All posts by jujohnson

Indigenous Feminisms and Repatriation: Kim Anderson’s “Critical Practice of Tradition”

“[M]any ideas that pass for Indian thinking are in reality theories originally advanced by anthropologists and echoed by Indian people in an attempt to communicate the real situation.” (Deloria 82)

Similar to Vine Deloria Jr.’s concern with the infiltration of destructive anthropological theories into Native American societies, Native American and Indigenous feminists engage with the internalization of colonial values. This process of critically engaging with values and practices that appear “traditional” but are in reality manifestations of internalized colonialism can be understood as a form of mental and cultural repatriation.

Kim Anderson, Cree/Métis
Kim Anderson, Cree/Métis

Understanding mental decolonization as repatriation is facilitated by exploring Cree/Métis writer Kim Anderson’s book A Recognition of Being: Reconstructing Native Womanhood. This work explores the concept of the critical practice of tradition (Anderson 34-6), which emphasizes how the colonial influence on many “traditional” practices has rendered them violent to Native American societies and women specifically, and therefore why all “traditional” practices should be met with critical thought.

For instance, Anderson notes the importance of explaining the roots of menstrual taboos that preclude the participation of women in certain ceremonies like the Sun Dance. Without explaining that these taboos exist because menstruation is a time of extreme power for women, these practices can be interpreted as illustrating that Native women are unclean when menstruating, which implicitly perpetrates the violent attitude that Native American women are inherently violable (Anderson 37-9). In this example as in others in her book, Anderson advocates for finding the root values in traditions and to “expand” from there. Anderson acknowledges that in some situations this process means reconstructing traditions in new ways that are flexible to the needs of Native American women, which works against static understandings of Native American “culture” or “identity.”

A diagram from Anderson’s book, based on the traditional medicine wheel, that illustrates her process of identity reconstruction for Native American women, an important step in rehabilitating and reconstructing traditions (Anderson 16).

Linking this work of mental and cultural decolonization to repatriation, I believe that indigenous feminisms, like that of Anderson, encourage an ideological repatriation within their own communities. As explored above, Anderson encourages Native American groups to repatriate within themselves the core values that create positive gender, social, and political worlds, especially for Native American women.

One important note to make is that although colonial influence created the negative traditions Anderson speaks of, Anderson does not involve colonial powers in this healing and decolonizing process (unlike the repatriation work of NAGPRA that involves both settler and Native American groups). I believe this is because Anderson recognizes that outside influence has had a largely negative effect on Native American women, and so she has little reason to believe that things will be any different when trying to heal by taking away colonial values. This is a similar argument to those made by Native American groups concerning their reticence to work with NAGPRA.

Ultimately, if repatriation is defined as “to return to one’s homeland,” the “things” Anderson wants repatriated are the ideological values of the homeland, with the intent of ensuring the homeland becomes and stays a safe and positive cultural and physical space for all of those who claim it as such.

Text and Image Sources:

Anderson, Kim. A Recognition of Being: Reconstructing Native Womanhood. Toronto: Sumach Press, 2000. Print.

Deloria Jr., Vine. Custer Died for Your Sins. New York: Collier-Macmillan Limited, 1969. Print. 

Further reading on/about Indigenous feminisms, thinking about repatriation:

(I would recommend thinking specifically about how Andrea Smith illuminates the links between “tradition” and heteronormativity.)

Chapter 3 “Colonizing Knowledges” of Linda Tuhiwai Smith’s Decolonizing Methodologies. (Vassar library call number: GN380 .S65 2012)

(I recommend specifically the introduction and sections “Establishing the Positional Superiority of Western Knowledge” and “The ‘Authentic, Essentialist, Deeply Spiritual’ Other” in this chapter.)

Repatriation, Land, and Sovereignty: The Indian Citizenship Act (1924) and the Indian Reorganization Act (1934)

The Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 and the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 have affected the citizenship of Native Americans, the structure of current Native American governments, and the land to which Native nations lay claim. Although in my research I did not find analysis of how these laws directly relate to current debates concerning repatriation, I believe that these laws come to bear on these processes due to their effects on Native American systems of governance and the land that officially belongs to Native peoples.

First, a bit of history concerning these two acts.

President Calvin Coolidge with four Osage Indians after Coolidge signed the Indian Citizenship Act.

