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The Dark Side Of The Nation Cultural Studies Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 4004 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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This paper chooses two articles namely “Indian Country: Essays on Contemporary Native Culture” by Valaskakis and Himani Bannerji’s “The Dark Side, of the Nation: Essays on Multiculturalism, Nationalism and Gender,” to try and compare and contrast the theoretical approach that the author’s of the two articles have used. In the first article “Indian Country: Essays on Contemporary Native Culture,” by Valaskakis, the author uses a cultural studies approach to present a distinctive view on Native cultural conflict and political struggle both in the United States and Canada. She reflects on traditionalism and treaty rights, Indian princesses, museums, art, powwow, media warriors and nationhood. Writing on “Land in Native America” by Valaskakis, the author depicts the ‘Indian Country’ as concurrently evoking collective experience, a sacred space and physical land in which the individual interacts within these dominions.

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In the second article “The Dark Side, of the Nation: Essays on Multiculturalism, Nationalism and Gender,” by Himani Bannerji, she presents an anti-racist, feminist, Marxist assessment of multiculturalism as a means for the white Canadian select few to oppress immigrants, whites, non-whites, women, and other minorities. She notes how the selected few use constructions like “community” and “culture” to dominate while hiding at the back of the liberal-democratic nuances of multiculturalism. In the Valaskaki’s essay, “The Paradox of Diversity,” the author notes how the language of multiculturalism (i.e. women of color, visible minority) restrains nonwhite persons. The difficulty is not that such identifiers be present, but that they indicate a need to manage and control non-white Canadians. The contradiction is that multicultural language serves the objective of Whites to track ethnicity and race rather than the interest of noticeable minorities. The authors of these narratives are trying to define what indigenous thought is by putting forward extensive arguments based on the various societies each has focused on.

In this paper, we try to explore on each author’s point of view with an aim of getting a clear meaning of indigenous thought. Both authors have critically approached their argument and have presented it in a clear and flowing manner that has assisted in the effective construct of the author’s theories as well as their overall thought process in the paper. The most basic idea in both the papers is the presentation of the indigenous thought and the critical race theory.

The indigenous thought:

So what do I mean when I talk about Indigenous thought? First, let us start with what indigenous thought is not: Indigenous thought is not the self-serving and naive idea that anybody who digs his or her hands in the dirt has indigenous understanding. I am referring to the modern-day knowledge that arises from countless generations of people living in relation to a particular land and seeing it as the foundation of all their relations. By land, I reach further than any simple material idea to the emotional, intellectual and spiritual dimensions thereof. Land includes streams and rivers, wind and air as living beings in our existence. Indigenous thought is founded in a profound understanding that we all exist in relation to land. Whether we are dwellers of the city in deep denial or Aboriginal people drawing on old customs to regenerate new awareness, we exist in relation to land. We bundle up when the snow comes, we protest when spring is delayed, we breathe deeply and refurbish our souls when the sun warms us into a new season.

For an effective statement on Indigenous thought, I draw on the writing of Valaskakis, Gail Guthrie in her essay “Claiming Land in Native America”. She argues that land is hardly ever understood as a discursive place of Indian experience imagined, lived and remembered and an enduring place of Native political possibility. According to Valaskakis, the continuing contests that yarn through the connotation of constructed representations and endorsed ideologies of Native people and other North Americans involve underlying issues and images of land in Canada and the United States: continental territory- privatized, settled, developed, explored, reserved, mapped, idealized, imagined and contested.

According to Valaskakis, the Native claim to recognize rights to the land is a lawful move to resolve the wrongs of the past; but to Native people, land claims have at all times represented more than territorial access to resources and expansion. The Natives claim that the land belongs to them, for the Great Spirit gave it to them when he put them there. The Natives believe land to be their ancestral right and this gives them the rightful ownership of the land since their fore fathers found the land and settled in it before anyone else. The Natives say they were free to come and leave and to exist in their own way and they were free to practice whatever it was that they believed in. However or rather unfortunately, the white men who belonged to another land, came upon them, and forced them to live according to their ideas and practices. The political struggle over land is covered in a complex of contradictory representations, different cultural constructions and oppositional discourses. For example, when we look at the Cree dispute over the extension of hydroelectric projects in Northern Quebec, the interwoven discussions that disclose native and nonnative relationships to the land are both essential and complex. “It is a struggle that has unraveled a complex braid of conflict between radically different knowledge systems and representations about the land and territory, progress and survivability, rights and justice- the latter two couplets hitched to differing commitments of nationhood and its attendant cultural and political desires”(Valaskakis 90). According to Valaskakis, in the combined heritage of struggle and resettlement of reservations, land allotments and resource exploitation, the meaning of land that comes out in the lived understanding of present practice of Native people is interwoven with images of enduring indigence, forced acculturation and painful displacement. Land is essential in the modern-day culture of Native America; and today, its meaning is discussed in the discursive building of emerging heritage, contingent history and modern practice in the stories Native people tell that convey empowerment linked in expression to Native political struggle and traditional practice with nonnative and with one another.

