Indigenitude Theory as a Pedagogical History of Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

Review by Margaret E. Cantú-Sánchez

Indigenous Quotient Stalking Words: American Indian Heritage as Future
Juan Gómez-Quiñones
Aztlán Libre Press, 2012.
131 pages.

Juan Gómez-Quiñones wastes no time in getting to the point of his text, Indigenous Quotient Stalking Words: American Indian Heritage as Future, by explicitly stating that Indigenous cultures and histories should be implemented in K-12 and university curricula. Despite this fervent opinion, Gómez-Quiñones takes special care in noting that it is an assertion that many contest due to the belief that Native American studies are perceived as a thing of the past and therefore should be left to scholars and the ease with which Indian consciousness is often appropriated. Gómez-Quiñones emphasizes, however, that the implementation of Indigenous cultures and histories into school pedagogies can raise awareness as long as such challenges are addressed. Gómez-Quiñones attempts to bring awareness to this issue by contesting the historiography of certain terms, critically examining colonial history especially “Conquista” writings, while discussing their connections to today’s pedagogies.

Gómez-Quiñones begins his argument by contesting the historiography including the “denigrating vocabulary” that surrounds discussions of Indigenous culture. In order to engage in such a task, Gómez-Quiñones begins with the sixteenth century and the European conquest of the Caribbean and Mesoamerica. Specifically, Gómez-Quiñones engages in a critical examination of “Conquista” writings like those written by Christopher Columbus, Hernán Cortés, Bartolomeé de Las Casas, and Vasco de Quiroga among others. Gómez-Quiñones’ examination of “Conquista” writings reveal how indigenous peoples are initially perceived by European colonizers. Just as Native American studies scholars take note of the significance of colonial writings, Gómez-Quiñones also reveals that they also indicate that the colonized peoples, the indigenous, engage in criminal acts in contrast to the altruistic actions of the Europeans. Such contrasting behaviors and the colonists’ desire to write about such actions are decisively political moves as Gómez-Quiñones insists. “Invariably, colonialists assure you that the colonial is a worthy subject who is best dealt with as an object. Indeed, European ends demand that Indian actions validate European triumphalism,” Gómez-Quiñones writes.

While Gómez-Quiñones grounds his theory in history, it is important to note that his purpose here is to contextualize and advocate the need for incorporation of Indigenous history and culture in K-20 and university curricula. Gómez-Quiñones specifically refers to Cortes’ technique of utilizing the history and stories of the Aztec people in an effort to claim Mexico. It is at this point that Gómez-Quiñones notes that despite the European colonizer’s attempt to erase or appropriate Indigenous history, in many cases Indigenous culture has survived. Gómez-Quiñones contends, “His agents [Charles V] made Indians and their children learn the language of dominance, but Indian languages as well as symbols persist, while Charles’ are arcane.” Such efforts to eradicate native languages continue in the US school system today, demonstrating the need to continue to fight such efforts.

In addition to the eradication of native languages, Gómez-Quiñones points out the appropriation of Indian’s past by Criollo descendants of sixteenth century Europeans. Especially critical is his assertion that the eradication of certain Indian histories is attempted while others are claimed as European in origin. Such information is indicative of the European’s subconscious validity of certain Indian knowledge and skills. This discussion also allows Gómez-Quiñones to make a connection to present-day Indian knowledge and culture, while also allowing him to demonstrate how an exploration of history allows for a better understanding of the present. Gómez-Quiñones points to the concepts of mestizaje and hybridity, as well as the writings of Guillermo Bonfil Batalla, arguing that “Mesoamericanas, migrating peoples are today as transborder and transnational as they once were transcontinental.” It is this observation that allows Gómez-Quiñones to correctly assert that “Native Americans must communicate and act across borders of countries and neighborhoods, which they are.”

Gómez-Quiñones brings his point back to the pedagogies of Native Americans by observing that the stories of Pocahontas and the Indians of Plymouth rock that dominate history continue to praise Indian bravery and generosity, yet also point to the need for extermination of those very same individuals. Like other Native American scholars, Gómez-Quiñones too points out the contrasting actions of colonialists. While such assertions continue to be made in history, Gómez-Quiñones note that the 1960s saw an emergence of American Indian Studies programs. Unfortunately, few people supported such efforts. Yet another attempt was made in the 1980s to alter curricula. However, these endeavors were characterized as examples of revisionist history, which proved incorrect; in fact the same anti-Indian sentiments continued to be conveyed.

The text is separated into two major sections; the first is an attempt to counter the historiography surrounding Indian identity, culture, and history, and, the second half reveals Gómez-Quiñones’ theory of Indigenitude and how it may challenge current curricula. To accurately define his concept and theory of Indigenitude, Gómez-Quiñones begins with an examination of the term itself. “For example, the English term Indigenitude is likely to be confused with the older usage of the Spanish term “indigenismo,” which refers to early and mid-twentieth century trends centered on applied government social policies or arts inspirational motifs in the republic of Mexico.” However, like many other labels used to identify the Indigenous, there remains the possibility of re-appropriation. Gómez-Quiñones engages in such a re-appropriation of the term Indigenitude, asserting that his usage of the concept focuses on the “thoughts and ideas of the pro-Indigenistas of the late twentieth century in both the United States and Mexico who upheld the social welfare and intellectual heritage of the Indigenous as high personal and public values.”

Part of this theory includes the incorporation of “testable statements,” which offer stories as explanations for history, similar to testimonios in which one testifies in order to bring light to certain injustices. Gómez-Quiñones further insists that the exploration of the spaces and sites in which Native Americans existed and continue to exist are needed. Especially important are explorations of Indigenous who either chose to migrate from their original locations or were forcibly moved. Once again, an exploration of these moving patterns may allow for a discussion of the mestizaje of Native American cultures, thereby inviting a discussion that scholars of mestizaje and Native American studies may involve themselves in. Included within this mestizaje, Gómez-Quiñones argues are issues of identity in the context of sexuality and gender. To therefore engage in a theory of Indigenitude, Gómez-Quiñones reveals that one must reach consciousness of the aforementioned concepts. To reach consciousness, Gómez-Quiñones explains “we must listen to past voices and also pose questions to answer for our own times.”

Indigenous Quotient Stalking Words encourages readers to engage in a critical reflection of what it means to be Indigenous through an examination grounded in colonialist history. A thorough reading of such a text may allow any reader the chance to contemplate such complex issues that arise with being Indigenous, including but not limited to gender, sexuality, consciousness-raising, Indigenous epistemologies, and transborder/transcultural ideas. Such a text offers vital information to those critical readers just beginning to engage in Mestizaje and Native American Studies, while also offering scholars a point of reference to further their own research involving the incorporation of Indigenous cultural ideas into their classroom.

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