The Indian Citizenship Act can be understood as an attempt to assimilate all Native Americans into the U.S. sociopolitical mainstream, and has complicated understandings of the citizenship of Native Americans. This act extended citizenship and the right to vote in U.S. elections to all Native Americans while also stipulating that Native Americans would maintain their tribal membership – in effect, granting all Native Americans dual citizenship (Fine-Dare 64). However, as David E. Wilkins (Lumbee), professor of American Indian Studies explains in his article “Dismembering Natives: The Violence Done by Citizenship Fights,” this dual citizenship is fraught with historical complexities that have helped to create current conflicts concerning tribal governance and citizenship. Wilkins explains that these complexities include a denial of rights of Native Americans as guaranteed by U.S. citizenship by individual states1 and the effects of U.S. v. Nice (1916), which asserts that Native Americans are “simultaneously ‘citizens’ of and ‘subjects” to U.S. law” (Wilkins). Wilkins frames these complexities of legal identity and the specter of complex U.S.-imposed definitions of citizenship as a reason why corrupt or ineffective Native American governments are not being critically engaged by other Native Americans. He argues that Native American leaders who see problems in other Nations are reticent to speak out against corruption because of a historic mistrust of the U.S. government and a fear that critiques of tribal governments will invite the U.S. to infringe upon Native American sovereignty.2

Signing of the first tribal constitution under the Wheeler-Howard Act
Signing of the first tribal constitution under the Wheeler-Howard Act

The Indian Reorganization Act (1934) has also shaped the structure of current Native American governments. This act not only ended the policy of Allotment initiated in 1887,3 but also allowed Native Americans to create governments modeled on  that of the U.S. This act has been criticized both by Americans concerned by the increased ability of Native Americans to retain land and by Native Americans who find the imposition of Euroamerican systems of governance detrimental to the well-being of their Nations.4 Many Native Americans protested that this rigid governmental system did not reflect and thus denigrated their own traditional forms of governance, and that this imposition created internal tribal divisions between those who supported traditional governance and those who approved of the IRA (Churchill, Ward, Morris 15). Additionally, although this law gave Native Americans the ability to buy back land taken from them by the U.S. government under Allotment, Native Americans were not able to fully reclaim all land lost, and all transfers of land had to be of a “voluntary” nature on the part of the new white owners, instead of mandated by the government.

Both the Indian Citizenship Act and the Indian Reorganization Act have affected current structures of tribal governance, which directly impacts the ability of tribes to successfully go through the process of repatriation. Perhaps repatriation claims made by Native American citizens would not be heard or respected by tribal governments that aren’t representing the will of their constituents. Additionally, there is the potential for friction between U.S. federal structures and policies (like NAGPRA) and tribal governments if the U.S. believes that the specific Native government is corrupt. Additionally, as Native American citizenship becomes murky with the additive effect of multiple laws legislating citizenship, it may become harder to adequately demonstrate lineage or National citizenship that relates a claimant to artifacts or land as required by federal legislation such as NAGPRA. Finally, the inability for Native nations to reclaim the land taken from them illustrates the fact that there exist massive tracts of land that once belonged to Native peoples but are no longer held by them.

Ultimately, exploring these acts sheds light on current complexities of Native American citizenship, structure and function of tribal governments, and what is believed in mainstream U.S. discourses as land that belongs to Native Americans.

Map of US Reservations according to 2000 US Census
Map of US Reservations according to 2000 US Census


1. For instance, Utah did not recognize Native Americans as U.S. citizens until 1962

2. For extended coverage on the debate surrounding disenrollment, listen to the segment “I Know I Am, But What Are You” from This American Life, episode 491.

3. The General Allotment act (1887) divided most Native American reservations into 160-acre zones that were then distributed to male heads of household tribal members. All other land left over after this distribution was automatically bought by the US government at a low price who began selling it to non-Native settlers. The money from these transactions occasionally went back to the government but frequently went instead to the tribe to be distributed among members (Deloria and Lytle 5). Between 1887 and 1934 approximately two thirds of all reservation land in the continental U.S. was seized by the government under allotment (Churchill, Ward, and Glenn T. Morris 14)

4. For a detailed analysis of the history of tribalism and its problematic application as an “authentic” structure of Native American life, see p. 86 of “Retribalization in Urban Indian Communities” in American Indians and the Urban Experience (

For further reading/listening:

Below are three excerpts (both audio and transcript) of interviews with a Sioux attorney, a Sioux tribal chairman, and a Sioux tribal leader, who express different opinions on the benefits and detriments of the IRA to the Sioux Nation.


Churchill, Ward, and Glenn T. Morris. 1992. Key Indian Laws and Cases. In The State of Native America: Genocide, Colonization, and Resistance, 13-21. M. Annette Jaimes, ed. Boston: South End Press.

Deloria, Vine, Jr., and Clifford M. Lytle, 1984. The Nations Within: The Past and Future of American Indian Sovereignty. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Wilkins, David E. May 16, 2014. “Dismembering Natives: The Violence Done by Citizenship Fights” Indian Country Today Media Network, accessed February 10, 2015.


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