American Studies 220: Introduction to Indigenous Studies

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Course Description

The lands that are now known as the United States and its territories have witnessed a long history of conquest against their indigenous peoples and ecologies. Many of the details of this violent conquest are either absent from most American history textbooks, or when they are explored, are often discussed in terms of “the distant American past.” By and large, this constructed history has resulted in a relegation of native peoples to the primitive past and/or an ambivalence toward various native groups in terms of their efforts to redress injustices, both historic and contemporary, and to maintain their inherent sovereignty.

Using film, literature and scholarship, this interdisciplinary course aims to overturn these dominant constructions of history in order to explore contemporary issues of indigenous cultural identity, representation, sovereignty, and legal frameworks. For the purposes of this course, Indigenous Americans includes Native American tribes, Alaskan Natives, and Native Pacific Islanders whose lands are U.S. states, territories, or “freely associated” with the U.S. We will examine the varied experiences and situations of indigenous peoples in the United States, how indigeneity is framed by dominant American culture, and the complex ways in which Indigenous Americans are made to continuously negotiate between traditional and settler cultures as they struggle for their lands, their rights, and their futures.


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