Today, the Native “sense of unity” is an idiom of collectivity that goes beyond place-centered society to the oneness of pan-Indianism. As new formations of Native community emerge in the academic, professional, social and urban areas of Indian Country, Native identity and culture are recreated in narratives of past practices and places, transformed and experienced today in pan-Indian rhetoric and rituals. These are not the homesick words of cultural tourists or the heartbreaking pleas of homeless migrants who are removed or displaced from their cultural or territorial roots, but the voices of Native North Americans who identify home in the emergent re-territorialized creations of Indian Country. These stories that reclaim place and people, reconfigure land as terrain, terrain that represents not only communal, spiritual experience but also familiar colonial experience. “What makes us one people is the common legacy of colonialism and Diaspora. Central to that history is our necessary, political, and in this century, often quite hazardous attempt to reclaim and understand our past- the real one, not the invented one” (Valaskakis 98).

This reveals a continuing disagreement over the meaning of land in Native and North America. Land is linked to contingent identity and history absorbed in the discussion of territory and spirituality, worked in the power of privilege and politics. The meaning of land appears in the cultural practice and historical specificity of Native North American life worlds. It is endorsed and worked upon every time Native people fish or hunt, visit the graves of ancestors, plant gardens, offer tobacco to spirit rocks or recognize the interrelatedness of these understandings of everyday life. However, the meaning of land is also articulated in the stories people tell about ceremony and heritage, places and people, loss, conflict and travel. The ownership of land and the meaning of land was not only expunged and devalued in the policies that came forward to eradicate or acculturate Indians.

Native practices and expressions entail not only space but also time, both of which are essential to the political and spiritual construction of Native culture. The Native perceptive of space emerges as a governing construct that not only establishes time but also builds Native ideology, community and spirituality in relation to land. Both tribal cultures and the Native perceptive of shared relations are situated in space rather than time. Indian religion, ideology and history, come out in interaction with a given land and its life forms, in a lived reality of space that is hard to differentiate in the non-Native analysis. A Native community’s experience or observation of land, environment and place, gives rise to the Indian spiritual stories and myths that create the tribal sense of the past. Land, as noted by the author is the essential issue defining possible ideas of Native America, whether in the past, present or future. An intensely held sense of unity with given geographical environments has provided and continues to give the spiritual reinforcement allowing cultural unity across the entire variety of indigenous American societies.

Critical Race Theory:

Analyzing the critical race theory, we see that it draws upon paradigms of inter-sectionalism. Recognizing that racism and race work with and through ethnicity, sexuality, class and nation as systems of power, contemporary critical race theory often depends upon or looks into these intersections. The opening essay in the Dark Side, of the Nation: Essays on Multiculturalism, Nationalism and Gender “The Paradox of Diversity,” portrays a critical race theory. Bannerji argues that the label “women of color” a slogan herself uses is caught up in many of the dynamics that anti-racist feminists are fighting. Reviewing both British and US literature on multiculturalism and race, the author explains how the official policy of multiculturalism of Canada despite its significance, actually worsens the absurdity of this originally American expression. Bannerji argues that the term “women of color” is a pleasant and vague label that extended throughout option politics in the 1980s and 1990s. It signaled to race as color, created a name for building alliance among all women, and gave a feeling of vividness, brilliance or brightness of a celebration of a difference. However, this dialogue tightens political agency and becomes a piece of thought that removes class and the critical and hard edges of the notion of race.

