Powwow arts and crafts markets and the engendering of social relationships

Date of Completion

January 2009


Anthropology, Cultural|Native American Studies




Over the past quarter century, the scholarly work of George Marcus, Michael Fisher, Akhil Gupta, James Ferguson and others have called for experimental studies that could represent how local cultural worlds are embedded in complex and impersonal systems of political economy. The challenge was to represent how outside forces are integral parts of the construction and constitution of the inside, "the cultural unit itself" (Marcus and Fisher 1986: 77). In this dissertation, I have attempted to answer this call by focusing on contemporary powwow arts and crafts markets and the processes that influence the engendering of the social identities and relationships of its participants. It takes as its unit of study both contemporary market participants, specifically organizing committees and arts and crafts vendors, but also other stakeholders that have participated in the constitution of the powwow domain over the past century. ^ Central to this analysis has been a focus on how bordering practices—social, spatial, and temporal—delineate, and thus engender, difference among powwow participants and society at large through the circulation of powwow commodities as well as struggles over what can and cannot be made, sold, and by whom. I have employed ethnohistorical and multi-sited ethnographic methodologies to understand and ground historically the broader cultural structures that influence the contemporary powwow market. I suggest that the powwow market is part of the larger Indian Art field of cultural production, which over the past 100+ years has created a hierarchical structure of markets for Indian material culture that has marginalized the powwow arts and crafts market, its peoples, and objects. While powwow practices re-inscribe a trope of authenticity constitutive of the Indian Art field, they also counter these processes of marginalization through the creation of a robust and flexible community through kinship based membership criteria. I argue that powwow markets are paradigmatic sites for understanding the struggles of post-colonial peoples reconstructing their identities and sense of place because the negotiation of larger cultural forces in everyday practices are made visible through the continuous processes of bordering required by the temporal nature of the powwow domain. ^