"We wanted those people to see that Indians aren't stupid": identity, representation, and resistance in the cultural tourism of the Wapato Indian Club.
The theory of historical trauma is useful for understanding the ways in which contemporary social problems within indigenous communities are rooted in the violent legacy of colonialism. (1) American Indians have endured many forms of epistemic violence, including within US educational systems. (2) However, indigenous peoples continue to resist policies that are rooted in genocidal and assimilationist agendas and are reclaiming their cultural traditions and demanding that educational systems recognize the importance of indigenous sovereignty. As part of these resistance movements, Native peoples are actively shaping curricular and extracurricular opportunities for Native youth to develop a strong sense of indigenous identity and cultural pride. This article articulates the importance of one such effort, the Wapato Indian Club, based out of the Wapato Middle School (formerly the Wapato Junior High School) in Wapato, Washington, on the Yakama Reservation. The Yakama Reservation is home to the fourteen Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation and was established by the Treaty of 1855. The reservation is a remnant of traditional Yakama homelands, as over 90 percent of traditional lands were ceded during forced treaty "negotiations" with the governor of Washington Territory.
In this article, I argue that the Wapato Indian Club is an important example of grassroots indigenous activism that revitalizes the cultural traditions of dancing and intergenerational teaching and learning. Cultural revitalization activism and indigenous resistance go hand in hand. (3) The Wapato Indian Club teaches Native youth a vision for social change that is rooted in cultural traditions and intergenerational teaching and learning. Wapato Indian Club members are expected to internalize the positive messages about their indigenous identities and to emerge as leaders who are grounded in important cultural teachings. As such, the Wapato Indian Club carries on a tradition of cultural tourism that challenges long-standing negative stereotypes of marginalized communities and resists assumptions that disempowered communities have nothing to offer to the "outside" world. (4) As indigenous peoples, our collective well-being depends on the restoration of our traditional cultural practices to guide our leaders and daily practices. Cultural tourism allows indigenous peoples the opportunity to carry on traditional practices in a contemporary way, resisting notions that indigenous peoples and cultures are fixed in a previous historical era and instead claiming and revitalizing cultural practices in a way that can benefit both the performers/ artists as well as their audiences. (5)
I argue that the Wapato Indian club provides a model of education that is represented as a "gift" to all those involved teaching youth, and their audiences, about a cycle of reciprocity that is at the core of indigenous traditions and elders' explicit teachings. As such, the cultural tourism of the Wapato Indian Club values Yakama cultural teachings as an asset worthy to be shared; additionally, the club is a unique social capital development tool that has as its most powerful legacy the social development of the youth involved.
In 2010-11 I conducted ten qualitative interviews with Wapato Indian Club alumni, parents, and advisors who together have participation that spans the thirty-eight-year history of the club. All interviewees had several years of active involvement with the dance troupe, which traveled extensively across the Pacific Northwest, with occasional trips across the United States. I utilized a snowball sample, beginning with the founding advisor of the club. Interviews ranged from forty-five minutes to over two hours. All participants provided informed, written consent in accordance with the University of San Diego Institutional Review Board protocol. Each participant was offered anonymity and the use of a pseudonym, but all participants chose to have their real names used in this study. Interviews were audio-taped, transcribed verbatim, coded, and analyzed for themes.
DATA AND ANALYSIS
Building a Strong Indigenous Identity: Fostering Cultural Pride and Respect
Participants felt that the Wapato Indian Club taught children important and culturally grounded lessons about identity, representation, and resistance. All these teachings affirmed the importance of an intergenerational educational model. As such, teachings within the club were viewed as a gift from tribal elders, who volunteered after school to teach the youth about dances, songs, and sign language routines. Because the teachings were a treasured gift, students were expected to take their club participation seriously out of respect toward the elders. Additionally, once the students learned the dances and routines, they were expected to emerge as leaders who would share the performances as a gift to their audiences. This cycle of reciprocity can be envisioned as a gift that circulates through a community. As elders draw from the teachings that they were gifted, they choose to share that gift with youth, who in turn share that gift with audiences. Ultimately, it is a cycle that strengthens relationships and a respect for indigenous cultures and peoples.
