Some preliminary notes As part of their curriculum, first-year students in the North American Studies disciplinary MA (Master of Arts) program offered at the Institute of English and American Studies of the University of Debrecen are required to write and deliver “conference papers” on a freely selected topic within the broader thematic category of American studies. This requirement is part of the “Introduction to the Profession of American Studies" course, one that all first-year MA students in American studies must complete, which is designed to provide students with an introduction to the field of American Studies, and in particular the nuts and bolts of the practice of the profession.
The original idea laid down in the syllabus was that students would choose a topic for their paper, usually either related to their undergraduate thesis or already in preparation for a master’s thesis, create an abstract in response to a “call for papers,” research the primary and secondary sources available in print and electronically, and present their papers to their peers in the classroom. Halfway into the semester in the fall of 2009, when this course was first offered in the newly launched MA program, it was decided, in consultation with the students themselves, that making the conference into a semi-public event would be a win-win situation for all parties involved.
Such a mini-conference, it was thought, would provide an opportunity for students to present their papers to a larger audience than their immediate peers. It was believed that students, at this early state of their academic careers, would benefit from exposure to a wider audience, consisting of interested faculty from across the Institute, fellow students (undergraduate or graduate), as well as members of the general public, who could ask questions and engage the students in an academic dialogue. The conference was also designed to simulate the experience of not only participation in, but some aspects of the organization of a scholarly event. Thus, as part of their preparation for a professional career, students are given an opportunity to gain first-hand experience in both organizing and participating in a scholarly event. Further, we believe that the diverse topics chosen by the students would be of interest and appeal to a wider audience, both from within and even from outside the Department of North American Studies.
The procedure adopted in the course is the following. Students select a topic for a paper within the discipline of American Studies (usually on topics either related to their undergraduate thesis or already in preparation for a master’s thesis), which is subject to approval by the instructor. They create an abstract in response to a Call for Papers, research the available primary and secondary sources available in print and electronically, and present their papers to their peers, as well as to interested faculty and members of the general public. As a follow-up to the conference, the papers are finalized and submitted, and are subsequently also made available on the website of the conference (located at http://amstudconf.comoj.hu), in the virtual proceedings of the conference—this document.
As mentioned above, the North American Studies MA program at the University of Debrecen was launched in September 2009, and accordingly, the 1st American Studies MA Student Conference was held on December 9, 2009 in the Main Building of the University of Debrecen. In addition to writing the papers, students also participated in the organization of the conference in a variety of ways from brainstorming for ideas to helping set up the room and even contributing snacks. The Institute of English and American Studies contributed by way of providing the venue, along with the necessary equipment and a most indispensable part of all conferences—coffee.
It is hoped that the conference will become a regular, annually organized event, and will attract, provided that it is sufficient publicity, an increasingly large audience in subsequent years. The potential outreach of such a conference could include undergraduate students of English (majors and minors) or even beyond (from other degree programs, such as history, political science or elsewhere), graduate students in other programs interested in the work of fellow students in American Studies, faculty members from within and outside of the Institute, or interested members of the general public. As far as presenters are concerned, in the course of the next conference, scheduled to be held in early December 2010, our “by-then-veteran” American Studies students, for each of whom this conference was the first opportunity to present a paper, will be invited to return and join the new students (for whom it will be a requirement) and thus help them also in their own in(tro)duction to the profession of American Studies.
We are looking forward to welcoming you at the 2nd American Studies MA Conference. If you wish to find out more about this event, please check back to the conference website in the fall of 2010, or send an e–mail to email@example.com. In the meantime, on the following pages we present the work of the participants of the first conference.
On behalf of the organizers,
IEAS, University of Debrecen
Table of Contents In the online version of this document, please hold down the key and then click on one of the titles below to jump directly to the paper.
