American Indian Studies GIDP
Western Social Science Association Meeting
April 13-16, 2016
“Theory in Action and Through Story: Dominant Themes of American Indian Studies through the Lens of Vine Deloria, Jr.’s text, Singing for a Spirit.”
As an interdisciplinary field, the methods of American Indian Studies are varied and there is no central theory. While a cursory look may conclude that American Indian Studies contains no theory, I think the discipline has developed a set of rich conceptual frameworks. Vine Deloria, Jr.’s work, particularly the book, Singing for a Spirit: A Portrait of the Dakota Sioux, illuminates and engages the dominant themes of the discipline. The text describes the family history of the Deloria family and the band of the Yanktonais of the Dakota nation, while placing this history and identity into conversation with such themes as change and continuity and the privileging of Indigenous knowledge as a hermeneutic frame. These dominant themes act similar to a theoretical framework in that they offer a means to make sense of the complex world around us. My paper discusses the book (while referencing other relevant texts from the Deloria family,particularly Philip J. Deloria’s 2013 article in AIQ and Vine Deloria, Sr.’s "The Establishment of Christianity among the Sioux.") as part of the Vine Deloria, Jr. legacy, while drawing out and defining some of the dominant themes from the book that I think offer useful guidance for research in the discipline.
Abstract for Lay Audience
American Indian Studies is an interdisciplinary field that merges theory in political science,anthropology, and sociology into a distinct discipline. Some programs are entirely applied in focus, while others have some course offerings in theory. Even these latter programs do not teach theory of the discipline itself, but rather borrow from those of other major disciplines. A trained sociologist professor may instruct on emergent properties of Margaret Archer, while an anthropologist may focus on John Boyden’s theory of statehood. As a Ph.D. student in American Indian Studies (rather than one of the traditional disciplines), I have questioned whether the field contains theories that are distinct from other disciplines. I contend that Vine Deloria, Jr., the founder of American Indian Studies, provided unique theories that allow researchers to pose certain questions and collect kinds of data about how and why societies function and change in the particular ways that they do. A theoretical framework simply helps to make sense of a complex world around us by focusing our attention on a set of interrelated concepts and facts.
My paper proposes five such frameworks that are developed in Vine Deloria, Jr.’s text, Singing for a Spirit.