Doing Indigenous History

AHA Session 82
Friday, January 6, 2017: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
Mile High Ballroom 2B (Colorado Convention Center, Ballroom Level)
Roxanne A. Dunbar-Ortiz, California State University, East Bay
Morally Obfuscating the Middle Ground
Jordan Lee Craddick, University of Washington

Session Abstract


In recent years a flurry of critical scholarship about settler colonialism and critical indigenous studies has leveled incisive interventions into the fields of anthropology, political theory, ethnic studies, and Native American and Indigenous studies. Yet, the discipline of history, namely U.S. history, has largely emerged unscathed, or at least it has fortified itself against these potentially subversive theories. This panel proposes to fill this gap by providing critical approaches to Indigenous history that question settler history feeling at home on stolen lands, and in charge of Indigenous stories, perspectives, and voices.

This approach is not novel. Native historians within the last four decades have taken on the field of U.S. history for its authoritative role in determining what counts as legitimate history. As Seminole historian Susan Miller argues, “American historians have been loathe to concede the point that the United States stands in a colonial relation to the North American tribes whose homelands it claims.” Like other Native historians who contributed the path-breaking 2011 anthology, Native Historians Write Back, Miller points out that colonization is one of the tenets Indigenous history. This is one of the primary focuses of this panel and guides the papers’ diverse perspectives on Indigenous history, even when talking about concepts such as agency, power, culture, and settler colonialism as historiographical tools.

Also, we do not presume that the discourse of settler colonialism is the equivalent to Indigenous history within settler societies. Doing settler colonial history has too often become misidentified as doing Indigenous history. While the panelists acknowledge that the framework of settler colonialism is beginning to provocatively transform the field of U.S. history, settler colonialism is not Indigenous history. Rather this panel contends Indigenous history is rooted in a historically longer and different political project, which challenges the most powerful political imaginary in world history, the U.S. nation state, and promotes Indigenous sovereignty.

Critical interdisciplinary fields such as ethnic studies, American studies, and queer studies critique nationalism “as a bad thing,” often ignoring, or even debasing, the vital project of Indigenous nationhood and political sovereignty. This panel challenges the implicit assumption of equivalency and parity of U.S. and Indigenous sovereignty, as if the two competed against each other on level playing field. Such perspectives are embedded, for example, in historical frameworks such as “the middle ground” or “encounter” scenarios that dominate much of what is considered by mainstream scholarship as Indian history.

While attempting to move beyond these dominant paradigms, we also examine the stakes involved in doing Indigenous history. Panelists reconsider overdetermined or under-theorized concepts in Indigenous history, such as sovereignty, agency, culture, resistance, heteronormativity, the politics of knowledge production, power, genocide, human rights, and oral history. In so doing, panelists offer new perspectives and approaches to the art of doing Indigenous history.

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