Re/cognizing Native American sovereignty in an age of manifest manners.

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Trapani, William. “Re/cognizing Native American sovereignty in an age of manifest manners.” Journal of Law in Society 3 (Winter 2002): 1-29. 10,529 words


This article uses the 1991 joint Congressional hearing on federal recognition of the Lumbee (see The Lumbee Indians: an annotated bibliography, item 1386), particularly the two positions articulated in the arguments, to discuss Native American identity politics. He explains “three effects produced by the recognition process: first, reinforcement of the Anglo-Euramerican political order through containment of Native Americans as ‘primitives;’ second, covering over the violent origin of the American nation and, in particular, the ways in which the ‘Indian’ becomes an essential technology for that performance; and, finally, a reinscription of the blood quantum standards used as a pretext for racial caste/ing in America and imperialism abroad” (page 4).

In the course of his analysis, Trapani discusses the following issues:

• Ways in which our culture’s conceptions of the “proper” Indian have been transformed into a legal construct by the federal recognition process. Trapani uses ideas and arguments from Gayatri Spivak, Gerald Vizenor, Larzer Ziff, Aimee Carillo Rowe, Jacques Derrida, Jack D. Forbes, Wendy Brown, Peggy Phelan, and others.
• The Lumbee struggle for true federal recognition since the 1956 Lumbee Act.
• How the intense desire to become “official” Indians causes members of non-recognized tribes to become supporters of the recognition process and the conceptions of Indianness behind it.
• The 1978 Federal Acknowledgment Process (FAP) administered by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the requirements that are particularly difficult for Eastern tribes to satisfy. Trapani explains, “. . . Eastern tribes are much less likely to be able to demonstrate the type of insular community that the criteria requires. The result is a type of ‘reservation fascination’ ingrained into the application of the criteria so that even though race and/or ethnicity considerations are theoretically disavowed, those Indians that have the correct skin color and adherence to familiar Native practices are those most likely to garner recognition. In this manner, the recognition process ensures that the most proper Indian is also one that is most aligned with historical conceptions of a primitive Native American” (page 20).

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