Ábel AnitaNative American Identity Crisis in the 20th-century United States
Anett Bácsi A Comparative Analysis of American and Hungarian Rap Music, Based On Rap Lyrics and Videos
Czitai Balázs The Watergate Scandal and Deep Throat
Horváth Gábor Post-9/11 symbolism in The Dark Knight
Kontér Erik The Economic Aspect of Mexican Illegal Immigration: UndocumentedForeign Workers in the United States
Nánási TimeaMeaning and Importance of Nature, Ceremony and Ancestors for Native-American People
Pájer Alíz Effects of World War I on American Literature
Rendes Ildikó The Limits of the Myth of the West: Native, Japanese andMexican American Experience in the United States
Sáfrány Beáta Media Coverage of School Shootings
Sipos Nóra Coca-Cola’s Spread Represents the Process of Globalization
Szabó EmmaJudgements and Opinions about the Kennedy Assassination in 2009
Uzonyi Anita Leo Szilard: His Contribution to the Atomic Bomb and His Crusadefor Peace
Native American Identity Crisis in the 20th-Century United States
When the first colonizers arrived at the North American continent, they came to the conclusion that the New World was empty. Yet, they had to realize very soon that they were not alone and that the new land had already been inhabited for a considerable amount of time. As the early colonizers did not know how to live side by side the Native Americans, the following generations had also no idea how to maintain good relationship with the Indians. Unfortunately, the inability to solve this problem has become the common heritage of American Indians and European Americans throughout the history of the United States. As a result, a series of historical events and governmental policies had contributed to the emergence of the present-day phenomenon of identity crisis among the Native Americans. Besides, there are other sources regarding this state of identity quest such as the cultural phenomena of stereotyping, discrimination and mimicry as it is perceptible in the relationship between the members of the dominant white society and Native Americans. In my research paper, I would like to examine the Indian identity crisis in the twentieth-century United States through taking into consideration the sources I have already mentioned and highlighting possible means of survival like Pan-Indianism and Indian literature.
First of all, in order to understand how the historical events, or rather government policies, of the Indian removal, the launching of the federal boarding school system, and the Indian relocation helped the development of Native American identity crisis, it is essential to point out two cultural pillars of Indian life. The Indians’ affection to their land and the power of their oral tradition are vital components of tribal identity for them. First, I would like to emphasize the significance of a sense of place for the Native people. For the Indians the location where their tribes have come to the Earth is the center of the universe, that is, a sacred place. According to the Native American worldview, imagination creates the world. As a result, memory of the land is part of their culture. Tribal history is built upon the stories told about the land. In the light of these facts, it becomes more understandable how the Indian Removal in the 1830s have paved the way for the emergence of identity crisis in the twentieth century. In 1830, the Congress passed the Indian Removal Act under the administration of Andrew Jackson. The act “ authorized the removal of Indian tribes to a large, unorganized, ‘permanent’ Indian territory west of the Mississippi River” (Hirschfelder 34). The best-known phase of the removal is probably the Cherokees’ Trail of Tears during the winter of 1838-39 (34). While this forced westward movement of Native peoples meant a great territorial acquisition for the dominant white Americans, it has engraved upon the mind and soul of every Native American a sense of incomprehensible loss regarding their culture, traditions and spiritual power. The fact of the matter is that a tribe can only be in its full spiritual power where its members have come to the Earth. The farther they move from the center, the weaker they become spiritually, and their survival based on a strong attachment to their land is threatened.
Another important pillar of Native American culture and Indian identity formation is the oral tradition. In the Indian worldview, the Word and imagination have a great creative and healing power. For the members of a tribe their oral literature is the survival of their culture and spirituality. In the course of the storytelling event, tribal people preserve and remember the basis of their culture. The Word places them in the world that is why they believe that people define themselves with everything they say.
N. Scott Momaday in “The Man Made of Words” shows clearly that the oral tradition is a vital part of American Indian identity: “an Indian is an idea which a given man has of himself. […] And that idea, in order to be realized completely, has to be expressed” (Hobson 162). In other words, the individuals as Indians must live spiritually through the idea that they imagine of themselves. Nevertheless, it is not enough to have an idea within them, the individuals must realize that idea in words, in their tribal language. Then, and only then, they are alive both physically and spiritually.
I think, this brief summary about the importance of the word in the identity formation makes it very clear what an enormous harm has been done to Indian children at the off-reservation boarding schools. After the federal government realized that reservations isolated the Native Americans instead of solving the tense relationship between them and the government, Congress decided that the best resolution for the problem would be the total assimilation of Indians. As a result, federal boarding schools were established outside the reservations. They were established outside, and quite far from, the reservations. The motto of this federal policy was expressed by “the Father of the US Boarding School Movement,” Richard Henry Pratt, in 1890 as follows: “Kill the Indian and save the man” (Hirschfelder 129). That is, destroy the identity of the Native Americans and then build them into the dominant white society. To achieve this goal, federal boarding schools deprived children of “all outward and inward signs of […] identification with tribal life, at the same time instructing them in the values and behaviors of white culture” (128). “Children caught speaking their Native language or performing religious rituals” (129) were severely punished. In other words, they were denied to use their own mother tongue in which they could express the idea within themselves. Without the words of their tribal language, they became unable to create their own identity because not only the Words were missing but also the traditions and the spiritual power located in it. Consequently, the emergence of identity crisis was encouraged with the foundation of federal boarding schools.
