Yagleski, Robert “A Rhetoric of Contact: Tecumseh and the Native American Confederacy”


In this essay (1995), Yagleski draws on the work of Mary Louise Pratt to define rhetoric as a “site of contact and social struggle between Native Americans and white Americans iin the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries” (66).  As a specific site of contact and social struggle, Yagleski explores the rhetoric used by Tecumseh in which, as a self-proclaimed representative of all native peoples rather than his Shawnee tribe, he attempts to unite Native Americans in opposition to colonial expansionism as he simultaneously rebukes a signed treaty giving Native American land in central Indiana to the U.S. government.  Yalgleski argues that this particular site is important for understanding “new” rhetorical strategies used to preserve native cultures and ways of life in the face of white colonialism, which differ from traditional uses of oratory and public discourse enacted within Native societies (65).  To highlight this difference, Yagleski explores traditional forms of rhetoric used with various native cultures to show that oral rhetoric played in integral role in the social and political lives of Native Americans and “reflected their particular social, cultural, political and historical circumstances” (69).  Yagleski argues that the rhetorical strategies used in council meetings within tribal communities “differed from the ways in which whites negotiated” (70) and that the new rhetorical strategies used in points of contact with whites reflected Native leaders’ rhetorical awareness to deal effectively with their white audience.  As an example, Yagleksi identifies two connected rhetorical strategies used by Tecumseh that are “new” rather than traditional:  adopting a nativist ethos to argue for racial unity and  adopting the ethos of  native leader representing all native communities, both of which grew out “the emerging new sense of Native American idenitity that Dowd labels polygenesis” (74).   This new rhetoric, Yagleski argues, “represents a point of contact between two cultures with different political systems and differing conceptions of cultural identity (74).  It served as a tool for cultural and political survival and evolved as a result of contact with whites; therefore, it represents that rhetorics of contact that Pratt claims we ought to be investigating.





Key quotes:


Pratt:  argues that when describing “speech of ‘dominated’ groups has been portrayed by linguistic scholars,” many scholars “conceive of such groups as ‘separate speech communities with their own boundaries, sovereignty, fraternity, and authenticity’ (56) [and] mispresent the speech of these groups so that ‘social difference is seen as constituted by distance and separation rather than by ongoing contact and structured relations in a shard social space.  Language is seen as a nexus of social identity, but not as a site of social struggle or a producer of social relations” (56).  Pratt further argues that “such a limited perspective ‘ignores the extent to which dominant and dominated groups are not comprehensible apart from each other, wot which their speech practices are organized to enact their difference and their hierarchy’” (59). “ In place of  ‘linguistic of community,’ Pratt proposes a ‘linguistics that decenter[s] community, that place[s] at is centre the operation of language across  lines of social difference, a linguistics that [is] focues on modes and zones of contact between dominant and dominated groups (all of this qtd on 66). 


Critique:  talks of Native Americans in past tense; also what is negative implication of  focusing on rhetorics of contact?  Does that contribute to the denial of coevalness???


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Filed under cultural rhetorics exam, historiography exam

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