Re/Performing and Re/Claiming Native
Jason Edward Black,
Enculturation 6.2 (2009): http://enculturation.net/6.2/black
In a foundational movement study, John Sanchez and Mary Stuckey illuminated a crucial tension associated with American Indian protest rhetoric. Eschewing the notion that indigenous agitation is only “directed at movement members and other Indians for the purposes of gathering the like-minded” they argued that Red Power rhetoric straddles a line between external and internal functions (
Because both Natives and non-Natives often understand scantily the spaces and characters of indigenous communities, American Indian movements typically appeal to both audiences in order to preserve identities (Weaver 246). Hence, Native rhetors seek to “educate non-American Indians about indigenous cultures and traditions” as a prologue “to any serious discussion of policy,” and yet must construct discourses that “are consistent with group interests” lest they “risk losing the support of their own people” (Sanchez and Stuckey 121). The idea of blending internal and external functions into a protest rhetoric holds robust importance, especially when one considers that identity maintenance involves constituting a people and likewise “pitching” the people to a dominant public (see Gregg;
Part of maintaining identities involves the performance of these identities in the public eye. In the early Red Power movement, such performance involved occupying hallowed ground, such as the site of the 1890 Wounded Knee massacre and the once Native-owned Alcatraz Island, to reconnect with one’s Indianness (Lake; Morris and Wander; and Warrior). According to Weaver, these early protests allowed American Indians “to see Native heritage as a valuable part of personal identity and as a foundation for pan-Indian solidarity” (246). Contemporarily, the movement has campaigned to raise public awareness of traditional, accurate Indianness.
One such group that engages in performative rhetoric to secure its Indianness is the United American Indians of New England (UAINE). The UAINE organizes annual Thanksgiving Day protests at Plymouth Rock to “right the wrongs” of the American myth regarding the Pilgrim’s landing and their subsequent and so-called “brotherly” treatment of
In what follows, I examine how the UAINE employs performance through the Day of Mourning protests and how such performances mark a blending of consummatory and instrumental ends in contemporary American Indian protest. I argue that the UAINE engages in performances to re/claim American Indian identities by challenging dominant American conceptions of Indianness. This notion of “protesting performance with performance” (Miller 191) manifests in UAINE’s use of both internal and external functions in its Day of Mourning image events. 
Consummatory Rhetoric, Instrumentality, and Native Performance of the Image Event
The consummatory function in social change and protest movements has long been a part of the rhetorical tradition. As early as 1971, for instance, Richard Gregg noted the importance of the ego-function in “establishing, defining, and affirming one’s self-hood as one engages in a rhetorical act” (75). His idea that rhetoric could help constitute identities was later extended by Kohrs Campbell who examined how the Black Nationalist Movement of the 1960s differed from the mainstream Civil Rights Movement by focusing not on persuading the dominant public but rather on building African-American community (“Rhetoric of Black Nationalism”). Following suit, Lake “found that the purpose of Native American protest rhetoric was not the instrumental one of influencing whites but the constitutive one of reconstituting the traditional Native American and their ways of life” (Lake 128). Ultimately,
The instrumental function gained prominence in the social change research of Herbert Simons who, in 1970, concluded that movements “mobilize for action to implement a program for the reconstitution” not of self-identity, but of dominant “social norms and values” (2). Entrenched in his conception of social movement is an emphasis on reducing rhetoric to its instrumentality in order to serve the socio-political ends of social protest (DeLuca 28). Such sociological ends, according to Stewart’s 1980 program of movement studies, involve “prescribing courses of action” that present a “social movement’s list of demands and solutions that will alleviate a condition, prevent undesired changes, or bring on the millennium or utopia” (170). Stewart’s theory of instrumentality focuses on those movements seeking legitimacy from, and demands of, a dominant public. In this vein, instrumental rhetoric concerns itself not with constructing identity per se, but rather with how movements are able to “explain, defend, and sell its program for change” (Stewart 170).