Overall, there was a strong message of pride, respect, and responsibility throughout the interviews. For example, all interviewees discussed the high standards that Wapato Indian Club performers were expected to uphold. Sue, the founding advisor, stated that these high expectations served the purposes of teaching children that they were important, capable representatives of our people. Inherent in these teachings is the expectations that children represent the Wapato Indian Club, Yakama peoples, and American Indians as proud and accomplished leaders. Sue described this educational process in terms of building self-esteem among the youth. However, Sue's concept of self-esteem is rooted in Yakama cultural teachings, in which self-esteem goes beyond the individual, the collective ethos marks the concept of self-esteem; therefore, the self-esteem of the Wapato Indian Club members is rooted in the dedication, discipline, and pride that the children feel as part of a collective that is learning and living the traditional teachings. This is similar to what Momsen reports in her study of indigenous grassroots development, with indigenous peoples rejecting ideas of development that benefit people solely at the individual level and instead were committed to working toward a vision of cultural tourism that would benefit the community as a whole while also protecting important cultural traditions. (6) In Sues vision of the teaching process, children participating in the Wapato Indian Club feel pride because they have shared their elders' teachings with the audience. The children feel good because they can be counted on as culture bearers, even at their young ages, as Sue explained: "I tell them when they come in to join us that they are joining a club that is fun, but it is different. They are coming to learn about the Indian culture. And it's very proud. And they must treat it with respect." (7)
Sue emphasizes that fun is important, as with all the other youth clubs, but that the Wapato Indian Club is unique because of its status as an extracurricular activity that is focused on American Indian culture. Within the club, the most important thing is to learn about Indian culture. She mentions that the culture is very proud, signaling that she expects a serious commitment from the students, that casual participation will not be enough to learn the lessons adequately. She finishes her statement by saying that the students must treat the cultural lessons with respect. Nothing else but that committed, serious learning will be tolerated. The club cannot afford to have the cultural teachings disrespected in that way. Again, this is part of Sues responsibility as an elder who has herself been gifted these teachings by her elders. If she allows these teachings to be disrespected, then it brings a dishonor to the other students, to the community, to Sue, to the elders who gifted the teachings to Sue, and to the student who fails to follow the rules within this type of traditional education. If Sue does not uphold that traditional cultural value in her teachings, then she will not have successfully taught the students perhaps the most important lesson, that of respecting the cultural teachings and their elders.
Margaret, a current Wapato Indian Club advisor, also discussed cultural pride in terms of intergenerational teaching and learning, as club alumni stay involved with the club and mentor the younger students through learning the dances and perfecting their performances. For example, she mentioned that middle school children who are just starting to learn the dances could sometimes be "shy" or "nervous" during performances. She explained that club alumni hold the children to high standards, knowing the children are representing the larger community when they do their performances:
They come back and teach the little kids and perform with us. It is a strong tie, it's like they want to stay in the family, which is fine with me! Because the older ones, they are the ones, too, who will say, "Hey, you need to quit playing around out there." They are actually more strict than I am, as far as the performance level. I'll be like, "Well, they are just a little shy." They'll say, "No! they need to quit fidgeting." But that's good, because it is teaching them leadership also. You become a leader when you're out there. (8)
Identity, Culture, and Resisting Negative Stereotypes
Interviewees discussed the variety of dances that the Wapato Indian Club performed, including traditional Yakama dances, such as the Swan Dance and the Welcome Dance, and what they referred to as powwow-style dances, such as the Grass Dance and Sneak Up Dance. Interviewees also spoke about the sign language performances that the club did, including signing the Lord's Prayer. The sign language numbers were performed in unison, with the children wearing their full traditional regalia, to musical renditions that were played via audio system by tape or CD. All the performances, including the dances and sign language routines, were taught to the children and advisors by elders. Sue mentioned that, at times, audience members might question whether the sign language numbers were "really traditional," a question that often emerges around indigenous cultural tourism as non-Indian audiences compare the contemporary expression of culture against their expectations of an "authentic" indigenous culture. Sue's response was that if an elder had gifted it to her to share with the children, then it became part of the Wapato Indian Club tradition. In this way, Sue refused to allow cultural outsiders to question the authenticity or value of the club's performances. Instead, her response indicates that her elders and the club itself maintained responsibility for expressing cultural traditions as they saw fit.
