Internal Colonialism, Violence, and Gender in U.S./Indigenous Relations

AHA Session 93
Friday, January 6, 2012: 2:30 PM-4:30 PM
Superior Room B (Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers)
Carol J. Williams, University of Lethbridge
Carol J. Williams, University of Lethbridge

Session Abstract

As the United States dealt with the Native nations it had incorporated through conquest and expansion, it developed a number of bureaucratic and ideological frameworks that shaped its version of internal colonialism. The papers in this panel reveal how these frameworks were rooted in multiple configurations of violence and often affected Indigenous men and women in different ways. Imperial rhetoric that portrayed Native people as savage and post-conquest attacks on Native families resulted in a legacy of violence in Native communities. Nonetheless, within the powerful constraints constructed by this imperial power, all three of the papers reveal how Native people have creatively responded, resisted, and sought to reinterpret the structures of internal colonialism. 

Jacki Rand uses the case of the Mississippi Choctaw Tribe (descendants of Choctaws who refused to move to Indian Territory in the 1830s) to analyze how internal colonialism facilitated the staggering amounts of violence against Native women as revealed in the 2007 Amnesty International report on the subject. Noting that the legacy of conquest has resulted in Native people being the most regulated population in the United States, Rand connects a view from above, where federal policies and laws are generated and the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Department of Justice determine the conditions in which Native people live, with a view from below, focusing on the local, where Native governments work out their own approaches and Native women bear the consequences of both.

In his paper, "The Federal City and Indigenous Space: Realities and Representations of Internal Colonialism in Nineteenth-Century Washington, D.C.,” Joe Genetin-Pilawa contrasts the visual and symbolic urban landscape of conquest in the U.S. imperial capital with the actual Native presence in the city. He argues that although colonial discourse (in architecture, art, and literature) represented Indians as savage, primitive, and vanishing, Indigenous people in the city (often male members of diplomatic parties) gave the lie to those colonial fantasies both through their very presence and by actively engaging with and challenging the message of the city’s iconographic program.

Finally, Cathleen Cahill explores the ways in which the federal government structured its colonial bureaucracy using the model of the family in “Federal Fathers & Mothers: Deploying Intimate Colonialism in Federal Indian Policy.” She argues that by incorporating Native people into the colonial bureaucracy the Indian Office opened up a space for them to use their very identity as colonial agents to resist the attacks on their families and tribal identities.

Carol Williams brings her expertise on how internal colonialism functioned in Canada and the United States, both at the level of representation as well as materially, to her comments. She will place these three studies of the U.S. iteration of internal colonialism into a wider comparative context of other settler societies.

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