Recently, Kevin DeLuca shattered the stark and stagnant boundaries of consummatory and instrumental functions in protest rhetoric. As he argues, modern agitation blends the two functions illuminating how movements “reconstitute the identity of the dominant culture by challenging and transforming mainstream societies key discourses and ideographs” (16). In the process, movement discourse constitutes consummatory identities. Ostensibly, DeLuca notes a symbiotic relationship between the two functions. That is, while instrumentality helps solidify a movement identity, constitutive rhetoric concurrently assists in persuading the dominant public to enact change. This blending invokes a "perspective by incongruity" that violates the “properties of the words [consummatory and instrumental] in its previous linkages” (Burke, Permanence and Change 90). Hence, the symbiosis unites the two by blurring the terms.
DeLuca contends that “performance” brings about the merging of consummatory and instrumental functions in order to enact the most effective identity maintenance and social change. He suggests that a movement identity “is the ongoing effect of social discourses, a product constituted within the matrix of linguistic and material social practices” (DeLuca 134). For instance, because American Indian identities cannot be fully represented in linguistic, oral or visual terms—for, indeed, part of indigenous identity is performative (see Miller; Sanchez and Stuckey; Weaver)—they must be symbolized in alternative and illustrative fashions. The subject of identity “is not a content, but a performance, a happening born, existing, and transformed” through movement discourses (DeLuca 134).
Contemporary American Indian groups find themselves in a unique position concerning the performance of their identities. Through
Absent the countering of performance with performance, Elizabeth Bird worries that non-Native conceptions of Native identity will eclipse more precise indigenous culture. As she asserts, “White people have also been playing Indian for a century or more . . . contemporary Indian life is rarely represented” (105-106). Anti-mascot scholars King and Springwood agree, arguing that mascots dehumanize Native nations by replacing their cultures with nonspecific images—the only images dominant society sees: “Native American mascots misappropriate sacred ideas and objects . . . they misuse and misunderstand elements of Native American cultures. Importantly, since many Euro-Americans encounter Native Americans only as mascots and moving images, these unreal Indians materialize the most base images of Native Americans” (7). Hence, contemporary American Indian protest engages in policy changes and internal cultural maintenance but does so through the performance of identities. This makes the task of protest difficult, for American Indians “must first overcome those misperceptions in order to even begin their persuasive task” (Sanchez and Stuckey 126). On the other hand, the exigence of the non-Native performance allows “some American Indians the opportunity to reshape those images” (Sanchez and Stuckey 126-127).
Analysis: Performance and the Day of Mourning
The Day of Mourning protest began in 1970 when Wampanoag activist Wamsutta Frank James was asked to participate in
In subsequent years, especially between 1971 and 1984, James and the Wampanoag Nation publicized their annual events, and soon activists from the American Indian Movement and people from various Native nations began journeying to Plymouth each year to protest and to “fight back on such issues as the racism of the Pilgrim mythology perpetuated in Plymouth” (UAINE “Background”). European Americans also joined later protests.
The Pilgrim mythos against which UAINE agitates refers to the reverence extended the English settlers in
The Pilgrim story was, perhaps, elevated to “myth” when in 1820 the Pilgrim Society was established in
Thanksgiving derived from this Pilgrim myth and entailed an amicable harvest festival of sorts held between the Wampanoag Nation and the Pilgrims. American Indians, however, note the white-washed tenor of this tale. According to their historical account, Thanksgiving was based on a successful raid against the Pequot Nation in 1641. At that time, the Dutch and English Pilgrims combined forces to eliminate Native threats to new communities developing along the
Day of Mourning Protests
The UAINE has performed its Day of Mourning protests each year since Wamsutta James’ 1970 event. Over the course of over three decades, the protest has not changed much in substance. The revitalized histories taught and identities re/situated are revisited at each gathering. Moreover, UAINE enacts the same counter-marches, historical displays, and occasional take-overs that James first suggested in the mid-1970s.
Communication technologies, of course, have impacted the ways in which UAINE both recruits its members and promotes the Day of Mourning image events. The group’s website allows interested persons from across the nation to learn more about the Day of Mourning protest and, more generally, about UAINE. In addition, UAINE’s availability via its website and the ease of electronic channels have assisted the group in interacting with the news media—both mainstream outlets such as USA Today and The Boston Globe as well as independent and “alternative” channels such as Workers World newspaper and The Humanist magazine.
