A Genealogy of Contemporary Indianness: A Foucauldian Analysis of Identity and Society in Anti-Colonization Politics

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Coburn, Veldon
Indigenous politics , Anti-colonization
This dissertation examines the discursive construction of Indigenous identity under the conditions of colonization on Turtle Island. I investigate how the colonial discourse on Indianness discursively produced Indigenous subjectivity in the logics of race and culture. Using Michel Foucault’s genealogical method, I present a history of contemporary Indianness that saw the transformation of Indigenous communities and nations into Western colonial forms. I argue that, since the early encounters between European cultures and Indigenous nations, colonial impulses to consolidate territory and wealth in the ‘New World’ undertook the project of “othering” Indigenous peoples. From the days of the sixteenth century and lasting to this day, very technical details and knowledge about Indianness were discursively produced. This emergent discourse cast identity in a new form, expressing Indianness along cultural and racial dimensions, giving discursive life and political purchase to the colonial discourse on Indianness. Relying on the theory of Antonio Gramsci and the work of Edward Said, I analyze how the colonial discourse obtained cultural hegemony in Indian Country in the mid-twentieth century. Following the moment of colonial cultural hegemony, I examine how the colonial discourse shaped debates and discussions internal to Indian Country. In this analysis, I investigate the discursive construction of types of Indians, as well as questions of where the racial and cultural boundaries between the colonizer and the colonized would lie. As I show, the discursive imaginings of real, authentic Indianness along racial and cultural lines were introduced in some Indigenous communities to produce divisions and distinctions within Indian subjectivity. I use Foucault’s theoretical understanding of the link between discourse and power to explain how in some cases Indian Country has transformed into a disciplinary society. I discuss Foucault’s notion of biopolitics. I apply this theoretical concept to the racial organization of First Nations and other Indigenous communities, examining Indian Band membership codes to underscore the spread of biopolitics in Indian Country. This analysis is complemented by an inquiry into the proliferation of disciplinary institutions and practices in some communities of Indian Country. I demonstrate how Indigenous people were drawn into networks of power to normalize and produce authentic Indianness in accordance with the discursive tenets of traditionalism.
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