Performances of identity : Alabama-Coushatta tourism, powwows, and everyday life
May, Stephanie Anna, 1968-
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In this dissertation, I trace how issues of cultural continuity and change, power and meaning, play out in performances of self and community in the social contexts of tourism, powwows, and everyday life at the Alabama-Coushatta Indian Reservation in east Texas. While I consider how expressions of identity shift across social spheres, I also address how information from one context may shape performance in another. In all these areas, individuals encounter, appropriate, reinterpret, and recontextualize objects, images, practices, and ideas from a wide variety of cultural sources. In this engagement, possibilities for cultural continuity and for opposition to relationships of power arise through the modification of such items to serve local interests and needs. First, I argue that the entanglement of these issues in the history of the Alabama-Coushatta is better understood through a fuller analysis of township organization, social, political, and economic relations of Native groups in the southeast. I then move on to tourism which mixes references to nature and various eras of history to create metonymic, generalized, and flattened representations of the Tribe. I contrast such interpretations to the multi-layered meanings which tribal members acquire through their experiences and memories of working at the tourist complex. Next, I examine both local and distant powwows to show how tribal members participate in multiple, sometimes conflicting, levels of community based on tribe, region, ethnicity, and nation. I also discuss how people modify the powwow and its genres of dance, music, and regalia to suit local needs, interests, and identity. I pay special attention to the Powwow Princess through whom women debate issues of tribal membership, blood quantum, reservation residence, and morality to shape a prominent symbol of the Tribe. Yet performances of identity in tourism and powwows constitute only partial, metonymic representations. The richness and variety of Alabama-Coushatta identity must be sought also in the everyday realms of community life, including athletics, food preparation, and family gatherings. I devote particular attention to athletics which, especially in comparison to powwows, lends even greater complexity to AlabamaCoushatta performances of identity.