The sign language numbers captivated the audiences. Interviewees shared that audiences would often be brought to tears when the children would sign the Lord's Prayer. Theresa, a Wapato Indian Club parent whose children participated in the club during the 1980s through the 1990s, shared:
A lot of times people cried when you did the Lord's Prayer. I think they realized that a culture was being lost and that somehow it was being resurrected, saved. They were Anglos that knew the Lord's Prayer. And to see Indian people in regalia honoring part of their [Anglo] tradition touched them on an emotional and spiritual level. I mean, they didn't understand the Indian words to the fancy dance singers and drumming. Or the welcome dance, they didn't understand those words, but when they played the lady or the man singing the Lord's Prayer, they understood it. [It was in] their own language [English], but they could see the beauty of the American Sign Language. And anybody who was hearing impaired and knew that sign language, that was another culture you were reaching, so I thought it was a win-win. It was always really beautiful. (9)
Theresa's narrative demonstrates the power that cross-cultural communication could have within the Wapato Indian Club performances. In Theresa's interview quote, one can see that the children carried a dual responsibility to represent Indian people and cultures as well as reaching out to non-Indian audiences who valued a Christian prayer. To do this cross-cultural outreach, Sue taught the children to sign the Lord's Prayer in American Sign Language, allowing the children to reach yet another audience in the deaf culture.
Outreach to non-Indians was a specific objective of the Wapato Indian Club. Haver, Yakama tribal member and club alumni who participated in the late 1980s shared:
I believe that the biggest teaching that I benefited from was exposure to a more contemporary lifestyle and exposure to the Western culture. You know, the people, they would always talk to you after the performances, or we would go to office gatherings, like if Heritage [a local college] had a faculty day, we would go perform for them. Or we'd perform at different businesses in Yakima [a nearby city north of the reservation]. Or we would go to different events. Thinking back, I have written down some of the biggest things that had a big influence on me, and my time with the Wapato Indian Club was one of them. And the biggest benefit was being exposed to other cultures. I've been able to be more open, to communicate with the Caucasians or black people, Mexicans. Sometimes kids that didn't participate would say, "Oh, quit trying to be an Indian," when they are Indian! I mean, how dumb is that?! It's sad. (10)
Haver credits his participation with the Wapato Indian Club as having a major impact on his adult life. He feels that the exposure to non-Indian audiences allowed him to learn to communicate across cultures. Gaining the strong sense of identity within a supportive environment allowed him to resist negative stereotypes, such as kids who teased him for "trying to be Indian" because he showed an interest in learning the dances and performing with the club. Haver internalized the positive messages that the club had provided, and as a result he could resist the negative comments about his identity.
Although he was aware of the value of cross-cultural interactions that the club provided, Haver also reflected on the ways in which Indian identities could be misunderstood, perhaps even as a result of the performances. He shared, "The only thing that I think that wasn't addressed enough is that powwow is not a religion. You know, powwow performances and all that, dressing up is not spirituality. And I think that was a misconception that a lot of people [non-Indian audiences] had, that they viewed that as our form of spirituality. Powwow and performances is completely on its own, contemporary, you know?" (11)
Haver's comments distinguish the Wapato Indian Club performances from his spirituality and religion. He views the dance performances, including powwow, as a contemporary expression that is still important culturally, but it does not define his spirituality. He wondered if audiences conflated the two and hoped that they did not, yet he realizes that that point may have been lost at times within the cross-cultural encounters of the Wapato Indian Club performances. Yet Haver also acknowledged the importance of engaging non-Indian audiences despite the misunderstanding that might occasionally happen. He recalled that his uncles strongly encouraged Haver to join the Wapato Indian Club, to help share the club's message that Indians are "still here" and are proud of their cultural traditions. He said, "It was encouraged to perform to go show them [our dancing], and it was a matter of fact, to go show them that we're still here. To show them that there are real, real Indians right here, you know, on the reservation! And that was the thing for a long time back then." (12)
Representing one's people, resisting the stereotype of the "vanished Indian" and doing the performances in a way that reinforces the message of having a strong indigenous identity and being proud of one's people, these are all the messages implied in Haver's comment as he reflects on the instructions of his uncles to join the Wapato Indian Club and serve as a leader in the club.
