Playing Indian

In the introduction chapter of Deloria’s Playing Indian, he repeatedly mentioned the unfinished business of creating America’s identity. He quoted D.H.Lawrence that [America is]”not so much bound to any haven ahead, as rushing from all havens astern”(Deloria, 3). He also mentioned that America is stuck in a dilemma of “savor[ing] both civilized order and savag[ing] freedom at the same time”(Deloria, 3). And because of these two reasons, Americans continued to find new meaning throughout the history of America from Native American characteristics to fit contemporary circumstances (Deloria, 7). From this point of view, Deloira included the Boston Tea Party incident as a way of expressing an American identity. He also mentioned that from the time of the American Revolution to post World War II, Americans have been drawing features from the Native Americans that shows their identity such as wearing feathers and sleeping in camps (Deloria, 7). Deloria mentioned that “playing Indian is a persistent tradition in American culture”(Deloria, 7). But I found that this is only true on a national level, which includes many outliers. Having grown up in California Bay area, I have witnessed that Indianness is merely a concept we study. In such a diverse population where immigrants from all around the world meet, it is hard to find anyone “playing Indian.”

This begs the question of what makes Native Indian so special on a national level. Without a thorough understanding of the history of America, many young people take on the different images from pop culture such as Japanese anime. I believe that the Native American image is given a special place in our society due to the high level of focus and concern given to their culture. It is mandatory to study Native Americans during K-12 educations. And in many aspects, we are taught to feel guilty for taking their land and committing genocide under the name of civilizing the continent. This kind of feelings causes us to rejuvenate the Native American image and it is the familiarity on this part of history that makes it possible on a national scale.

If it is as Deloria depicted, that our culture will always find its identity from the Native American images, it is interesting to see what kind of identity we will find in the coming age of maturing globalization. As we can see, the level of international communication and trade is continuing to grow. As the concentration of non-white resident increases due to immigration and talents exchange programs, we can expect a very different identity that America portrays. Many of these non-white residents have little to none understanding of this part of American history. And the majority of them have no concern of this subject matter. Instead they have their own thought pattern and memory of a different kind of identity that they want to pick up. May it be the American dream, or a story of a successful entrepreneur, they may offset this tradition that Deloria understands.


What is THE American Identity from you respective background?

In the chapter it was stated that there were only two option to finalize the “unexpressed spirit of America”, extermination or inclusion of the Indian culture(Deloria, 4). Do you believe this to be true? If either one were executive, do you think the American spirit would have been finalized?

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2 Responses to Playing Indian

  1. Chen says:

    As a foreigner, I am happy to try to answer your first question. What is the American Identity from you respective background?
    Deloria mentioned that ‘playing Indian is a persistent tradition in American culture’ (Deloria, 7). But you disagree with his opinion because nowadays not many Americans will actually play with India. Indianness is more like a concept in your textbooks. For those immigrants from all over the world, it is even harder to notice the history and cultural meanings of India. Diversity of population will lead to a various understanding of American identity.
    In my view, the identity of America is diversity. The U.S. is a very amazing nation that so many different races, culture and thoughts exist in a fluctuant harmony. Conflicts never disappear along the history but the form has changed from violent conflicts to peaceful debates. For example, when I first came to UC Davis, I was surprised to find so many Asian students in the campus. They seemed to go along with Americans very well. However, when we look back to the 19th century and 20th century, African Americans and Asian workers were not accepted by the white at all. In 21st century, America is often recognized by foreigners as a melting pot of diversity.

  2. Hailey Bang says:

    Both the article and your reading response are pretty interesting. And, as you mentioned above, I also totally disagree with what the author of ‘Playing Indian’ said. It is true that Americans recognize Native American as ‘Native’ American. However, it is just acceptance of the fact that Native Americans have settled long time ago even before early European settlers found this land. There is nothing in common between Native American and recent American in life style or mindset. The original concept of ‘native’ and ‘identity’ is decided by common customs and tradition. The core ideology and value is not changed easily even though a new generation comes up. For example, Korean which is my home countries went through industrialized process, and apparently most of life style is different from how people live countless hundreds ago. However, the main values of Confucian ideas still exist. This is what ideology is. The concept of Native American is closer to minority group who have been living from old times. That why I think this article is too much exaggerated about Native American value in American society.

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