In a small Tlingit village in southeast Alaska in the autumn of 1992, a Native Pentecostal church, led by a locally born Native pastor, started a bonfire of 'non-Christian' items, including, reportedly, Native dancing regalia. The act stirred longstanding tensions between Native dance groups and the fundamentalist Christian churches throughout the region - and hearkened back to a time, nearly a century earlier, when Native church converts had convinced residents to burn their totem poles. This book traces the troubled links between these burnings, and between 'Native cultures', and in doing so, reveals the multiple strands of social tension defining Tlingit and Haida life in southeast Alaska. The strains "Against Culture" uncovers are rooted in local and statewide circumstances that include a history of misunderstanding and exploitation of Native groups, the recent emergence of 'radical' Christian churches, and the consequences of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971. Author Kirk Dombrowski describes the unfolding history of the act and its promotion of new sorts of social and cultural divisions within contemporary Native villages. Differences in economic opportunities, dependence on timber employment, the pursuit of subsistence resources, and most centrally, differences over the meaning of contemporary images of Native culture - especially between traditional culture advocates and Evangelical/Pentecostal church members - all come into play in Dombrowski's account. His cogent, highly readable analysis shows how such disputes, however local their elements, reflect the broader problems of negotiating culture and collective identity. Revealing in its ethnographic details, arresting in its interpretive insights, "Against Culture" raises important practical and theoretical implications for our understanding of cultural and political processes. Kirk Dombrowski is an assistant professor of anthropology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
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