Introduction to American Indian Studies:

Global Indigeneity, Sports, and Other Technologies of Indigenous Mobility

I. Course Description

What can football, cars, and avatars teach us about Native Americans and other Indigenous peoples? What can Pacific Islander outrigger sailing canoes, fine American Indian ponies, and  Native Warriors teach us about America? Lots, if this class has anything to say in the matter.

An introduction to indigenous peoples bound historically, socially, and politically with the United States, but actually interested to transcend national borders, this course introduces and pairs the concepts “global” and “indigenous” to explore a framework that is itself guided by the experiences of indigenous peoples from North America and Oceania as we enter the 21st century. 

Such a pairing may at first seem to be an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. If on one hand globalization at the end of the 20th and start of the 21st centuries signals profound changes in national and international demographics, new social and cultural possibilities and interconnectivities enabled by digital technology, dramatic transformations in the environment, all of which result in the explosion of cultural and social forms and identities, the idea of indigenization on the other hand evokes life going the opposite direction, gesturing toward the intensely local, to site-specific processes and concerns such as might decidedly be linked to tribal or other aboriginal orders of difference.

 In other words if globality -- the condition of the present and the future – evokes the sense of newness, advancement, and of innovative cultural forms on one hand, indigeneity -- the claims and conditions and analytical possibilities of nativeness -- on the other hand points to deep and ancient antiquity, or radical alterity or difference from anything western or modern. Yet, this way of thinking, of understanding globality and indigeneity, involves a false dichotomy, a hapless (and deep seated) way of seeing these terms and conditions as binary oppositions, of things whose meanings and contents are not only distinct and different from each other, but more fundamentally as things that are diametrically opposed to, and mutually exclusive of each other.

 Reflecting a turn in American Indian Studies’ vision towards Indigenous Worlds in the US and beyond, as well as towards a more expansive definition of indigenous worlds and a sense that mainstream society is actually predicated on the negation of things native,  this class considers new and provocative ways by which we might think “deeply” and “critically” about both “native” peoples and “advanced technological” societies.  What’s the need and what’s the payout for rethinking the terms of and assumptions underlying “native” or “indigenous” as well as approaching modern American life differently? The need is due to the persistence of hapless and shallow (and insidious) stereotypes about Native people and simplistic ways of thinking about America. The payout: I hope you will be able to answer this question by the end of the semester.

To facilitate this intellectual and analytical project that requires “critical thinking” and “deep learning,” we’ll ground or illustrate our abstract and analytical concerns with attention to two areas of life that meld deep tradition and modern life for contemporary American Indians and Pacific Islanders and America: 1) Transportation, or Technologies of Indigenous Mobility through Cars, Ponies, Canoes, and  2) Sports as Playgrounds and Battlegrounds.

Our materials will cover Native peoples commonly referred to as American Indians or Native Americans, but also Pacific Islanders like Native Hawaiians, American Samoans, the indigenous Chamorros of the US Territory of Guam, who are both formally and informally connected to the United States as a result of political, social, and economic expansion and immigration.