Paradoxes of modernism and Indianness in the Southeast.

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Paredes, J. Anthony. “Paradoxes of modernism and Indianness in the Southeast.” American Indian Quarterly 19.3 (Summer 1995): 341-60. Key source


A valuable, perceptive analysis which discusses ways to define Indianness, explains long-standing public misconceptions of Indianness that are detrimental to Southeastern Indians, and catalogs a variety of cultural traits of Southeastern Indians, emphasizing the paradoxical ways in which modernism and attention to the surrounding culture have helped tribes survive and further preserve their unique traits. The overall purpose of the essay is “an exercise in operationally defining 'Indianness.'”

Incorporates definitions by Charles M. Hudson (1976), Nancy Lurie (1971), Frederick Barth (1969), J. Anthony Paredes (1991) along with the concept of “the Ethnographic-Present Fallacy.” The Lumbee (like the Houmas, Poarch Creeks, and to an extent the Catawbas and Tunica-Biloxis) have an immediate cultural past which can be called a “folk culture,” as defined by Paredes in 1975. By the late 19th century they “were largely or exclusively monolingual in English, thoroughly Christianized, often genetically intermixed with outsiders to a considerable degree, and usually bereft of obvious artistic and ritual markers of cultural distinctiveness.... [their] rustic way of life...was much like that of their non-Indian rural neighbors...[but] these groups retained a distinct social identity as 'Indians' albeit often a strongly devalued one” (p. 345).

Paredes notes the recommendation of Eric R. Wolf and others “that culture is not a given but in a state of constant construction and negotiation among and between social actors, even if not fully under their volition. Culture becomes, then, as much the product of identity formation and maintenance processes as a determinant of identity status for a people” (p. 347). In his catalog of cultural traits of Southeastern Indians, Paredes acknowledges the wide variation among groups and notes “expected” factors that rarely exist now, as well as some unexpected ones which do. Only the Choctaw and Miccosukee have an ancestral language still spoken by many or most tribal members. Only the Seminole have a distinctive house-type; they are also the only ones with any fairly distinctive articles of clothing (although many Southeastern Indians adopt “Plains Indian” clothing to advertise their identity).

Continuing his list of cultural traits of Southeastern Indians, Paredes notes that some have distinctive crafts traditions, such as baskets and pottery; most belong to Christian denominations, and their predominantly Indian-membership churches are staples of community life; many have folktales, herbal remedies, and mystical beliefs that need to be cataloged; some, like the Lumbee, have global values which are a part of their identity (Blu, 1980 pp. 148-9: “meanness, pride, and cohesiveness” ); all have a core tendency toward in-marrying; most have, at some point, practiced subsistence farming; many perform for tourists at outdoor dramas, powwows, traveling dance teams, Indian villages, or tribal museums; many make use of the powwow circuit to “consolidate[s] a shared Indian identity that has great public appeal and produces revenue” (p. 351); many have various legally incorporated nonprofit organizations which help them promote the needs and interests of the tribe; many have been very successful in business enterprises.

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