Using Louis Althusser’s concept of ideological state apparatuses, Bannerji examines how the discourse of diversity allows the Canadian state to cope with real economic, cultural and social tensions while retaining its vital capitalist, liberal individualism and camouflaging its historic colonialism and explicitly racist past. Taking her cue from Antonio Gramsci, the author argues that these dynamics of state supervision need to be evaluated in relation to civil society and everyday values, practices and ideas that include classifications of people. Thus, a phrase like “women of color” that may hold a remedy to liberal pluralism actually becomes a re-named edition of plurality, so vital to politics and concept of liberalism in which a color-coded self-discernment, an identity declared on the semi logical foundation of one’s skin color, was rendered pleasant through this philosophy of diversity. While the central argument of the essay is that the discussion of multiculturalism, with “women of color” as an indicative example, obscures the daily and political actualities of women facing the racism of white privilege. Bannerji is not reproving or simplistically discarding it. Rather, she is evaluating under what circumstances this discourse has developed, and most notably, revealing how it might limit future struggles and possibilities.

Bannerji’s discussion of the label “women of color” demonstrates that the language, descriptions and categories we use are not just ideological expressions of power entrenched in economic disparities. Rather, they construct meanings themselves. They are a realistic activity and serve to either control power relations or offer new possibilities. Bannerji explains in the essay that to imagine a society entails making a project in which difference could be appreciated. She also assumes that the source of this divergence is just cultural difference. However, this hindrance is the outcome of a difference that has its roots in race. It is at this point that multicultural discourse is created. As mentioned by the author in the essay this multicultural discourse is founded on the difference, a difference that is created by contrast and comparison of the possible “Canadian” subjects: “But color was translated into the language of visibility. The latest Canadian subject covering social and political fields was appellated “visible minority,” accentuates on both the aspects of being non-white and, therefore, visible in a manner whites are not and of being politically minor players” (Bannerji 30).

Although the vocabulary, of discrimination and exclusion has changed in the Canadian framework, the cause of the problem remains the same, and as a result, continues to have an effect on the everyday lives of immigrant communities in Canada. In addition, the terms of diversity and multiculturalism are exclusively agreed upon by the power that is dominant and, therefore, set up an uneven power imbalance. Based on Bannerji’s essay, one could argue that the reputation of Canada as an ideal multicultural civilization is nothing more than a false impression of social and political acceptance and not in actuality a certainty on the ground. In addition, in this false impression of tolerance and acceptance of ethnic minorities, the cultures of immigrants who are white from the ‘preferred’ class of immigrants, are much more renowned than that of nonwhite immigrants. As argued by the author and others like her, discussion of multiculturalism has resulted in definitional authority over nonwhite immigrants living in Canada with consideration to their socio-political and ideological location in society. Their distribution as “visible” minorities in Canadian society officially reduces them to a class that is deemed less powerful and, therefore, mediocre to the dominant White class.

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By bringing both, the critical race theory and indigenous thought together, I intend to outline the central doctrine of an emerging theory that I would call Tribal Critical Race Theory to tackle the issues of Indigenous People in the United States. I have put up this theoretical framework because it allows me to tackle the complicated relationship between the United States federal government and Native Indians. This theory emerges from both indigenous thought and “Critical Race Theory” and is entrenched in the manifold, historically and geographically located ontology and epistemologies found in aboriginal groups of people. Despite the fact that they diverge depending on space, place, time, individual and tribal nation, there emerge to be familiarities in those epistemologies and ontologisms. This supposition will be entrenched in these familiarities while at the same time recognizing the variation and range that exists between and within individuals and communities. While critical race theory serves as a framework in and of itself, it does not deal with the particular requirements of tribal people because it does not address Native Indians’ liminality as either political and racialized human beings or the experience of colonization.

Teaching both methodologies will involve covering various issues such as the United States policies toward Indigenous peoples, which are rooted in imperialism. We will also look at White domination, and a passion for material gain. We will also look at how aboriginal peoples have a desire to attain and build tribal autonomy, tribal sovereignty, self-identification and self-determination. We shall also look at the concepts of knowledge, power and culture and how they take on a new meaning when scrutinized through an Indigenous lens. This theory will look at the educational and governmental policies toward Indigenous people and how these policies are intimately linked around the problematic objective of assimilation.

