In Praise of Vine Deloria –

In his groundbreaking 1969 volume Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto, Vine Deloria Jr. wrote a now famous critique of anthropologists. He argued that they—as well as academics in general—were mainly interested in their own intellectual ends and were insufficiently concerned with the real-life challenges of Indian peoples. As Deloria so memorably put it, “The anthro is usually devoted to PURE RESEARCH. Pure research is a body of knowledge absolutely devoid of useful application and incapable of meaningful digestion.” And again: “It would be wise for anthropologists to get down from their thrones of authority and PURE research and begin helping tribes instead of preying on them.”

Strong words indeed, and they bear recalling more than 40 years later.

Today, American Indian studies programs are confronted with several intellectual challenges, all of which threaten to erode their original goal of improving the lot of Indigenous Peoples. When scholarly research on contemporary American Indian communities was new, it was welcomed as new and important. However, it soon became clear that too few scholars were being produced to fully staff American Indian Studies programs. Few state-funded colleges or universities were willing to significantly invest in this novel discipline.

To some extent, today’s tribally controlled community colleges fulfill the function of teaching tribal histories, cultures, and community building. Probably over 90 percent of American Indian studies programs and departments were formed by the cost-effective method of gathering faculty whose research included some work on American Indians. This convenient method introduced many different disciplines into American Indian studies.

But there still is no clear intellectual perspective of American Indian or indigenous studies at most institutions of higher learning. It doesn’t help that the majority of research about American Indians is produced and controlled by non-Indians. This is unheard of in departments of African American studies, Asian studies and Chicano studies, where members of those respective ethnic groups hold sway.

In 1997, writer Elizabeth Cook-Lynn, Crow Creek Sioux, published an influential, provocative article entitled “Who Stole Native American Studies?” She offered no simple answer, but she did note that “instead of developing courses in the autonomous field of Native American studies, many Native American academics taught courses in ‘ethnic’ studies.” Perhaps not surprisingly, for this and other reasons, Cook-Lynn found that “the struggle for autonomous departmental status in Native American studies was never taken seriously by university administrators nor by the collegiate professors in either the classic or emerging disciplines.”

FULL ARTICLE: In Praise of Vine Deloria –

About Kurly Tlapoyawa (1010 Articles)

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