American Indian identity in the life of Arthur Caswell Parker, 1881-1955

Porter, Joy (1994) American Indian identity in the life of Arthur Caswell Parker, 1881-1955. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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This thesis is an analysis of the life and work of Arthur Caswell Parker, 1881-1955. It investigates the complex and problematic nature of the position and status of a mixed-blood, acculturated Indian in the early twentieth century through study of the ways in which Parker attempted to create or re-create an identity. Close attention to Parker's texts and speeches will highlight and isolate the self-representation and self-invention that shaped his career.

I will discuss how Parker attempted to achieve full integration within American society whilst retaining an Indian identity. He began life with the example in his great-uncle Ely S. Parker, of one who had successfully crossed the boundaries between white and Indian cultures and achieved respect and acclaim among both. The associated figure of Lewis Henry Morgan, the renowned pioneer anthropologist and friend of the Indian, provided Parker with a further example of how "Indianness" and Indian culture could have a positive and enabling role within the dominant culture. Parker found within Morgan's ideas on social evolution a way in which the "assimilated" Indian could be seen in a positive and progressive light, as someone in advance of his unassimilated contemporaries on the scale of evolutionary development. His choice of a museum career allowed him to re-present the Indian within a dislocated sense of time and therefore interpret Indian history within a social evolutionary framework that complemented the triumphant optimism of early twentieth century modernity. His "Indianness" enabled his ethnographic fieldwork and the professional niche he carved as "museologist" facilitated his integration within the dominant culture as Indian authority, intellectual and professional.

His prominence as spokesman and leader within the Society of American Indians provided a base from which he could mediate between white and Indian cultures and allowed him to contribute to a specifically Indian construction of Indian identity in relation to the dominant culture. Parker's speeches and texts on the issue of Indian assimilation questioned the authority of American representation of Indian identity and his shifting self-identification within them reflected the discontinuity between being American, being Americanized and being Indian. His contributions to the Iroquois Indian New Deal involved the re-production of an "authentic", "primitive" past, furthered his museum career and allowed him to engage with the legacy of Morgan. As a highranking Freemason, Parker was able to engage in the wider construction of the "proper" role of the Indian within twentieth century American society.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Subjects: E History - America > E151 United States (General)
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Arts > School of American and Canadian Studies
Item ID: 13630
Depositing User: EP, Services
Date Deposited: 27 Sep 2013 08:32
Last Modified: 15 Dec 2017 12:12

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