Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: American Ethnological Society
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Teachers of Anthropology in Community Colleges, Students
Primary Theme: Indigeneity
Secondary Theme: Persistence
As romances go, anthropology’s infatuation with “first-contact” accounts is incontrovertible and enduring. Other disciplinary passions may wax and wane, but these narratives—from Dead Birds to Captain Cook—consistently fire the anthropological imagination. As the coin of the realm in many an undergraduate classroom, they regularly lure new majors to the fold, all the while retaining their vitality outside that setting as staple fodder for the production of new analytic frameworks. The papers in this session coalesce around one such construct, the intercultural encounter, the conceptual architecture of which helps to trouble both infantilizing assumptions of Indigenous docility versus strategic adaptation, and tendencies toward a temporal bracketing that privileges event over structure and process. Throughout the vast territory now called California—first-contact narratives have never carried more cultural and political weight, and they remind us that anthropology hardly owns this genre. In fact, our discipline and its early practitioners are increasingly implicated in the many narratives of intercultural encounter that have long circulated with equal currency among California Native people. These stories, transmitted inter-generationally for longer than anthropologists have been around, document ancestral encounters with the white people who first stumbled into, traipsed across, and eventually laid claim to their mountains and valleys and shores. They recount the names their forebears ascribed to these newcomers, and reveal that occasionally they were humored by, but more regularly despairing of the distinctly odd and ill-fitting worldviews these interlopers ported into California Indian worlds—as militiamen, Catholic padres, overland emigrants, gold miners and, more lately, anthropologists. These stories narrate intergenerational histories of genocide, resistance, resilience and persistence. They are tethered to struggles for repatriation, revitalization of linguistic traditions, recovery of ancestral voices and visions, revivification of spirit worlds and ceremony, and reconstitution of kinship, belonging and sovereignty. We take these topics up from Native and non-Native epistemological perspectives, across a range of specializations, and from varied institutional settings. Our papers revisit old narratives and develop others anew, offering twenty-first century examples and understandings of the intercultural encounters that continue to animate our worlds.