Ryan, a Yakama tribal member and club alumni, participated in the Wapato Indian Club in the 1990s. Ryan is now a DJ with a daily show on the Yakama tribal radio station, KYNR. Ryan is also an accomplished artist, known across Indian Country for his musical talent, and has been awarded a prestigious Native American Music Award for hip hop artist of the year. During our interview, Ryan discussed the importance of cultural pride and representation of his people, values he learned in the Wapato Indian Club. He specifically connected his success in the radio and music industries to his participation in the club:
Just being able to present yourself to non-Indian people and people outside of your own community, even though the job I have now in radio is for the tribal community, it's not just Indians who turn on the radio. It's people of all backgrounds.... I don't want some rich white people to think that everybody within our tribe is uneducated or everybody within our tribe can't speak on the microphone. So when I would go to those Indian club trips, we wanted those people to see that Indians aren't stupid. Indians are the ones that are providing the entertainment for them. We didn't have to have their pity or anything like that. So now in my job, when I go on the radio, I don't think of myself like "Oh, I'm just at a job for a tribal radio station" No! I want to be better than any radio DJ. Like the Indian club showed us, just because you're Indian doesn't mean you're less than. Or just because you're not rich, it doesn't mean you can't be somebody in life, because look at all these places you went for all these white people and these rich people doing performances. And that's how I want to live my life now. Being at our tribe's radio station ... I can be a representation of our entire people, not just myself. I can be the voice of all those classmates and all those people that I grew up with. And then I have the rap thing, making the music and all that, that's pretty much the same as Indian club, it's just that now it is rap music, we go to shows like at universities. If I was never in Indian Club, I would never know how it feels to be behind that curtain waiting for it to open and go out there. (13)
Ryan's narrative interweaves the lessons he learned as a participant in the Wapato Indian Club with his daily work as a DJ on the tribal radio station and his musical work as a hip hop artist. The teachings that Indian people must be proud of their identities, resist negative stereotypes, and represent Indian people honorably are lessons that Ryan continues to carry with him on a daily basis. Traveling across the country today to do concerts, Ryan still thinks of his middle school years standing behind a curtain, dressed in traditional regalia, waiting to perform as part of the Wapato Indian Club dance troupe.
