Author discusses American Indian family issues

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February 9, 2007

4:21 PM

Monday Feb. 5 at 6 p.m., respected author and professor Philip Deloria delivered a lecture entitled “Crossing the (Indian) Color Line: A Family Memoir” to a full house of students, professors and members of the Williamsburg community.

p. Deloria is the author of two books: “Playing Indian,” published in 1998, and “Indians in Unexpected Places,” published in 2004. He is the director of the American Culture program at the University of Michigan, where he is a professor of history and American Culture. A candidate for the presidency of the American Studies Association, Deloria has carried on a family tradition with his work. His Father, Vine Deloria Jr., who died in Nov. 2005, was a well-known advocate for Native American rights.

p. After commenting on the unusually cold weather the College has been experiencing in the past week, Deloria gave an hour-long speech that he divided into five categories.

p. “The first [section] is a little bit of riff about the color line and W.E.B. Dubois, then there’s … musings about culture, then three different biographies, my grandmother, my grandfather and my great-aunt, Ella Deloria,” he said. “Then the three of them kind of draw together, and then the final section is sort of thinking about how they fit together in these kind of curious ways.”

p. As suggested by the title of his lecture, Deloria’s work is intricately connected with his family, which he has researched and from which he has assembled considerable oral histories.

p. “It wasn’t entirely what I expected, but I admired Deloria’s willingness to address seemingly difficult family situations in a thoughtful and reflective manner,” senior John Bell said. “He has an engaging story to tell, and the College is fortunate that he could share it with us.”

p. Deloria spoke extensively about his white grandmother, his mixed-blood Sioux grandfather and his great-aunt, and about how all three of them blurred the color line in different ways. He also mentioned an upcoming project showcasing his grandmother, whom he felt may have been somewhat overshadowed and stifled by his grandfather.

p. “I had never heard Deloria speak before, but I had seen him at conferences, and of course I knew him by reputation and because of his father, Vine Deloria, Jr., [although] he has certainly distinguished himself in his own right,” Andrew Fisher, a professor of history at the College, said. “I wasn’t disappointed — his new project sounds very interesting, very unique, and he is [arguably] the only person who could write it. I do think, however, he raised more questions than he answered.”

p. Also in attendance at the lecture was Randy Flood, executive director of NATV, the first nonprofit Native American television, radio, web and podcast organization in America.

p. “I had never met Phil Deloria, and was only familiar with his father. I went out of curiosity, and thought that Deloria was a very good storyteller, and his subject matter was very interesting, especially his focusing on the female side of the family,” Flood said. “It’s interesting that he focused on that particular aspect…I wish he had gone into greater detail about his father, who was a legend, and was looked upon with great reverence.”

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