Burning the Imperialist Nostalgia: The Native Urban Renaissance in North America

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by Bryce Henson

Indigenous cultures are symbolically constructed in a pre-Columbus past as a mechanism to produce an essentialist notion of Indigenous peoples, who majestically vanish upon contact into the contemporary moment. While it was recognized that the United States of America was previously inhabited by Indigenous peoples, European contact and colonialism have erased them—when or how are always a mystery—from the imaginative contours of who belongs within these borders that are now inhabited by white Americans and minoritized communities. This is what anthropologist Renato Rosaldo called the “imperialist nostalgia” (1993) that longs for a pristine Other culture that was ‘lost’ when the colonizer killed it. It then becomes the responsibility of the (former) colonizers to maintain and carry on the cultural traditions of this Other lost group. This nostalgia is both the physical and imaginative erasure of Indigenous bodies from modern society (which is imagined as anywhere outside of…

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