Romancing Kinship

Mark Rifkin

in When Did Indians Become Straight?

Published in print January 2011 | ISBN: 9780199755455
Published online May 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199894888 | DOI:
Romancing Kinship

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Chapter 3 argues that the policy of allotment and the Indian boarding school program work together to enact a “romance plot.” Through readings of statements by officials from the Bureau of Indian Affairs and annual reports by school principals and reservation agents, it illustrates how Indians are portrayed as lacking “home” and “family,” casting systemic efforts to break up native social networks, landholding patterns, and modes of governance as an attempt to teach them the forms of domestic affect that will enable them to gain equality as national citizens. Zitkala-Ŝa’s American Indian Stories (published in 1921 but composed of turn-of-the-century pieces) responds to the heteronormative impositions of Indian policy by contextualizing Dakota marriage within complex kinship systems, which themselves are shown to be durable, extensive, emotionally rich, and central to native political life. Yet while critiquing the fragmenting force of privatized domesticity, Zitkala-Ŝa offers an image of tradition that displaces discussion of the presence of polygamy and homoeroticism among Sioux peoples in ways that try to make tradition more acceptable to white readers by editing out the features likely to be read as sexually deviant. In illustrating this “bribe of straightness,” the chapter situates her writing within both the controversy surrounding Mormon plural marriage and the prominence of Lewis Henry Morgan’s evolutionary theory of family formation.

Keywords: Zitkala-Ŝa; Lewis Henry Morgan; Mormon; General Allotment Act; Indian boarding school; Dakotas; Sioux; winkte; Ethnology

Chapter.  16948 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (19th Century)

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