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Playing Indian

3.97  ·  Rating Details ·  355 Ratings  ·  21 Reviews
Moving from the Boston Tea Party to the present, this is an exploration of the ways in which non-Indian Americans have played out their fantasies about Indians in order to experience national, modern and personal identities.
Paperback, 262 pages
Published September 10th 1999 by Yale University Press (first published April 20th 1998)
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Jo Stafford
Aug 29, 2015 Jo Stafford rated it it was amazing
This fascinating and informative study guides the reader through more than 200 years of white Americans playing Indian, from the Boston Tea Party in 1773 to New Agers in the 1990s. Along the way, Deloria dissects the role of Indian play in groups as diverse as the Tammany societies, the Boy Scouts, hobbyists, and countercultural commune-dwellers.

Deloria is concerned with the paradoxes and contradictions inherent in white constructions of Indianness. I found his analysis of the Tea Party Mohawks
Lisa Phillips
Oct 13, 2012 Lisa Phillips rated it it was amazing
Philip J. Deloria underscores how American nationalist identity draws from American Indian identity by means of appropriation without acknowledging cultural and actual genocide of indigenous populations. Deloria's "Playing Indian" is important scholarship in understanding Americanness from a historical perspective.

Put differently, Deloria demonstrates how people like to dress up in feathers and moccasins without having a clue about the historic meanings behind the garb.

Jonna Higgins-Freese
Nov 13, 2015 Jonna Higgins-Freese rated it it was amazing
I wish I'd read this before I wrote "Race, Sacrifice, and Native Lands" -- Quoting DH Lawrence: "No place exerts its full influence upon a newcomer until the old inhabitant is dead or absorbed." -- and Deloria argues that white American culture has defined itself as much in opposition to redness as blackness; has struggled between wanting to destroy and to assimilate Indians (4).

Deloria traces the history of the ways whites have engaged in what I would call "Indian cosplay" for various purposes,
I read this book after a few controversial incidents occurred regarding Native American culture - The Victoria Secret fashion show head-dress incident, the Paul Frank pow-wow party, and The Gap's Manifest Destiny t-shirt design. I realized I had almost no understanding of the history of Indian culture in the Americas. Particularly revolving around how Americans have used Indian culture to suit their needs and the history of the distortion of Native culture. I read this book to try to remedy ...more
David Griscom
Jan 12, 2015 David Griscom rated it it was amazing
Fascinating argument about the problematic relationship that White America has with American Indians. This book makes an incredibly interesting argument about the mythic space that the American Indian was pushed to by White America. The prevalence of American Indian imagery and associations in our modern society might lead someone to believe that there is a reverence to American Indian culture. However, as Deloria argues it is more of an attempt of severance of the actual Native Americans from ...more
May 11, 2010 Bernadette rated it liked it
Has a lot of interesting info about the Boston Tea Party, the beginning of ethnography, and the New Age movement. But unfortunately, Deloria's contention that Indians challenged and shaped whites' cultural beliefs -- this isn't well-developed. Also, I can't help but wonder why he obscures his own background as part-Sioux and son of the legendary activist and scholar Vine Deloria. Thirdly, Playing Indian is laden with a lot of terminology that was au courant in the 1990s--otherness, liminality, ...more
Diane Ramirez
Jan 04, 2010 Diane Ramirez rated it really liked it
This book was so interesting and informative, well-researched and eye-opening, and surprisingly readable for originally having been a doctoral thesis. Deloria explores the ways non-Indians have taken on the most attractive elements of Indian-ness while ignoring actual, you know, Indians, since revolutionary times. The penultimate chapter on hippies and New Agers was particuarly funny -- I suppose having first-hand experience and knowledge of those people allowed him to bring on the bitter humor. ...more
Mar 16, 2008 LoLo rated it it was amazing
A highly complex examination of the political/social construction of race, especially the "white" race, and how it is a "negative construction", ie. defined by what it is NOT, instead of what it IS... and the subsequent existential hollowness/fallacy of "whiteness" as a cultural identity...and how this has resulted in the co-option of native/ethnic elements and spirituality to fill the void. A MUST READ!!
Loren Toddy
Feb 09, 2009 Loren Toddy rated it really liked it
Great book to read when you are curious about the origins of some specific American culturally aspects that are seemingly unique i.e. boy scouts. As well as the obvious cultural appropriation of Native America or Indigenous Tribal culture. Very worth reading and discussing with your peers and friends.
Anne-marie Delaunay
Sep 14, 2015 Anne-marie Delaunay rated it it was amazing
This book published in 1998, initially presented as the author thesis, by Lakota historian Philip Deloria, clearly shows how Euro-Americans attempted to create a national identity distinct from England by mythologizing Native-Americans in late eighteen century. First used as the emblem of American patriotism, the "Indian" was later seen a free spirit in harmony with nature in the sixties.
Sep 16, 2013 Courtney rated it really liked it
A very interesting look at how white Americans have culturally appropriated Indianness in order to (attempt to) establish an identity. Anyone looking for a background on the boy scouts should read this. It's a bit eye opening.
Sep 23, 2009 John rated it it was amazing
Readable account of America's obsession with native americans, our constant use of the Indian as a trope for defining our own selves. Part history, part culture study, part critique of standard approaches to the American identity.
A cultural history of "playing Indian" which starts with the Boston Tea party and follows the history of this phenomenon up to the present. Explains how Americans could use Indians to help for their own identity (you can't have an "us" without a "them").
Nov 17, 2015 Danielle rated it liked it
Shelves: for-school
(3.5/5) The painfully repetitive structure of the book undermines what are incredibly good points. Often things that are mentioned off hand and could easily have lent themselves to analysis are instead dropped in favor of reiterating the exact thing that has been said about 50 times prior.
Trish Roberts-miller
Jul 22, 2013 Trish Roberts-miller rated it really liked it
Really helpful book, especially for explaining what is wrong with modern appropriations of Native American culture. Traces one way of "playing Indian" and how complicated that is.
Chi Chi
Aug 17, 2008 Chi Chi rated it it was ok
What could have been an interesting topic was a very dry read that really didn't provide any insight into why white people would appropriate Native American culture, and what that means.
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