Philip Deloria, Playing Indian (1999)
- In Playing Indian, Native American historian Phil Deloria examines the meaning of the cultural tradition of "playing Indian" in American society. Tracing the story from the Boston Tea Party, where Patriots dressed as "redmen", to the contemporary New Age and "hippie tribes," Deloria examines the deeper significance of these acts of imitation and appropriation in American culture. Deloria is a professor of History at the University of Colorado-Boulder.
- Questions to Think About:
- 1) What is Deloria's thesis in Playing Indian? Using the Elements of a Monograph handout, identify the structure of Deloria's study. What is his argument and how does it support his thesis? What sorts of evidence does Deloria drawn on, and how does he analyse that evidence? Where does his study fit in the historiography?
- 2) Provide examples of Native American Indian dress, words, practices, stories and representations or symbols that are prevalent in mainstream American culture. Why are these cultural representations prevalent? When are manifestations of Indian culture suppressed? Why are some suppressed and others emphasized?
- 3) How are the following--the Woodcraft Indian program, the Boston Tea Party, the Tammany Society, The Society of the Red Man, the Campfire Girls, the names of professional and college sports teams, and "hippie" tribes--examples of non-Indians' apropriations of Indian cultures? How are they similar to and different from each other?
- 4) Why do white Americans appropriate Indian practices and culture? How has the way Americans have "played Indian" changed over time? What is the significance of wearing masks or disguises? How do Indian people react to white people "playing Indian"? What is ironic about the way white Americans approached Indians and Indian culture at beginning of our history as a country? Why do Americans "play Indian"? Is "playing Indian" a solution to white Americans' identity problems? How?
- 5) What conclusions has Deloria made about the practices of "playing Indian" and America's current approach to multiculturalism? Why does Mr. Deloria believe the way America approaches multiculturalism is problematic? Do you agree with his assessment? What alternatives might he suggest? According to Deloria, how should Indians be studied as a culture in our classrooms? How should Indian people be approached as members of our society?
- 6) What light does Deloria shed on the reasons for the constant fascination with "Indians" (or with images of Indians instead of actual Indian peoples) in American culture, especially American popular culture?
Further resources and readings:
- The Western Literature Association's A Literary History of the American West
Prepared by Professor Catherine Lavender for AMS 241 (Popular Culture--Frontiers and Borderlands), The Program in American Studies, The College of Staten Island of The City University of New York. Send email to email@example.com
Last modified: Monday 20 March 2000.