Native American Studies Program

Toward a Critical Native American Studies

The specificity of the Native American situation must be understood in terms of indigeneity and the colonial forces confronting it. Any engaged understanding of Native people—historical or contemporary—must start from the fact of their prior presence as autonomous societies on the land.From this follows the significance of colonialism as the primary form of domination confronted by Native peoples in their struggles for justice.Colonialism is the other side of the historical coin of indigenousness.This does not mean that exclusionary “essentialist” or “primordialist” assertions are inevitable in Native American Studies.It is clear that all nationalities and nationhoods—indigenous or not—are social products and that all people make their histories, while never, of course, making them just as they please.Nor does the recognition of indigeneity/colonialism as key in the Native American situation mean that epistemologies and theories developed for understanding the situation of other disempowered groups—women, queer communities, subaltern classes, racial minorities, immigrants and refugees, the disabled—cannot be of value in Native American Studies; the dialogue between Native American Studies and the larger universe of critical social and cultural theory is essential.But it does mean that the unique forms of (colonial) domination experienced by Native peoples must be addressed as key from the start.

Native people have never been “provincial,” and have always been intensely connected to other peoples through trade, travel, and family formation.This was as true prior to European entry into Native America as it has been true since 1492.Indian communities and Native individuals—to varying degrees, of course—have always been both cosmopolitan and multicultural.It is also critically important to recognize that such social and cultural intercourse and the forms of “hybridity” it supports are not best understood through the evolutionary models of “assimilation” or “acculturation” that have predominated in both scholarly and popular thinking about Native peoples—that is, as (regrettable, if supposedly inevitable) movement away from a pure Native “tradition” and toward “assimilation” into “the dominant culture.”The intellectual challenge is to recover the creative forms of cosmopolitanism by which Native communities and Indian people have lived (and continue to) as Native—and richly so—in the world-at-large.This does not mean that there are no threats involved in Native openness to the world-at-large, as this there are obvious political risks in a situation marked by colonialism and neocolonial globalization, both of which are forms of coercive social and cultural engineering.Indeed, a clear recognition of the politics of cultural change for Native people is an inescapable requirement for both worldly Native cosmpolitanisms (not the same as mere acculturation, borrowing, or mimicry) and a critical Native American Studies that would seek to understand (and support) such cosmopolitanisms.

Core Faculty in Native American Studies

Tom Biolsi, Professor
Native American Studies
Research interests: Native Americans and other indigenous peoples; political economy; race-making and racisms
Shari Huhndorf, Professor and Department Chair
Ethnic Studies, Native American Studies
Research interests: Interdisciplinary Native American studies, literary and visual culture, cultural studies, gender studies, American studies
Beth H. Piatote, Associate Professor
Native American Studies
Research interests: Native American literature, history, law and culture; Native American/Aboriginal literature and federal Indian law in the United States and Canada; American literature and cultural studies; Ni:mi:pu: (Nez Perce) language and literature

Programs & Courses

Ethnic Studies Department
506 Barrows Hall #2570
Berkeley, CA 94720-2570
510-642-6456 fax

Office Hours: Mon - Thurs 9-12, 1-4, Fri 9-12