While critical race theory argues that racial discrimination is widespread in society, combining both critical race theory and indigenous thought methodologies emphasizes that colonization is prevalent in society while also recognizing the role that racism played. Much of what Tribal critical theory offers as an investigative lens is a more culturally nuanced and a new way of probing the experiences and lives of tribal peoples since making contact with Europeans over 500 years ago. This is central to the distinctiveness of the place and space American Indians inhabit, both intellectually and physically, as well as to the distinctive, sovereign relationship between the federal government and American Indians. My hope is that Tribal Critical theory can be used to tackle the variation and range of experiences of people who are American Indians.

In page 115 Valaskakis quotes Gerald Vizenor and writes, “The literature of dominance, narratives of discoveries, translations, cultural studies, and prescribed names of time, place and person are treacherous in any discourse on tribal consciousness” (Valaskakis 115). Thus the ‘Tribal Critical Theory’ provides a theoretical lens for dealing with many of the issues facing Native Indian communities today, including issues of language loss and language shift, management of natural resources, the lack of students graduating from Universities and colleges, the over representation of Native Indians in special education and supremacy struggles between State, tribal and federal tribal governments.

Ultimately, Tribal Critical theory holds a descriptive power; it is potentially an improved theoretical lens through which to illustrate the lived experiences of tribal people. Tribal Critical based on a sequence of ideas, traditions, epistemologies, and thoughts that are augmented in ethnic histories thousands of years old. While I draw on ontologisms, traditions, older stories, and epistemologies, the grouping itself is new. As such, I anticipate that this article will instigate a procedure of thinking about how Tribal Critical Race Theory may better serve researchers who are unsatisfied with the methods and theories currently offered from which to study Native Indians specifically in educational institutions, and the larger society more generally.

By drawing my attention to the distinction between Native Indian place-based and Western time-oriented understandings of the world, I have to learn not only the rather obvious scrutiny that most Indigenous societies embrace a strong connection to their homelands, but also the position occupied by land as an ontological outline for understanding relationships. Seen in this light, it is a deep misunderstanding to think of place or land as simply some material item of deep importance to Indigenous cultures (although it is important); instead, it should be understood as a ground of relationships of things to each other. Place is a way of experiencing, relating and knowing the world and these ways of knowing often direct forms of resistance to authority relations that threaten to destroy or erase our senses of place. This, I would argue, is exactly the understanding of place or land that not only fastens many Indigenous peoples critical assessment of colonial relations of command and force, but also our visualizations of what a truly post-colonial affiliation of nonviolent coexistence might look like.


By studying Valaskaki’s essay “Land in Native America,” I have been able to examine the role that place plays in fundamental Indigenous activism from the perspective of the native Indian community. I have to understand that even though native Indians senses of place have been tattered by centuries of capitalist-colonial displacement, they still serve as a familiarizing framework that guides radical native Indian activism today and presents a way of thinking about relations between and within individuals and the natural world built on values of freedom and reciprocity. I have learnt that one of the most important differences that exist between Western and Indigenous metaphysics rotates around the central significance of land to Indigenous modes of thought, ethics and being. I have come to learn that when ideology is divided according to Western European and Native Indian traditions this essential difference is one of great philosophical significance. Native Indians hold their lands “Places” as having the uppermost likely meaning, and all their declarations are made with this reference point in mind. While most Western societies, by distinction, tend to get the meaning from the world in developmental or historical terms, thereby placing time as the description of central significance.

Valaskaki’s essay “The Paradox of Diversity,” has expanded my understanding on race and racism. Although it has become everyday to converse about the “diversity” of Canada and other western cultures that have resulted from recent patterns of international migration, this article has drawn my attention to the idea that observing only country of origin or ethnicity offers an incomplete and ultimately deceptive approach to understanding present-day diversity.


In conclusion, through the article, I have learnt some of the ways in which the removal of power relations in the creation of multicultural communities from above is mostly felicitous for the states and ruling classes which express their socioeconomic and ideological interests. This article has enabled me to examine what the idea of diversity does politically. I have come to learn that it is an evocative term that indicates heterogeneity without authority relations by abstracting difference from social and history relations. The term contains an unbiased appearance that is attractive for practices of control as the classed, gendered and raced social relations of influence that generate the differences drop out of sight, thus facilitating the blaming of individuals for their own disadvantage.

This article has made me understand how the created relations between heterogeneity and homogeneity, or diversity and sameness, rely on the underlying idea of an essentialised edition of a colonial European turned into a Canadian. This Canadian is the agent and subject of Canadian nationalism and has the right to make a decision on the degree to which multicultural others should be accommodated or tolerated.


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