Leadership and Healing
Revitalizing the traditions of intergenerational teaching and learning helps to fill the "culture gaps" that often disrupt indigenous cultural teaching transmission. During our interview, Sue shared that she herself did not learn the dances at home due to alcoholism and disability within her family, nor did many of the children who participated in the Wapato Indian Club have the opportunity to learn the dances at home. Seeing this gap and hearing the requests from children that they were eager to learn the dances, a group of dedicated Yakama peoples came together to make that education possible. Now, nearly forty years later, the Wapato Indian Club has been teaching children on the Yakama Reservation about traditional dancing and the importance of intergenerational teaching and learning. Contained within those lessons are important teachings about cultural pride, leadership, and responsibility to future generations. Preparing the next generation to be strong leaders was a theme across all interviews. For example, Ryan reflected on the importance of reaching out and providing encouragement. In his comments, he talks about the challenges of sustaining important cultural revitalization efforts, like the Wapato Indian Club, and how future leaders may feel it is difficult to fill the shoes of our beloved elders:
After Sue [founding Wapato Indian Club advisor] retired, it would be hard, if not impossible, to pick it up where she left off. She had it to where Wapato Indian Club was like professionals. And everybody knew that. And that is why she got all the recognition that she did, and she deserved that recognition, but I guess we just need a few leaders to step up and then be the ones that influence people. For example, for me at the radio station, let's say if I never went into radio, you wouldn't have anybody there under the age of fifty years old. Okay? And if I were in some other field, I would never want to be a part of it, but if I'm in radio, well, radio might not seem that cool, but if I'm twenty-eight, and I'm able to influence people that are twenty-one, and fourteen, and even as young as five and six years old, then that's a start, and that's where we're going to build it from. Now with Wapato Indian Club, you have Adam [a current Wapato Indian Club advisor]. Adam's a basketball coach, and he's a really good guy. If he can influence those students to say, "Hey, you should come be a part of this Indian Club" "Maybe we can set up these performances" or "Maybe we can do this and do that." If he can get those one or two kids to step up and be leaders and decide they want to have kids take pride in their culture and heritage and our tribe, that's the first step. Because the reality is that it was Sue that got people to be a part of it. If nobody would have said [to me], "Hey, you should come sign up for this" or "You should come on these trips," I wouldn't have gone, because I was a kid, I didn't know. But if Adam can be that one to take that one leader who is maybe a seventh or eighth grader and if that one leader can be a positive role model for the sixth graders, and those sixth graders can be role models for their younger siblings, it will be right there. That's the point. The point is that I can live my life and I can be mad about this happening to me, or "I don't have this" or "I don't get paid enough for that," or "All my classmates or some of my relatives are on drugs or alcohol." I can sit around and I can pout, and I can be mad that our tribe doesn't do this, or our tribe doesn't do that. Or I could go live my life and do the best that I can in everything I'm involved in. And then somebody's going to look at me and say, "Hey, he's still doing his best, and he's still doing what he loves to do." And if that person does that, then it is like a domino effect. (14)
In his interview, Ryan reflected on the rich meaning that his participation in the Wapato Indian Club held for him. He continues to carry those teachings with him, and he has a vision of leadership and social change that is rooted in the lessons that he learned in the club. He articulates that it takes a caring elder to reach out and teach the younger generations, to encourage and inspire the young people to reach their potential and to emerge as leaders in whatever field they pursue. In this way, the powerful messages of the Wapato Indian Club dance troupe continue to transcend space and time, leaving a positive legacy on the reservation and beyond.
Dancing, Gifts, and Healing
The imagery of a gift is useful in understanding the vision of social change that characterizes the Wapato Indian Club. In discussing the founding of the club, Sue talks about the many elders and community members who helped teach the lessons, stories, and technical aspects of all the dances that the club performed. In her work with the students, Sue wanted students to understand that, in sharing the teachings of the dances, Sue is providing them with a gift. A main teaching within traditional culture is that one must acknowledge that receiving a gift is an honor and that one must be respectful of the gifts received and respectful toward the gift giver, who is honoring the one receiving the gift. Gifts serve an important function within Yakama culture. They bring relations together in a cycle of reciprocity. When children join the Wapato Indian Club, they are entering into a set of relations in which they need to learn to be respectful of the teachings and honorable toward all the other participants: teachers, elders, past performers, current performers, future performers, audience members, community members, school officials. This elaborate set of relations is nurtured and sustained through Sues efforts to teach every one of them about the traditions of giving, receiving, and honoring each other and our gifts. Because of the explicit focus on reaching out to non-Indian audiences, the Wapato Indian Club teaches youth that they are responsible for sharing their performances as a gift to their audiences. This vision of education is one that promotes leadership and healing while affirming the importance of strong indigenous identities and pride in one's community. Thus, the activities of the Wapato Indian Club are designed to address the ongoing effects of historical trauma within the community. It is an educational model that seeks to heal the wounds of colonialism, which too often fix indigenous peoples in positions of marginalization and disempowerment. Analysis of the interview excerpts reveals the ways in which identity, cultural pride, and learning and sharing cultural teachings all subvert the legacy of historical trauma.
