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Playing Indian (Yale Historical Publications Series) Paperback – September 10, 1999


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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Americans need Indians in order to define themselves as Americans, asserts Deloria (history, Univ. of Colorado). Beginning before the Boston Tea Party, and continuing into the present, Americans have adopted Indian attire, images, and traditions for both political and individual needs. These acts separated us from our European forebears while creating a unique American identity with which we are only partially comfortable, declares the author. As the country evolves, the ways in which Americans identify with Indians also change. Deloria, who is the son of Vine Deloria (Red Earth, White Lies, LJ 9/15/95), follows a strong family tradition of critically examining Indian-white relations. He demonstrates how "Indian play" has always taken on new shape and focus to engage the most pressing issues of a particular historical moment, and he notes that American views of Indians tell us much more about Americans than they do about Indians. While readers may wish the author had dealt more with Indian reactions to these phenomena, this important book belongs in all American history collections.?Mary B. Davis, Huntington Free Lib., Bronx, NY
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Kirkus Reviews

A provocative study of the role of American Indians in forming the character of the US. Following D.H. Lawrences observation that the American character is essentially paradoxical (wanting to savor both civilized order and savage freedom), Deloria (History/Univ. of Colorado) traces the tendency, apparent since the arrival of the first colonists, of Anglo-Americans to appropriate Native American dress, customs, and habits. It was no accident, Deloria writes, that the perpetrators of the Boston Tea Party donned Indian headdresses before sending British cargo into the drink; they at once wanted to disguise themselves and proclaim a kind of solidarity with the continents first inhabitants. It allowed the restrained New Englanders to enjoy freedoms, and even a certain licentiousness, that wouldnt have been possible in plain clothes. Indian societies were deconstructed and imagined in American literature, in secret societies like the Tammany and Cayuga Wolf all-white tribes, and in more open organizations like the Boy Scouts, whose American founder, Ernest Thompson Seton, suspected real Indians of harboring unpatriotic sentiments. Deloria turns up fascinating oddments, including the story of one Colorado Boy Scout troop that went native to the point that the national organization tried to reeducate them, but the scouts managed to reconstruct the secret Shalako ceremony of the Zuni Indians so convincingly that Zuni elders built a special kiva for the masks the young men had made. Deloria notes that although the Boy Scouts of La Junta were not Indians, they were also more than simple, straightforward white boys. He is less admiring of the hippies, Deadheads, and modern New Agers who continue to appropriate elements of Native American religion and culture today. But in the end, he concludes, Indianness was the bedrock for creative American identities, but it was also one of the foundations . . . for imagining and performing domination and power in America. A valuable contribution to Native American studies, and worthy of attention by readers in many fields. -- Copyright ©1998, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Series: Yale Historical Publications Series
  • Paperback: 262 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (September 10, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300080670
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300080674
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.2 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #408,303 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

37 of 39 people found the following review helpful By D. Martinez on December 5, 2005
Format: Paperback
One thing that has always perplexed Indian people is the way in which our white brothers could overrun our lands with their guns and bibles, on the one hand, yet still maintain a romantic fascination with Indian ways, as evidenced in their books and movies. Deloria's work offers insight into the process through which non-Indians have appropriated the Indian nations' rights and territories into an anglicized assertion that they are now the "native" people of this land by right of conquest. Consequently, "playing Indian" has nothing to do with respecting actual Indian people, but rather with assuming the guise of authenticity. In other words, playing Indian is at best an attempt by non-Indians to forge a new American identity; at worst, it is a political ruse meant to justify the brutal colonization of other peoples' homelands. In both cases, Deloria demonstrates that both type of Indian playing has little interest in consulting with any Indian people, hence the absence of Indian voices in the historical discourse. In the end, if Deloria has made some, clearly non-Indian, readers uncomfortable (or bored, as one person sadly admitted), it is probably because he wanted such readers to critically examine their own motivations for taking an interest in Indians. Are they interested in promoting justice and sovereingty for Indian nations today? Or do they merely think Indian stuff is cool and just a harmless diversion?
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 17, 1998
Format: Hardcover
I found it interesting to read about the early colonial desire to feel new and non-European, and craft a noble, aboriginal identity (ie -Indian) for new Americans, in American literature, costume, and civic and fraternal organizations. The author's brief paragraphs on the early 20th Century rift in the Boy Scouts of America (between a nature/ indian-centric philosophy and a para-military/Christian one) could help readers understand the current debates in the Scouting movement.
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 23, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Playing Indian provides a serious argument in the debate over what American identity is. Deloria proves that although white America has traditionally considered itself as an original and true nation, white Americans have proved less secure about their national identity. In this book Deloria identifies numerous attempts by white Americans to recreate themselves as authentic Americans by assuming Native American identities. A must for anyone interested in American history.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Sesamejane on November 25, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I read with interest some of the other reviews. I felt I had to comment because one of the reviewers opines that the book lacks the "voices of native americans." Hmm...I think Phillip Deloria is the grandson of one of the most respected "native americans" living today, Vine Deloria, who is also an author, educator, and political activitist. Mr. Vine Deloria is tribal affiliated; I suspect his grandson is too. By the way, excellent book, Playing Indian, if you are serious about understanding American culture and the dynamics of hegemony. I found none of it boring or difficult to read.
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18 of 23 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 26, 2001
Format: Paperback
Overall, this is an excellent work on how "anglo American" culture has taken Native culture in such things as fraternal/masonic organizations (Improved Order of Red Men), youth organizations (Boy Scouts, Woodcraft Indians, Camp Fire Girls, etc), Indian Hobbyist groups, and more.
However, I would have like to seen more substantial coverage in these areas. As a Boy Scout Leader and Arrowman, his coverage of Native culture use in youth groups could have gone further. This is little mention of the Order of the Arrow and other honor socities formed within the Boy Scouts based on Native culture (and the author is himself an arrowman!). And I don't recall if he mentioned the Y-Indian Guide programs!
Still, a good work in this area
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 23, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Playing Indian provides a serious argument in the debate over what American identity is. Deloria proves that although white America has traditionally considered itself as an original and true nation, white Americans have proved less secure about their national identity. In this book Deloria identifies numerous attempts by white Americans to recreate themselves as authentic Americans by assuming Native American identities. A must for anyone interested in American history.
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20 of 28 people found the following review helpful By R. DelParto VINE VOICE on May 11, 2004
Format: Paperback
Philip J. Deloria presents an interesting assessment of American identity as it relates to Indian identity. Yes, this is an important aspect of American identity in general because it shows how far American's perceptions of Native Americans have come since the establishment of American society during the eighteenth century. Deloria's Playing Indian is important scholarship in understanding Americanness from a historical perspective.
However, Deloria's book, once again, lacks the voices of Native Americans. Yes, there is mention of the controversial Tammany Society and their relations with Creek Indians, but where are the Creek voices? Deloria chooses to write from one perspective that does not completely reveal the complicated issue of Playing Indian. He attempts to clearly discuss how Indian identity has shaped the national identity of Americans, but some where in the fold where he discusses the interior and exterior Indian, he lost me. It only took a matter of re-readings to somewhat understand his point.
Nonetheless, the concluding chapters discuss the counterculture embracing Indianness as part of their identity. Deloria ties this aspect of American and Indian relations in order to show how Indianness brought a sense of unity as it pertained all races during the tumultous 1960s and early 1970s. This may have been the most significant part of the book that offers an inkling of how close Americans came to "coming together" communally with Indians, but Americans still did not fully grasp the reality of being Indian or fully welcoming Native American people within American society. Indeed, Indians still appear as the Other.
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