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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Contemporary Lakota identity : Melda and Lupe Trejo on ’being Indian’ Petrillo, Larissa Suzanne


This thesis explores contemporary Lakota identity, as informed by the life story narratives of Melda and Lupe Trejo. Melda Red Bear (Lakota) was born on Pine Ridge (Oglala Lakota / Sioux) Reservation in South Dakota (1939-). Her husband, Lupe Trejo (1938-1999) is Mexican and has been a long-term resident of the reservation. I first met this couple in 1994 and developed an abiding friendship with them prior to our decision to collaborate in recording their storytelling sessions (1997-98). The recording and interpretation of the material evokes ethical questions about power and representation that have arisen with debates about 'as-told-to' autobiographies. Theoretical and methodological issues associated with cultural anthropology, literary criticism and oral history are part of the interdisciplinary intellectual work of this research and are discussed in the context of the project. The thesis follows an introspective, recursive methodology, where early research decisions are analyzed in the light of what I have learned in this process of apprenticeship to Lakota traditional thinkers. The narratives reveal that contemporary Lakota identity encompasses colonial discourses, strategic responses to such impositions, and an autonomous indigenous system of beliefs. This epistemological tradition, that is, traditional Lakota spiritual beliefs, promotes an acknowledgment of relations as opposed to exclusive categories of cultural difference. Melda Trejo has substantial connections to the Lakota community and her marriage follows the traditional pattern of "marrying out." Lupe Trejo configures his Mexican ancestry in ways that align with the Lakota people while also acknowledging his difference in the community. Melda and Lupe define themselves as Lakota through their spiritual practice in the Sundance as it reappeared in the cultural resurgence at Pine Ridge in the 1970s and 1980s. They situate themselves and their Sundance amid the controversies that surround authentic practices and the participation of outsiders in the ceremony. The thesis provides an interpretive framework, supported by additional life stories as well as critical and ethnographic material, for the analysis of selected stories.

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