At this point, it is worth evaluating the historical background of relocation, another source of identity crisis, which accompanied the federal government’s Termination policy as an attempt to assimilate the Native Americans in order to understand it. In the wake of the twentieth century the “products of the boarding-school system were among the first to formally organize a Pan-Indian group. The Society of American Indians” (Hafen 9) was founded in 1911 and, despite the fact that it collapsed during the 1920s, (9) “their work” led “to the American Indian Citizenship Act of 1924” (9). After that, in 1928, the Meriam report, “a shocking study […] exposed the poverty on reservations” (Hirschfelder 148) and “was particularly critical of the system of federal education for Indian children, especially of the boarding schools” (Handbook 4: 265). Owing to this survey, the Indian Reorganization Act was passed in 1934 as part of the Indian “New Deal”(Hirschfelder 148). The act meant that tribal governments, previously suppressed by federal power on reservations, were renewed. In addition, it granted religious freedom to the reservation Indians. What is more, it “introduced federal programs supporting Indian agriculture, vocational education, economic development, and Indian employment preference in the BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs]” (149). To tell the truth, this was the legislation that the Truman administration wanted to destroy with the Termination policy (Handbook 4: 270).
Unhappy with reorganization during the 1940s, Congress criticized the costs of BIA operations and the slow pace of Indian assimilation. A new policy took shape, aimed at solving the “Indian problem” by terminating the special relationship between Indians and the federal government, regardless of whether or not Indians wanted or were prepared for it. In 1953, Congress defined official congressional termination policy in House Concurrent Resolution 108. (Hirschfelder 156)
In short, this twentieth-century policy that triggered relocation combined the painful experience of the loss of tribal land and language. Thus, it deprived the Native Americans of their tribal culture and the two vital pillars of Indian identity. In urban centers, the Indians have become isolated without their native community. They shattered spiritually because of being far from the center of their spiritual power. Among the white citizens, they were expected to speak English to get a job and stay alive.
In effect, the historical events of removal, boarding school education and relocation resulted in a phenomenon of American Indian identity crisis.
After this brief historical overview, I am going to focus on the cultural phenomena of stereotyping, discrimination and mimicry as it is perceptible in the relationship between the members of the dominant white society and Native Americans. Homi K. Bhabha’ s book The Location of Culture explains in detail what these concepts mean by placing the Native American search for an identity in the context of colonial oppression.
In the third chapter of his book, Bhabha claims that the stereotype is the major discursive strategy of the colonial discourse (66). In the process of setting up a stereotype, it is important for the people who represent the oppressive culture to describe the oppressed in their mother tongue, which is never the native language of the discriminated. This form of description proves that white people possess the necessary power to hold down Native Americans, since they can use the discursive strategy of stereotyping. The Indians have become the victims of stereotyping as a result of the dominant culture having started to use language as a form of discrimination, which has made it more difficult to the American Indians to create their own identity.
This latter fact may be in itself a source of the identity crisis Native Americans have to face, because language and words occupy a highly significant place in their culture, as I have already mentioned this. During the white man’s constant attempts to colonize and assimilate the Indians, they were expected to learn the English language, the channel through which they were discriminated against. The final result of being forced to adapt to the dominant culture’s language culminates in many Native Americans becoming inarticulate such as Laurel Hole In The Day in Gerald Vizenor’s Wordarrows (47-53). Thus, they fall into a deep identity crisis because without the words of their tribal language they cannot express the idea inside themselves.
In the course of his analysis of the colonial discourse, Bhabha makes a distinction between metaphoric and metonymic stereotyping (74-75). In metaphoric stereotyping, there is a common element between the colonizer and the colonized. For example, the image of the noble savage is a positive stereotype in the sense that in it the Indian is perceived as the noble, innocent child of nature, which is a pre-civilization state of humankind, that civilized white people have lost. This is the aspect of the noble savage image with which white people can identify themselves and it becomes the link between the colonizer and the colonized. Still, the word savage contains a reference to the inferiority of the Indian to the white person.
In contrast, in metonymic stereotyping there is no connection between the colonizer and the colonized. It is about the total disavowal of the ‘Other’ and this kind of negative stereotyping applies the image of the wild savage, who is aggressive and nowadays frequently associated with the drunken Indian. This dismissive attitude from the part of the colonizer turns up in Vizenor’s narrative “Marleen American Horse,” in which none of the responsible agencies agrees to help the protagonist get rid of her alcoholism and be with her children again (Wordarrows 38-46).
