April 05, 2011

Why write from indigenous viewpoint?

Settler Colonialism and the Imagined Indigenous Viewpoint

By SanguinityWhy would non-indigenous writers need to write from indigenous viewpoints, if they thought indigenous people were still alive and perfectly capable of expressing their own indigenous viewpoints themselves?

...that's a serious question, actually.

While you're chewing on that--or perhaps to help you chew on that--here's something I've noticed about "indigenous viewpoint" books:

Those books that are by indigenous authors? Quite frequently manage to surprise me. There is a truth, a fact, a bit of history, a perspective, an interpretation, an experience. Something that I hadn't realized, nor considered the possibility of. It is quite usual for indigenous-authored books [to] hit ground that is not commonly discussed. And because these books contain something surprising, it matters whether these books exist or not. In many, many cases there would be a loss--even if the loss is only easy access to an idea--if any one of these books ceased to exist.

Those "indigenous viewpoints" books that are not by indigenous authors? Only very rarely contain something that surprises me. Most of them are rehashes of rehashes of rehashes. Given that, how much value does any one of these books have?
Comment:  For starters, I don't agree with premise that Native books are inherently better. I've read plenty of books by Native and non-Native authors and the former don't stand out. Some of my favorite books about Natives are by non-Natives--for instance:

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee--Dee Brown
A Sorrow in Our Heart: The Life of Tecumseh--Allan W. Eckert
Lies My Teacher Told Me--James W. Loewen
A People's History of the United States--Howard Zinn
Indian Givers--Jack Weatherford

Why Rob does it

Since Sanguinity wants to know why non-Natives like me strive for an "indigenous viewpoint," I'll try to provide an answer.

One, I think my viewpoint is more multicultural than Native. As readers know, I often generalize to make a point. "Mainstream Americans think this. Natives think that. Compare and contrast their views." As someone with feet in both worlds (born and raised non-Native, work in Native fields), I feel I can present both viewpoints fairly and objectively.

Two, I quote media reports, especially comments by Natives, as often as possible. I'm happy to let them speak for themselves whenever they can.

I'd be even happier if someone were writing analyses like mine so I didn't have to write them. But I don't see anyone applying logic and sense to Native issues the way I do.

The comments I receive tend to confirm this. Whether they like me or not, no one has ever said, "Your writing is just like [blank's]," or "[So-and-so] made the same point years ago." Everyone seems to think I'm doing something different.

If you can write the same kind of analyses, please do. I'll link to them rather than write my own. Then I can work on my creative projects full-time.

For more on the subject, see:

Rob = moral police?!
Rob unqualified to discuss stereotypes?!
Rob shouldn't judge Natives?
Telling Indians what to do
Rob the presumptuous white man?

And my basic statement of intent:

Why write about Native Americans?


Anonymous said...

Although I am glad you offer this site to keep many current issues available to us all, I can't help notice that you tend to ignore native feedback while promoting non-native views about natives themselves.

Why is that Rob?

When one native writer passed on information about the racist article about a pow-wow in CA, you neither gave him credit nor acknowledged his input and then you ran two articles about this event that very week.

Why did you do that to this Indian writer and where does their opinions matter on Newspaper Rock?

Rob said...

Are you talking about a comment on my original posting? I often don't acknowledge or give credit to my commenters.

That has nothing to do with whether they're Native or non-Native. Rather, it has to do with whether their comments are self-explanatory and self-sufficient.

If they are, I don't feel the need to chime in with my approval. I have too much to do to spend time praising commenters for their insight.