Date of Award

January 2015

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Kyle Conway


This dissertation examines the status of the relationship between Natives and non-Natives utilizing powwow as the representative anecdote of the intercultural space of interaction between these two groups. Where most scholars ask how Native Americans use powwow to reclaim Native identity, I shift the focus to non-Natives, whose relationship to powwow has gone largely unexamined. I argue that powwow serves as a public space for staging diversity for non-Natives, a fact that has wide-ranging implications for Natives, too. Utilizing rhetorical theories of ritual communication and publicity as a way to interrogate this relationship, I argue that the publics attending to powwow for Natives and non-Natives legitimate, or confirm, each other. This is done through the metaphorical relationship between identity, authenticity, unity, and diversity. Through Lundberg’s and Lacan’s theory of rhetoric and publicity, one finds that the economy of tropes exchanged between the two groups buys legitimacy for each group, but often favors non-Native fantasies about Native identity.

I explore three case studies to show how public theory through an economy of tropes is used as a methodological tool. The case studies represent three important ways non-Natives approach powwow. The first, a university sponsored powwow, is representative of academic endeavors to promote diversity and educational experiences. The second, powwow performed by members of the Boy Scouts of America, is representative of non-Native understandings of powwow from groups that are not inherently Native American. The third, a powwow hosted by a family and smaller community, are representative of family-based, non-competitive powwows. Each case study contains its own important tropes within their discourse economy. However, each case also adds to an understanding of powwow in general. In examining these case studies in relationship and against each other, one finds some important markers of the relational status between Natives and non-Natives.