Another change in the image event at
For the most part, tourists visiting the parade,
During each Thanksgiving holiday—specifically during
Thus, the Day of Mourning image event manifests, in part, through the taking over of communal Native territory. As the UAINE says of its image events: “An annual tradition since 1970, the Day of Mourning is a solemn, spiritual and highly political day. . . . We are mourning our ancestors and the genocide of our peoples and the theft of our lands. It is a day when we mourn, but we also feel strength in community action” (UAINE “Orientation”). The group continues that over the years, protestors have “buried Plymouth Rock a number of times, boarded the Mayflower replica, and placed Ku Klux Klan sheets on the statue of William Bradford” (UAINE “Orientation”). These take-overs arise as a renewal of indigenous identities, demonstrating to the internal Native audience that the
Interestingly, American Indian identities supported at the Day of Mourning event involve the “warrior.” The UAINE does not sit idly and harmoniously by but rather vigorously challenges the material symbols of European America through its image events. This irony—challenging white performance of Native identities as “savage” with American Indians’ own performances of “savagery”—can be explained with Burke’s notion of frames of rejection. Such a frame “is but a by-product of ‘acceptance.’ It involves primarily a matter of emphasis. It takes its color from an attitude towards some reigning symbol of authority, stressing a shift in the allegiance to symbols of authority” (Attitudes Toward History 20). UAINE seems to accept its own “savage” performance as authentic, but rejects Europeans calling these performances “savage.” The acceptance/rejection shifts depending on who labels whom during cultural exchanges. UAINE argues that the right of naming Native America extends to Natives communities alone.
Specifically, the UAINE covers Plymouth Rock with dirt to symbolize a spiritual burial of European America and, on occasion, has painted the rock red to symbolize the color of Red Power. According to the UAINE, “on that first Day of Mourning back in 1970, Plymouth Rock was buried not once, but twice. The Mayflower was boarded and the Union Jack was torn from the mast and replaced with the flag that had flown over the liberated
In another consummatory move, the UAINE educates American Indian youth about the honor and heritage within indigenous communities and the troubles of European conquest and so-called discovery of
Children were invited to come forward and take a swing at racism by striking a Pilgrim piñata. Once the piñata was broken open, the children found inside symbols of the oppression that the pilgrims had brought with them: money, police badges, toy soldiers, handcuffs, and chains representing the enslavement of American Indians. (1)
Here, American Indian children are taught, through a playful performance, that the problems facing Native identity are not the fault of their communities, but of the selfish and authoritarian actions of the Pilgrims; this children’s performance remains part and parcel to the overall Day of Mourning protest, hence linking the next generation of indigenous people to the 30-plus year history of the image event.
At the same time, UAINE educates its children about Native customs, the need to learn indigenous languages and religions, and to embrace tightly their American Indianness. Navajo James Watson notes that the Day of Mourning gathering allows elders to speak to Native children about an indigenously centered life. He and others attempt to “right the wrongs” of U.S.-Indian relations history (in De Costa-Fernandez). Wamsutta James reminded children throughout the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s that their culturalism was not waning, but growing. “Our spirit refuses to die . . . we are uniting. . . . We stand tall and proud, and before too many moons pass we’ll right the wrongs we have allowed to happen to us” (1). The UAINE performances at
Furthermore, the UAINE performs a re/claiming of its identity through the construction of Native-friendly histories. Native-centered histories of events, from the Columbian contact of the fifteenth century and the Indian Removal Act of 1830 to the 1876 Battle of Little Big Horn and the Termination/Relocation era of the 1950s and 1960s, comprise these re/constitutions. American Indians craft adjusted histories for both Native and non-Native audiences. The histories are performed at the Day of Mourning image event through speeches; dioramic displays of indigenous crafts, food, and artifacts; and stage plays performing competing versions of the Thanksgiving and Pilgrim stories that work to challenge these myths. Wampanoag Russell Peters argues that “history is not a set of truths to be memorized; history is on ongoing process of interpretation and learning. . . . There is room for more than one history; there is room for many voices” (Peters). Indeed, UAINE concentrates on espousing this re/claimed history of U.S.-Native relationships. It claims that every year “Native people from throughout the