Another main teaching within the club is that students must be high achievers because they are serving as ambassadors to their audiences. Students must perform the traditional dances in a way that proudly represents the Yakama people, American Indians, and the students themselves. Sue described this part of the teaching process as one that focuses on self-esteem. In her view, the children must do great performances so that the audiences will know and, more importantly, so the children will know that they have done a good job. The children must feel pride in learning and sharing the traditional dances. This pride in one's self, identity, and community helps to heal the soul wounds within the community. Students are engaging in a Yakama-led educational effort that helps the youth reimagine their possibilities in life. As Ryan stated, he learned that Indians are not "less than." Resisting negative stereotypes is the beginning of a healing process in which youth can begin to internalize the positive affirmations of their identities and meaningfully reflect on these teachings, even decades later.
Taken together, the lessons and legacy of the Wapato Indian Club are important in terms of setting up club members for a lifetime of good memories, positive school experiences, a strong sense of identity, pride in one's community, and the willingness and ability to be a leader who recognizes the value of indigenous cultural traditions.
An earlier version of this paper was presented at the American Sociological Association annual meeting in 2011. Some of the material in this article will be included in my book Yakama Rising: Indigenous Cultural Revitalization, Activism, and Healing, in production with the University of Arizona Press (forthcoming, fall 2013). Special thanks to LaShaune Johnson and Chris Andersen for helpful feedback on early drafts as well as to Amanda Cobb and Alison Fields for helpful revision suggestions. This project was supported by a University of San Diego Faculty Research Grant, and I am grateful for the support of my ethnic studies departmental colleagues and Dean Mary Boyd. Most of all, thanks to all the interviewees for sharing their time and wisdom. All tapes and transcripts are stored in a secure office under password protection in Wapato, Washington, in accordance with human subjects protocols.
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(2.) K. T. Lomawaima, "Tribal Sovereigns: Reframing Research in American Indian Education," Harvard Educational Review 70, no. 1 (2000): 1-21; K. T. Lomawaima and T. L. McCarty, "When Tribal Sovereignty Challenges Democracy: American Indian Education and the Democratic Ideal," American Educational Research Journal 39, no. 2 (2002): 279-305; S. J. Waterman, "American Indian Education: Counternarratives in Racism, Struggle, and the Law," Review of Higher Education 33, no. 3 (2010): 435-36; Kathryn Manuelito, "The Role of Education in American Indian Self-Determination: Lessons from the Ramah Navajo Community School" Anthropology & Education Quarterly 36, no. 1 (2005): 73-87.
(3.) Taiaiake Alfred, Wasase: Indigenous Pathways of Action and Freedom (Peterborough ON: Broadview Press, 2005); Devon A. Mihesuah, Recovering Our Ancestors' Gardens (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2005); Linda Tuhiwai Smith, Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples (New York: Zed Books, 2001).
(4.) A. Loukaitou-Sideris and K. Soureli, "Cultural Tourism as an Economic Development Strategy for Ethnic Neighborhoods," Economic Development Quarterly 26, no. 1 (2012): 50-72.
(5.) A. Jonaitis and A. Glass, The Totem Pole: An Intercultural History (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2010).
(6.) J. H. Momsen, "NGOS, Gender and Indigenous Grassroots Development" Journal of International Development 14, no. 6 (2002): 859-67.
(7.) Personal interview, Sue Rigdon, Toppenish, Washington, August 9, 2010.
(8.) Personal interview, Margaret Carter, Wapato, Washington, November 22, 2010.
(9.) Personal interview, Theresa Jacob, Seattle, Washington, September 26, 2010.
(10.) Personal interview, Hayer Jim, Toppenish, Washington, October 4, 2010.
(13.) Personal interview, Ryan Craig, Toppenish, Washington, November 15, 2010.
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|Title Annotation:||Special Issue: Native American Cultural Tourism: Spectatorship and Participation|
|Author:||Jacob, Michelle M.|
|Publication:||The American Indian Quarterly|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2012|
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