-Warner’s novel is situated after the First World War. She demonstrates how children of mixed racial ancestries were multiply located across different landscapes and cultures. In Greenstone, Hybrid-Huia’s corporeal body regularly travels backwards and forwards across the river/boundary separating her two cultural worlds, This Side and That Side. The crisscrossing between This Pakeha Side and That Maori Side is portrayed as a journey/process of metaphoric images and competing landscapes that need to be traversed to make the (cultural) transition to the Other Side possible…

Read the entire paper here.