Custer’s Sins: Vine Deloria Jr. and the Settler-Colonial Politics of Civic Inclusion

Political Theory 46 (3):357-379 (2018)

David Temin
University of Minnesota
While “inclusion” has been seen as a central mode of redressing ongoing injustices against communities of color in the US, Indigenous political experiences feature more complex legacies of contesting US citizenship. Turning to an important episode of contestation, this essay examines the relation between inclusion and the politics of eliminating Indigenous nations that was part of a shared policy shift toward “Termination” in the Anglo-settler world of the 1950s and 1960s. Through a reading of Indigenous activist-intellectual Vine Deloria Jr.’s Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto, it demonstrates how the construction of what I call the “civic inclusion narrative” in post–World War II American political discourse disavowed practices of empire-formation. Widely considered a foundational text of the Indigenous Sovereignty Movement, the work repositioned Indigenous peoples not as passive recipients of civil rights and incorporation into the nation-state but as colonized peoples actively demanding decolonization. Deloria’s work provides an exemplary counterpoint to the enduring thread of civic inclusion in American political thought and an alternative tradition of decolonization—an imperative that continues to resonate in today’s North American and global Indigenous struggles over land, jurisdiction, and sovereignty.
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DOI 10.1177/0090591717712151
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