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Comment on “Transnational or Indigenous?” by Duane Champagne

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Source: http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2014/03/24/transnational-or-indigenous-154066

Source: http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2014/03/24/transnational-or-indigenous-154066

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  • 1. Che-Wei Lee 1 Copyright © 2014 by Che-Wei Lee. All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the United States Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this manuscript may be reproduced or distributed in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the author. Champagne, Duane. 2014. “Transnational or Indigenous?” Indian Country Today Media Network, March 24. http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2014/03/24/transnational- or-indigenous-154066. Review by: Che-Wei Lee, Department of Administrative and Policy Studies, University of Pittsburgh Accessed: Friday, 28 March 2014, 12:07 p.m. Note: This material may be protected by copyright law (Title 17 U.S. Code). Comment Duane Champagne makes a decent commentary on distinguishing between non-tribally-based indigenous transnational and tribally-based indigenous transnational arguments. This helps audience carefully understand and use transnational/transcultural theoretical perspective in writing about indigenous peoples. In order to ensure I understand Champagne’s point appropriately, I would list my points to succinctly re-interpret and grasp his argument. First, Champagne’s basic standpoint is not fully against the emerging transnational argument. Second, Champagne wants to emphasize that the weakness of the transnational/transcultural theory is the lack of underscoring the substantial tribal living experiences or life of those stay or live on reservations to a certain extent. In other words, it pays too much attention to the urban experience of Indian people. In this respect, he tends to imply a top priority of consolidating tribal indigenous identity. Third, Champagne thus argues that transnational theory fails to fully address or represent an authentic indigenous identity because its premise is not based on the practical and constant contact with tribal communities. Fourth, Champagne uses the Indian fiction literature as the evidence to support his viewpoint, especially underscoring the example of the mixed blood novelists. Fifth, Champagne accepts that transnational theory can provide urban Indians with thinking suggestions or action plans to face contemporary world and their mainstream value. But he disagrees that the transnational argument should be realized and understood as the substitution of the core value of tribal self-government, territory, and cultural continuity. Sixth, transnational theory will be limited for indigenous nation building by merely strengthening indigenous people’s ethnic identity that is mostly based on urban experiences, rather than tribally-based indigenous identity that is based on Indian reservations/community cultures and experiences. Seventh, the key difference between indigenous ethnic identity and indigenous tribal identity is the existence and the centrality of tradition of self-government, territory, and specific tribal
  • 2. 2 Incommensurate Indigenous Rights? Copyright © 2014 by Che-Wei Lee. All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the United States Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this manuscript may be reproduced or distributed in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the author. cultures. And these three basic elements are very essential for the existence and sustainable development of indigenous peoples—they are, will be and should be treated as, the evidence for justifying why indigenous people can define themselves as indigenous legitimately while facing various dominant governments/circumstances. In sum, Champagne warns writers, researchers, and policy makers of indigenous studies to be cautious with the use of the transnational/transcultural theory while trying to address indigenous identity because ethnic identity and indigenous identity have two different connotations. Once again, I appreciate Duane Champagne for his insight grounded in tribal indigenous stance. Basically, Champagne’s criticism of the misuse of transnational theory is a fair comment. Transnational theory should not be misunderstood as an exclusive view for explaining the urbanization experiences of Indian people just because of its extensive application in the urban Native American studies. I think I can fairly understand why many academics would largely use the transnational theory to explain urban experiences of Indian nations. Because there is an increasing trend that indigenous people are immigrating into urban cities for greater economic and educational opportunities. I take an actual case occurring in my home country Taiwan as an example. While most Aborigines still reside in predominantly mountainous regions and the plains regions in the central, southern, and eastern parts of the country, there is an increasing trend toward urbanization. To secure better employment or economic chances, and greater education opportunities, a growing number of Taiwanese Aborigines migrate to the urban centers mostly located in the western and northern areas of the country. For the above purpose, more and more parents gradually bring their next generations to, or purposely make their children born in, urban areas. Also, because many single Aboriginals work in urban cities for a long time and marry to non-Aboriginals, their mixed blood generations may be difficult to generate their tribal indigenous identity or ethnic indigenous identity without the basis of indigenous cultural and tribal contact (or if the Aboriginal spouse does not insist or is unable to make his or her children contact tribal community and culture). Thus, the cultural conflicts may not be easy to happen and affect some generations' cultural traditional (tribal) identity. But this is not a case for some urban Indians with critical self-awareness, they are empowered by some role models to restore their indigenous tribal identity when obtaining chances to learn their indigenous language, cultural beauty, knowledge, and wisdom. I believe that the reason why academics tend to use the transnational theory to largely explain urban Indian experiences is because the transitional process of cultural identity would easily occur among these urban Indian groups. In addition, these groups gradually occupy a certain percentage of total Indian populations nowadays that may affect federal policies. The findings and implications from the studies about them may be helpful and heuristic for contemporary urban indigenous people or the next generations who have no choice where to be born.
