Native Peoples Rights course website

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Fridays, 9:30-11:00 a.m. 6-week course begins 11/13

Steven Piker
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Fred Masciangelo – Email:




More About the Class

The post-Columbian imperial expansion of Europe is the back drop for this course.  The expansion overtook virtually the entire human world.  In 1900, almost everywhere  in the world either was or had been a colony of a European nation, or otherwise substantially penetrated by a European nation.

Of course, everywhere colonized by European states was already inhabited by native peoples with distinctive traditional life ways.  As regards, then, the impact of European colonialism on native peoples, how did things play?

Things played differently from time to time and place to place.  One way, disastrous for native peoples, involved the establishment of settler societies . . . in which European settlers displaced, dispossessed, and often decimated the native inhabitants; savaged traditional native life ways; populated almost completely the erstwhile native lands; and established and governed their own states in which the surviving native peoples comprised marginalized, stigmatized, and impoverished  small minorities, for whom traditional life ways were impossible and the rights of the settler states were often of little or no use to native peoples.  The settler states adopted, often coercively, the role of cultural missionaries vis-a-vis their native peoples.

The settler society iteration of European colonialism arguably presented most fully in Canada, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand . . . for all of which the main initial settler impulse came from the same European nation, viz., 17th and 18th century Great Britain.  The conditions outlined in the previous paragraph were well advanced in all four counties by 1900 . . . In short, settler societies  had comprised vast and inescapable tragedies for native peoples. Interestingly, these four settler society nations are all full blown democracies, embodying what many of their citizens are pleased to consider to be the most humane forms of governance ever developed by humankind.  Did this circumstance, then, mitigate the just named disasters which overtook  their native peoples?  The short answer is, ‘no’.  Our course will consider how, now and into the future, especially the United States iteration of democracy does and might interact with the circumstances and aspirations of its native peoples.

But the descendants of native peoples have endured, which circumstance poses the main questions for our course: Now, and into the future, of what can and should the relationships between natives and settlers consist?  For both, what is desirable? What is possible?

Our course will take up these questions mainly by consulting two superb in depth studies of native communities long in intimate juxtaposition with settlers.  Both communities are Ojibwa, one in W. Ontario and one in N. Minnesota.  For both studies, the ethnographic present is the second half of the twentieth century, and both studies trace the circumstances of the present to early native/settler contact.  Both studies present the perspectives of both natives and settlers, with much more attention devoted to the former.  Both studies familiarize the reader with actual people in their everyday local life worlds.  Our consideration of, ‘what’s desirable?’ ‘what’s possible?’, will be grounded in this.

The author of the Minnesota study is a native, of the Ontario study a settler.   Each author has, by following very different paths, attained fluency in both cultures……..which enableseach author to serve as a cultural broker, that is, to guide members of one culture in efforts to understand and appreciate the other culture and its people.




Let’s take up Shkylnik’s book first, Treuer’s book second. About three weeks for each.  And, weekly topic/question outline, below, is tentative.  How one week’s discussion unfolds will bear on what we do the following week.


   WEEK 1.  Introduction


Lecture:  Who are the Ojibwa?  Cultural identity(or heritage):  what is it?  Rights:  what are they?


  1. A) Round robin of brief self introductions……including, as  class members may feel so prompted, ‘what brought you to this course?’


  1. B) Reactions to, thoughts about Shkylnik’s book


  1. C) “Two kinds of damage’  to communities:  Kai Erikson’s Foreword


  1. D) The Grassy Narrows Ojibwa are a broken people:  How so?  Of what does their brokenness consist?  1



WEEK 2.  How did the Grassy Narrows Ojibwa become a broken people?


Lecture:  Traditional culture(s) of foraging people(s), e.g. the Ojibwa


  1. A) Was the catastrophe a single event?  Or…….?


  1. B) ‘A community destroyed’  Pre catastrophe, of what did the Grassy Narrows community consist?  From the native’s point of view(Part II)



   WEEK 3.   The Settlers in the Grassy Narrows saga


Lecture:  Natives in the settlers’ picture(s) of the situation


  1. A) Canadian ‘Indian  policy’……… and business practices


  1. B) Were the settlers villains?  All of them?  Some of them?  If so, how so?


  1. C) Might, realistically, the 20h century have worked out  better for the Grassy Narrows People? If so, how so?


chs. 8-10






WEEK 4.  The Leech Lake Ojibwa……. a more hopeful story?


David  Treuer’s REZ LIFE is an unconventional book…….. history, ethnography, autobiography………and, withal, a narrative format which reads like a novel.  It won’t readily fit in to any of

of our familiar ‘book’ genres………. or the Library of Congress’ book category system.  Suggest we  spend a little time chatting about how we might make good use of this book.  Here, a

thought or two on that…….  And, along the way, please do share with me suggestions re this as same may occur to you all


Lecture:  Who is David Treuer, anyway?  And…… what has that got to do with what we are up to?


  1. A) Why did David Treuer write this book?  Introduction


  1. B) Fishing rights……. What’s the beef?  Why is this important to the Ojibwa? How did it play?  Did the Ojibwa ‘win’?  If so, how so?


  1. C) ‘Most often rez life is associated with tragedy….But…..Reservations and the Indians on them are not simply victims of the white juggernaut…. There is beauty in Indian life…. We love

our reservations’   From the native’s point of view of what does the beauty consist?


WEEK 5.  What is desirable? What is possible?


Lecture:   Grassy Narrows and Leech Lake:  compare and contrast


  1. A) For each, what is desirable?  What is realistically possible?


  1. B) For each, how might rights figure in the materialization of better, rather than worse, outcomes?


  1. C) The Leech Lake Ojibwa are much better off than are the Grassy Narrows Ojibwa.  How so?  How did the difference develop



Week 6.  Conclusion


Lecture:  American Indians and other major stigmatized and marginalized American groups:  compare and contrast


Discussion:  In one of the several confabs at which I was present and which treated the territory we are visiting this term, the following came up…… participant said, in effect….

‘Yes, what Indians have suffered at the hands of whites is appalling beyond description. But I was not involved in any of it, I bear no responsibility for any of it…….nor does my family,

which has only been in this country for three generations.’  ‘Well,’ replied another of those present, ‘maybe so; but even if so, you – and all of us – are guilty of another sin.’  ‘Oh, yeah,’

rejoin the first speaker, ‘ what sin is that?’  And the second speaker replied, ‘the sin of knowingly being in receipt of stolen property’  Setting aside the merits of the respective

points of view, this exchange prompted some of those present(including yours truly)to ponder the question……… givens the indisputable historical and present realities of

native/settler, just what – if anything – might be the moral obligations of Josephine and Joe Q.(American)citizen?  E.g., us?  And, derivatively, possible implication