Whether it is a positive or a negative image that is represented by the two kinds of stereotyping, both of them remain a means of distinguishing the Indian from the white person. The mere existence of these images creates an identity crisis in Native Americans. In both cases, they should adapt to stereotypes coming from outside their culture, created by the dominant white world. This can be interpreted as colonial oppression, since this form of adaptation has never been a part of the Indian way of life. The question is whether they accept the stereotypes, which may result in losing their own Native American identity and traditions or they insist on being Indians, and reject to adapt to any of these misrepresentations. This latter decision will certainly exclude them from the dominant white society and they will be destined to live isolated on a reservation or become inarticulate in both worlds.
After examining thoroughly stereotyping as a means of colonial oppression and thus a source of identity crisis, it is worth having a look at another notion called mimicry that affirms in the Indians the feeling of being lost. In The Location of Culture Bhabha defines this other means of colonial oppression in the chapter “Of Mimicry and Man The ambivalence of colonial discourse” as follows: “mimicry emerges as one of the most elusive and effective strategies of colonial power and knowledge” (85) and “colonial mimicry is the desire for a reformed, recognizable Other, as a subject of a difference that is almost the same, but not quite” (86). In the case of Native Americans, mimicry means the copying of the white world and the ways of the dominant white culture. Despite all the efforts made to become a part of the white society, Indians are destined to remain “almost the same, but not quite” (86).
Mimicry is accompanied with the phenomenon called “partial presence” (88) which implies that Indians are never completely there in any of the two worlds, neither in their own nor in the Whites’, because they always have to deny one of them in order to become a member of the other. So Native Americans are forced to make a decision whether they ignore the dominant culture or leave fully behind their Indian identity in the course of total mimicry. If they choose the former alternative, it means that they become outsiders in a society, which intrudes into their native world via its institutions and rules. In the latter case, they risk losing not only their Indianness but also their future, because they cannot move forward without looking back at their past.
Unfortunately, mimicry has another collateral, which Bhabha calls “double vision” (88). It stems from “the partial presentation/recognition of the colonial object” (88). As a result, the victims of mimicry have become “the authorized versions of otherness” (88), while “the observer becomes the observed and ‘partial’ presentation rearticulates the whole notion of identity and alienates it from essence” (89). For example, during the process of assimilating Native Americans, those who have chosen to fully adapt to the white world are also expected to accept the stereotypes white people created for them. This means that these Indians should see their own people in the light of these misrepresentations, which they obviously cannot afford to do, owing to the fact that they have been brought up among tribal people, thus cannot really break away from their Native American origin.
The partial presence and double vision aspects of mimicry result eventually in losing the Native American identity which evokes frustration in Indians. One way of coping with this tension is to externalize it, which manifests in aggressive behavior that gives way to the wild savage stereotype. Another method of handling frustration is internalization. As a result, Indians often turn against themselves and even commit suicide in many cases. Owing to the fact that in mimicry Native Americans will never be the same as white people, that is they will never become full members of the dominant white society, mimicry turns into a dead end in the colonial discourse for both the colonizer and the colonized, deepening the crisis of searching for an identity among Indians.
After the thorough analysis of the historical and cultural background of Native American identity crisis prevalent among twentieth-century Indians in the United States, it is time to highlight at least two means of survival. One of these is Pan-Indianism and the formation of the Native American Church, and the other is the renewal and preservation of tribal culture and oral tradition in twentieth-century Native American literature.
To my mind, it is worth discussing Pan-Indianism together with Indian literature as a solution for the identity quest because some elements of this movement can be traced in Momaday’s novel, House Made of Dawn, and Vizenor’s short story collection, Wordarrows. As far as I can remember, I have already mentioned that the first Pan-Indian group was the Society of American Indians, which achieved that the federal government passed the American Indian Citizenship Act (Hafen 9). Another important part of the movement is, as Jane P. Hafen claims in her essay, “Pan-Indianism has had one of its most successful manifestations in the peyote culture of the Native American Church. […], this organization is a product of cultural mediation, blending traditional practices with Christianity and developing new rituals” (9).
