Book Chapter

Performing 'the Spirit of '76': US Historical Memory and Countercommemorations for American Indian Sovereignty



Toth G (2016) Performing 'the Spirit of '76': US Historical Memory and Countercommemorations for American Indian Sovereignty. In: Gilroy A & Messmer M (eds.) America: Justice, Conflict, War. European Views of the United States, 8. Heidelberg, Germany: Winter University Press, pp. 131-150.

Approaching its topic from the intersection of History, Memory Studies and Performance Studies, this article will advance the concept of counter-commemorations in its investigation of the ways in which Native American activists used U.S. national historical memory to make interventions for expanded Indian sovereignty rights in the Late Cold War. In their efforts to educate the public and influence policy, American Indian activists held counter-commemorations in which they performed Native critiques of the Anglo-centered view of the American past, and used media attention to push for historical and social justice for Native Americans. Drawing on public and declassified government documents, AIM-related archival collections, newspaper accounts and memoirs, this article argues that radical Native sovereignty activists strategically used the position of Indians in the Euro-American cultural imagination and national memory as leverage to push for the recognition of enhanced sovereignty rights. Using Diana Taylor's Performance Studies concept of scenarios, I will analyze several Indian interventions in U.S. historical memory, and by placing them in historical context, I will establish counter-commemorations as part of a calculated strategy of the radical Indian sovereignty movement during the Late Cold War and beyond, and as a counter use of official memory by social movements, which productively complicates currently existing categories in Memory Studies. This article is part of a project I have conducted at the Centre for Collective Memory Research (Centra pro výzkum kolektivní paměti) at the Institute of International Studies, Charles University, Prague, the Czech Republic. Its writing also benefited from a research residency of the author at the International Forum for U.S. Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2014.

Cold War; American Indians; Native Americans; Memory; commemorations; sovereignty; Performance Studies; Memory Studies; United States history

Title of seriesEuropean Views of the United States
Number in series8
Publication date31/12/2016
PublisherWinter University Press
Publisher URL…ce_Conflict_War/
Place of publicationHeidelberg, Germany

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Dr Gyorgy Toth

Dr Gyorgy Toth

Lecturer, History