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Changing Woman, the Great War, and Soldier Citizenship in the Society of American Indians

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Abstract:

Founded in 1911 and disbanded shortly before American Indians were granted U.S. citizenship in 1924, the Society of American Indians sought to bring together supporters “for the Indian cause” on issues such as land rights, education, and reform of the reservation system. Through its quarterly journal, the Society of American Indians helped facilitate intellectual and cultural exchange among indigenous people from a wide range of tribal backgrounds. Although some critics dismiss the Society of American Indians as disconnected from tribal centers or geared too narrowly towards a white audience, this unique journal foregrounds texts by American Indians written (in English) for a national and international audience. Through this forum and others, a new generation of indigenous writers reimagined the so-called “Indian problem” in terms of modern Indian identities, citizenship rights, and forms of cultural heritage.

As many historians have noted, American Indians volunteered for service in the United States armed forces in World War I in large numbers, despite their classification as non-citizens. In turn, the Indian soldier became a powerful figure in ongoing debates about American and Indian citizenship rights. Many writers linked to the Society of American Indians advocate for United States citizenship as the mark and desired goal of modernity; soon after the war, Congress voted to extend American citizenship to Indian veterans as reward for their military service. Yet in response to one reader’s call for Indian recruits to descend upon the Kaiser’s troops, the editors of the Society’s journal declare with humor and irony that “We’ll all dress in buckskin, paint our faces and read up in books of ethnology how to make war whoops.” This interplay of reading, writing, and performing Indianness in the Great War complicates familiar notions of Indians as natural warriors or even as exotic weapons of war. In turn, such critiques also interrogate the gender of such soldier citizenship, as when Zitkala-Ša draws upon Changing Woman as the starting point for an essay in support of the American war effort.

Despite increased critical attention to what Phil Deloria terms “the secret history of Indian modernity,” scholarship on the journals of the Society of American Indians either dismisses the group’s political acquiescence to a new national order or inscribes a competing narrative of rhetorical resistance to cultural assimilation. By investigating citizenship debates about the American Indian soldier, this paper offers a more tempered view of the rhetorical complexities and gendered ironies of advocating “for the Indian cause” to an American readership.
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Association:
Name: American Studies Association Annual Meeting
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http://www.theasa.net


Citation:
URL: http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p318975_index.html
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MLA Citation:

Washburn, Kathleen. "Changing Woman, the Great War, and Soldier Citizenship in the Society of American Indians" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Renaissance Hotel, Washington D.C., Nov 05, 2009 <Not Available>. 2014-11-28 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p318975_index.html>

APA Citation:

Washburn, K. , 2009-11-05 "Changing Woman, the Great War, and Soldier Citizenship in the Society of American Indians" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Renaissance Hotel, Washington D.C. <Not Available>. 2014-11-28 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p318975_index.html

Publication Type: Conference Paper/Unpublished Manuscript
Review Method: Peer Reviewed
Abstract: Founded in 1911 and disbanded shortly before American Indians were granted U.S. citizenship in 1924, the Society of American Indians sought to bring together supporters “for the Indian cause” on issues such as land rights, education, and reform of the reservation system. Through its quarterly journal, the Society of American Indians helped facilitate intellectual and cultural exchange among indigenous people from a wide range of tribal backgrounds. Although some critics dismiss the Society of American Indians as disconnected from tribal centers or geared too narrowly towards a white audience, this unique journal foregrounds texts by American Indians written (in English) for a national and international audience. Through this forum and others, a new generation of indigenous writers reimagined the so-called “Indian problem” in terms of modern Indian identities, citizenship rights, and forms of cultural heritage.

As many historians have noted, American Indians volunteered for service in the United States armed forces in World War I in large numbers, despite their classification as non-citizens. In turn, the Indian soldier became a powerful figure in ongoing debates about American and Indian citizenship rights. Many writers linked to the Society of American Indians advocate for United States citizenship as the mark and desired goal of modernity; soon after the war, Congress voted to extend American citizenship to Indian veterans as reward for their military service. Yet in response to one reader’s call for Indian recruits to descend upon the Kaiser’s troops, the editors of the Society’s journal declare with humor and irony that “We’ll all dress in buckskin, paint our faces and read up in books of ethnology how to make war whoops.” This interplay of reading, writing, and performing Indianness in the Great War complicates familiar notions of Indians as natural warriors or even as exotic weapons of war. In turn, such critiques also interrogate the gender of such soldier citizenship, as when Zitkala-Ša draws upon Changing Woman as the starting point for an essay in support of the American war effort.

Despite increased critical attention to what Phil Deloria terms “the secret history of Indian modernity,” scholarship on the journals of the Society of American Indians either dismisses the group’s political acquiescence to a new national order or inscribes a competing narrative of rhetorical resistance to cultural assimilation. By investigating citizenship debates about the American Indian soldier, this paper offers a more tempered view of the rhetorical complexities and gendered ironies of advocating “for the Indian cause” to an American readership.


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