Perhaps the best description of the Church can be found in House Made of Dawn, more precisely in “The Priest of the Sun” chapter. Here Tosamah, the Priest of the Sun, the minister of the Native American Church in Los Angeles, gives two sermons. In the first one, he uses Momaday’s concepts about the Word (91-98) as it is discussed in “The Man Made of Words.” Then he preaches about the Kiowa migration story (House Made of Dawn 127-139), which can be found in The Way to Rainy Mountain (5-12), another work of Momaday. In both sermons, the storytelling event is highly significant because oral literature is survival, maintenance and in the course of storytelling the traditions are kept alive. The most essential components of telling a story are all perceptible in Tosamah’s speeches. One of these is flexibility, that is the tale can be changed according to the given circumstances in order to heal the problems of the tribe, educate, entertain or build community. In the novel, Tosamah mixes his lecture about the Word with the Revelations of John from the Bible thus showing the difference between the Native and the white perception of language (91-98). The other component is the intercrossing of texts, which is a common phenomenon in Indian literature. For example, the legend of “the stars of the Big Dipper” is described with the very same words in both House Made of Dawn (131) and The Way to Rainy Mountain (8). While enumerating the stories that are parts of Indian culture, Tosamah, and thus Momaday and Native American literature itself, preserves a vital element of identity formation for the Indians.
To continue with, I would like to emphasize another possibility in oral tradition and literature that can be regarded as a means of survival, namely the role of the trickster figure in trickster narratives and in Vizenor’s short story collection. First and foremost, the trickster is a kind of semi-god, has several lives, that is immortal. S/He establishes traditions for the tribe, and when he is unable to develop, it reflects that something is wrong with the community in which s/he is present. He is a culture hero for the Indians because he is capable of mediating between the two worlds, the spiritual and the physical in traditional narratives, and in the twentieth century s/he is able to move between the dominant white culture and the Native world. In this way, he embodies the Indians’ desire to keep their traditions and be useful members of the mainstream society at the same time. As the Priest of the Sun helps his people survive in Pan-Indianism and the Native American Church, Vizenor, disguised as Clement Beaulieu, assumes the role of the trickster, and tricks his people into a better life. He uses silence as one of the most important elements of storytelling to generate ideas and answers from the Indians and all of his readers. In the light of these facts about literature, I believe, it has become obvious that the renewal of oral tradition in twentieth-century Native American literature is a healing ceremony for the Indians suffering from identity crisis.
Finally, I want to point out the significance of the Red Power Movement, which is an offspring of Pan-Indianism in the second half of the 1900s. Similarly, to the beginnings of the Pan-Indian movement, it has come to life as a result of unfavorable treatment of American Indians by the federal government. “The Red Power Movement that emerged in the 1960s was, in part, a response to the devastating impact of termination policies. Ironically, one consequence of the relocation of Indians to cities was a drive for pan-Indian unity, an emphasis on self-determination, and a sense of militancy” (Hirschfelder 162). As a result, three famous events happened at the end of the 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s. Native Americans occupied the Alcatraz in 1969 claiming that it had originally been Indian land in order to raise public notice of their grievances (162). They also organized a pan-Indian demonstration called “The Trail of Broken Treaties” (162). “A protest for sovereignty and treaty rights, it took the form of a march from San Francisco to Washington, DC, in the fall of 1972” (162). In the end, “the Bureau of Indian Affairs building in Washington, DC,” (162) was occupied. In 1973, Native Americans “took over the hamlet of Wounded Knee” (162). Once more in history, tribal people and the federal government faced each other at the scene of the 1890 massacre (162).
In my opinion, the emergence of twentieth-century Native American literature, the religious movement of Pan-Indianism and more radical militant activities have all contributed to the destruction of identity crisis among American Indians. What they really lack is the community, the tribal relations and traditions. That is why, they organize religious occasions and stand up together for their rights in the form of the Red Power Movement. I think, these efforts to create a sense of belonging to somewhere help urban Indians overcome the present state of identity crisis.
In conclusion, I would like to point out that the Native American search for identity has many sources. In the course of looking for the origins of identity crisis, not only historical events and government policies like the Indian removal, the establishment of federal boarding schools or relocation can be blamed for this state, but also cultural phenomena such as stereotyping, discrimination and mimicry. Yet, where there are problems there have to be solutions as well. On the one hand, in the Pan-Indian movement Native Americans can feel a sense of community, which they lack in urban centers. They can get attention and fight for their rights when they organize mass demonstrations like the occupation of Alcatraz, or the Trail of Broken Treaties. On the other hand, in twentieth-century American Indian literature, especially in the works of Momaday and Vizenor, Native people can find everything they miss either on reservations or in urban centers. Their traditions, culture, belief system, religion and attachment to the land can be traced in the literary works of art written by Indian authors. I would like to conclude my paper with Arlene Hirschfelder’s words thus asserting that the above-mentioned means of survival “exemplify active Indian resistance to cultural annihilation” (176).