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When All the Cowboys Are Indians: The Nature of Race in All-Indian Rodeo

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Constructions of nature as the antithesis of culture have influenced both the ascription of, and resistance to, specific racialized identities. While it is possible to develop alternatives to these imposed identities, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to escape the influence and limitations of dominant social constructs. To build this argument, I draw on the attempts of “Indians” in western Canada to assert their identity as cowboys. 1 The article begins with a brief overview of Euro-Canadian conceptions of nature and culture and of how they were deployed to construct Indians as a separate and inferior race. As part of this process, rodeo was used to help entrench a cowboy/Indian dichotomy and to deny, thereby, the legitimacy of Indian cowboys. Against this backdrop, all-Indian rodeos are introduced as a response to these processes of exclusion. Close examination of these events demonstrates that they have facilitated the assertion of Indian cowboy identities by creating contexts in which all of the cowboys are Indians. At the same time, however, an examination of the ways in which Indians have constructed their identity as cowboys suggests a heavy reliance on hegemonic notions of nature, culture, and “race.” This identity is both a manifestation of the power of dominant concepts and an unsettling challenge to the goal of moving beyond binaries in the formation of fluid, flexible, and egalitarian identities.

Keywords: Canada; North American Indians; culture/nature; race; rodeo

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: September 1, 2003


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