Meister & Burnett, Associate Professor of Communication, and Associate Professor of Women’s Studies, both of North Dakota State University, 2004
Mark & Ann, “Rhetorical Exclusion in the Trial of Leonard Peltier” American Indian Quarterly, Volume 28, Numbers 3 & 4, Spring/Summer Issue, Pages 723-725.
The American Indian conception of cultural power and legitimacy differs greatly from the power imposed by the U.S. federal court system. Lake’s notion of American Indian power is consummatory, meaning that the instrumental function of protest rhetoric, for example, is coupled with the purpose of enactment. Beasley describes power and legitimacy in American Indian culture as spiritual power. Morris outlines the concept of sovereign power and details the U.S. government’s legal, political, and economic strategies of Indian subversion. Regarding the Indian construct of spiritual power, 2000 Green Party vice-presidential candidate and American Indian activist Winona LaDuke, among others, argues that a connection exists between humanity and all living things. Legitimacy and power in American Indian culture is based on its collectivistic cultural values that reflect “a valuing of heritage, nature, modesty, stability, and respect for differences in social positions.” Therefore, American Indian conceptions of power are markedly different from the dominant cultural views of power.American Indian rhetoric reveals conceptions of power and legitimacy. For example, Carbaugh concludes that for the Blackfeet, communication is based primarily on “listener-active silence” and interconnectedness. Later in 1999 Carbaugh notes that listening in Blackfeet culture is complex because listening “provides a traditional way of actively co-participating in a largely non-oral, non-verbal, yet ‘real’ and spiritual world.” Listening provides the Blackfeet with an “enhanced sense of power and place within the world.” Basso notes that for the Western Apache American Indian, keeping silent “is a response to uncertainty and unpredictability in social relations,” and Wieder and Pratt conclude that modesty and permissible, required silence are characteristics of American Indian communication behavior. In sum, the sovereign power, which Morris profiles as vital to the rights of American Indians, is based on silence, modesty, and thanksgiving—a conception that may not mesh with the rational and argumentative workings of the U.S. legal system. Kenneth Burke’s insights on how the law classifies, masks, and manipulates are significant in theorizing about cultural differences. According to Burke, “Law also provides the proper culture for heresy, sect, and schism, as it provides a bureaucratic body of thought so complex that groups can stress one aspect and neglect other aspects.” Law becomes a way of dramatizing, of symbolizing, ideals. Threats to the law and the cultural comfort it upholds are negated, delimited, and “masked.” The “legal scientist,” Arnold’s term for individuals who articulate the law, “is compelled by the climate of opinion in which he finds himself to prove that an essentially irrational world is constantly approaching rationality; that a cruel world is constantly approaching kindliness; and that a changing world is really stable and enduring,” and that “the function of the law is not so much to guide society as to comfort it.” In the legal context, the American Indian is situated in an irrational, cruel, and unstable world, without much hope for comfort.According to Sanchez, Stuckey, and Morris, “rhetorical exclusion” consists of defining outsiders as inherently destructive of governmental power. As a result, the law “masks” Indian cultures as allegedly inferior “in relation to the prevailing lifestyle of [the] Euro-American.” The legal system may impose masks on the American Indian, such as framing the Indian as war- like, or the legal system may put a mask on itself, such as taking the role of “the court” or “the law.”