The reassessment of the Thanksgiving holiday is, of course, the cornerstone of the Day of Mourning event. In describing the “accurate” events of the first Thanksgiving, Moonanum James educates internal (American Indian and Native-friendly) and external (news media, general public, governmental publics) audiences at the annual Day of Mourning protest about the American Indian interpretation of the Pilgrim myth. James claims “Indians were not invited by the Pilgrims who considered our people to be devils. No turkey, cranberry sauce, or pumpkin pie was served.” In fact, the Pilgrims built an “11-foot high wall around the entire
The Native-centered Thanksgiving history arises through numerous demonstrations staged during the Day of Mourning image event. Randy Joseph, Chief of the Old Plimoth Indian Tribes, annually erects a traditional Wampanoag tent, as opposed to a Plains Indian tepee, to exhibit what the Pilgrims might have encountered when they landed in
From an instrumental perspective, UAINE agitates for the end of the Puritan Progress Parade and the Town of
UAINE similarly seeks to prevent contemporary celebrations of Pilgrim atrocities enacted against American Indians. Such a celebrations, it proclaims, leaves out the notion that “Our lands were invaded. . . . We were conquered, we became the American prisoners of war in many cases and wards of the
Implications: Performative Rhetoric and Protest
This essay has examined the ways in which the UAINE protests at
This study points to ways American Indian protest serves the dual function of building community and agitating for societal change. The re/claiming of Indianness demands that such identity be performed to demonstrate to both Natives and non-Natives the accuracy of the American Indian experience. Similarly, these performed identities seek to confront so-called “false performances” of Native identities as a requisite to institutional change (Bird 110).
Another implication of UAINE’s Day of Mourning protests remains the way in which American Indian protest contemporarily functions. Given the false depictions of the “Native way” in mascot culture (Black), through
Dominance resides in naming and co-opting a marginalized identity. Some argue that lumping variant groups into one essentialist package allows for easier suppression through appropriations of identities. Bosmaijian, for instance, claims “once one has been categorized through the language of suppression, one loses most of the power to determine one’s future and most of the control over one’s identity and destiny” (93). Identities are not lost, however, when indigenous groups are able re/claim what they say the Pilgrims took away: cultural traditions, Native language, earthly spirituality and, of course, territory. The UAINE seeks continually to remind the American public that Native identities are situated within Native America, not in some caricatured version supported by the Thanksgiving myth. With this argument in mind, the UAINE educates both Native and non-Native audiences about what it meant to be “Indian” in 1620, and furthermore what it means to remain proud of being an “Indian” in the twenty-first century (Wamsutta James). The group does so by performing its customs and historical modifications through image events each Thanksgiving at
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 Throughout this chapter, I refer to Native people in North America as: American Indian, indigenous and Native, per the current trends in American Indian cultural studies. These designations, in particular, are accepted identity signifiers according to Garroutte; Mihesuah; and Thornton. Readers are encouraged to bear two precepts in mind. First, the proper designation of Native populations in North America remains controversial. Differences exist and divide sociologists, anthropologists, historians, and—most importantly— Native nations themselves. Second, due to the variant descriptors accepted/rejected, I am dedicated to integrating all three primary labels. Whenever possible, I will designate communities based on their national affiliation (e.g., Wampanoag Nation). Also, due to the importance of representing the contextual bedding of this chapter, I often quote sources that often refer to American Indians as “tribes,” “tribal” and “Indians” among other metonyms. Such labels arise from the texts of the particular milieu under investigation.
 The ensuing analysis examines how the UAINE engages in performance to re/claim its identity through its Day of Mourning protests. Textually, the UAINE performances are assessed through an investigation of the group’s white papers, speeches of UAINE leaders, and Native commentary surrounding the Day of Mourning event. Methodologically, the essay reads these texts through the lens of constitutive rhetoric, a vital identity-builder that explains how “the people, in general, exist only through an ideological discourse that constitutes them” (Charland). In addition, social movement criticism—particularly the consummatory and instrumental functions of social change—circulates throughout the analysis.
 This longitudinal analysis studied accessed nearly 60 news articles—using Lexis-Nexis, Academic Search Elite, and Ebsco media databases—from 1970 to 2007.