The walls came tumbling up: The production of culture, class and Native American societies

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Sider, Gerald M. “The walls came tumbling up: The production of culture, class and Native American societies.” Australian journal of anthropology 17.3 (December 2006): 276-90.


Perceptive, enlightening, and clearly and carefully reasoned, this essay uses Marxist concepts (such as primitive accumulation and class) as well as anthropological concepts (such as culture and social organization) to explore how Native American societies are formed. Sider uses two historical examples for his exploration: Eastern Native Americans (particularly the Cherokee) during the colonial period, and the Lumbee since the 1960s, but especially in a particular incident in 1998.

Sider carefully illustrates, using the Cherokee as his example, that Eastern Native American “... societies, particularly in the early colonial period, were neither discrete, nor bounded, nor even easily distinguished from one another” (p. 276). He shows how three processes led to the discrete peoples known as the Cherokee, the Creek, and the Choctaw: “ . . . antagonistic separation of one native grouping from another, the development of both political and economic inequalities within these increasingly separate clusters, ... and cultural homogenisation of these . . . groupings, now appearing as separate peoples . . . .” (p. 278).

Colonial states played into the changes that these three processes had set in motion, working to increase the element of inequality. Sider provides a very thought-provoking discussion of the role of impunity in the production of Native American societies. Paradoxically, impunity works to preserve the very laws from which the dominant society exempts itself. Also, paradoxically, impunity binds victimized peoples to each other, turns them against other peoples, and binds victimized peoples to the dominant state and to their own culture.

Sider also provides an intriguing discussion of why class is not adequate as a concept to explain the transformative struggles that continually go on within native societies. One important revelation that arises from this discussion is the following: “The production of class is thus simultaneously the production of race, nation (differential citizenship), gender, tribal and peasant communities: in sum, the production of class is necessarily also the production of cultures, and vice versa” (p. 283).

Sider then uses an incident from the Lumbee Tribe/LRDA conflict to further illustrate the relationships among culture, class, and history. Since the formation of LRDA (Lumbee Regional Development Association) in 1968, the tribe has received federal funding available to non-federally-recognized tribes, using the money for housing assistance, Indian education programs, working towards obtaining federal recognition, and other initiatives. The Lumbee established a tribal council that, on July 4 weekend in 1998, soundly defeated LRDA in a popular election to see which organization would control the tribe’s affairs. During that same Lumbee Homecoming period, the LRDA Recognition Committee held a meeting, attended by Ray Littleturtle and Cynthia Locklear Hunt, supporters of the Tribal Council. Ray Littleturtle was criticized by a LRDA Board member because his drummers performed at Lumbee Homecoming events in casual clothing, rather than “Indian” apparel. Sider astutely analyzes the responses by Littleturtle and Hunt in light of their understanding of how the production of culture is also the production of power and inequality and how native peoples both live within and struggle against this power and inequality.

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