  • 3. Che-Wei Lee 3 Copyright © 2014 by Che-Wei Lee. All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the United States Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this manuscript may be reproduced or distributed in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the author. Specifically, transnational studies may offer some suggestions for policy makers to appropriately deal with the issues of Indians’ tribal identity. The cultural difference between urban cities and reservations that causes cultural identity war may stimulate some urban Indians to reflect on their ethnic identity and tribal identity. At this point, transnational theorists can have plenty of data or rich stories as the evidence from these urban Indians to justify the distortion of their tribal identity and the deprivation of their tribal experiences. In other words, the tribal members who live on reservations for a long time or rarely go out working in urban cities may not encounter too many crashes and impacts of non-Indian cultures that lead to fewer transitional process and experiences from reservations to non-reservation urban areas. I think that most transnational theorists desire to see and seek to figure out the dynamics of cultural identity among these urban indigenous peoples derived from the transitions from one culture to another. Furthermore, they can have more substantial power to contribute to practical recommendations for those have lost their tribal experiences and identity. Also, the proper use of transnational theory should focus on highlighting the transitional changes of an indigenous individual's cultural identity, rather diminishing the core value of indigenous tribal communities and identity. I argue that transnational theory can be used from non-tribally-based experiences to tribally- based experiences, and vice versa. But mostly important, it should work to facilitate indigenous people (regardless of living in urban or tribal areas) to the restore of tribalism identity, and to make them consolidate the centrality of tribal self-government, territory, and cultural continuity. Because these elements are the evidence-based bases of legitimately defining them as indigenous people. Original Text Paragraph 1: In recent years a new theoretic argument of transcultural or transnational movement has emerged within academic literature. The transnational argument has the strength of addressing the point that Indian or Indigenous Peoples move between and within multiple cultural settings on an everyday basis. Paragraph 2: Most Indian people in the U.S. live in urban areas where the predominant culture is American, although many Indigenous Peoples retain Indian identities and ties to home communities. Paragraph 3: In Indian fiction literature there is a discussion about people who write novels and critical academic essays about Indians. The discussion focuses on mixed-blood writers whose experiences are not usually deeply grounded within their own tribal community. The perspectives presented often have much to do with living in two worlds. The transnational theory takes up this point of view as well. And in a generalization extending out from the fictional literature, much of the transnational literature focuses on Indian experiences outside of tribal communities.
  • 4. 4 Incommensurate Indigenous Rights? Copyright © 2014 by Che-Wei Lee. All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the United States Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this manuscript may be reproduced or distributed in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the author. Paragraph 4: Academics who tend to take up the transnational perspective, like the mixed blood novelists, focus on Indian experiences, identities, and community that are not centered on tribal issues and life. Not all Indigenous People’s experiences are grounded in tribal communities, and more people of Indian descent live off-reservation than on reservation. Perhaps three or four times as many persons of Indian descent live in urban areas. Many have not had sustained tribal community experiences for more than one generation. It is important that there are writers, researchers, and policy makers who theorize and engage in the urban experience of Indian people. The transcultural argument is a pathway to extending the ways in which most Indian people confront the contemporary world. Paragraph 5: The transnational argument, however, should not be substituted or privileged over indigenous positions that center tribal self-government, territory, and cultural continuity. The substitution of a non-tribal indigenous identity and centering attention on experiences and life in non-tribal contexts, often with no reference to tribal nations, is a form of ethnic identity formation. Many people of Indian descent who claim Indian identity and are not legally or socially in contact with the tribal community of their Indian heritage(s), can be said to have taken on an ethnic Indian identity, rather than a tribal national identity. The transnational theory extends the experiences of American Indians to the numerous non-tribal contexts, and gives greater ability to realize and understand the diversity of contemporary American experiences. The very definition of transnational theory is that people move between multiple cultures and places, so it captures the concept that the Indian experience is not confined to the reservation and to community cultures. Paragraph 6: A danger of the transnational argument is that most of the writers tend to understand and have primarily experienced Indian people in urban areas, and have less understanding and experience with tribal national communities. The focus of the work concentrates on where people of Indian descent now have their experiences—urban areas—but they also insist that the urban experience is the current standard of indigenous or Indian experience and identity. Paragraph 7: From this point of view the indigenous position is whatever the experience that person of indigenous descent currently engages. What differentiated indigenous people from ethnic groups is the centrality of self-government, territory, and specific cultures. If the centrality of place and homeland are lost, then Indian people have moved toward ethnic identity and away from an indigenous identity. Paragraph 8: Transnational theorists should not insist that transnational experiences form the center or contemporary indigenous identity, unless that identity has become an ethnic identity, without the centrality of a specific tribal culture, homeland, and tradition of self-government. Transnational theories do a great disservice to Indigenous Peoples if they do not appreciate and respect that indigenous identity cannot be supplanted by an ethnic identity.
  • 5. Che-Wei Lee 5 Copyright © 2014 by Che-Wei Lee. All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the United States Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this manuscript may be reproduced or distributed in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the author. Author Note Duane Champagne is a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa from North Dakota. He is Professor of Sociology, American Indian Studies Center, and Law at UCLA. He is currently a member of the Faculty Advisory Committee for the UCLA Native Nations Law and Policy Center, and is Acting Director of the UCLA School of Law’s Tribal Learning Community and Educational Exchange. His research interests focus on issues of social and cultural change in historical and contemporary Native American communities. He has written and edited over 125 publications. Recent publications include Captured Justice: Native Nations and Public Law 280 (with Dr. Carole Goldberg, UCLA School of Law) (Carolina Academic Press, 2012) and Notes from the Center of Turtle Island (AltaMira Press, 2010).