Seminar in Rhetoric: Reading Indigenous Practices as Rhetorical Action

Eng709, sec. 1: Seminar in Rhetoric

Georganne Nordstrom

Meeting days/time: Wednesday, 3:15-5:45; In person


Reading Indigenous Texts as Rhetorical Action

As we enter the second decade of the 21st Century, we find ourselves at a moment when Indigenous movements around the world are garnering increased attention in national and international discourse, and more and more, these movements are aligning themselves with each other—As the Kiaʻi protecting Mauna Kea articulated protocols for kapu aloha, those who fight at Standing Rock and Ihumātao declared their alliance. In this course, we will immerse ourselves in the discourse surrounding these movements and others like them, looking specifically at the ways organizing groups are drawing from traditional practices to achieve rhetorical ends. The focus in the course will be on Indigenous traditions practiced in communities from North America and the Pacific, and while a major goal of the course will be to better know and understand the various linguistic and discursive resources Indigenous communities make use of, we will also compare these practices to uncover similarities and differences as well as the way location has figured into their enactment. The work of the course will also entail becoming familiar with rhetorical concepts forwarded in the western tradition and interrogating whether and how they work across cultures.


Rather than focusing on whether rhetoric is the appropriate term to describe Indigenous discursive practices (although we can take up that discussion!), we will engage with rhetorical concepts such as kairos, stasis, commonplaces, and the Aristotelian appeals as lenses to analyze the ways groups are mobilizing native practices in their fights for land and rights. Kenneth Burke’s theories of identification and terministic screens will also be useful here to draw attention to the necessity to culturally ground analytical frames to fully understand their potential. The course will provide students the opportunity to investigate the processes through which Indigenous peoples adapt traditional practices to respond in our contemporary climate from an often marginalized position. While assigned readings will provide theoretical grounding and accounts, we will also engage directly with our communities through fieldwork-informed projects that will facilitate the acquisition of deeper knowledge of traditional discursive practices and the kinds of adaptation strategies employed.


Student Learning Outcomes

Demonstrate an advanced understanding of rhetorical strategies and how they are culturally and contextually informed and bound.


Demonstrate an understanding of the historical, social, political, and cultural contexts Indigenous productions respond to.


Demonstrate an understanding of current scholarly conversations of Indigenous rhetoric/s vis a vis Rhetorical Studies and corresponding concerns.


Demonstrate an ability to produce (theoretical and/or empirical) research at the graduate level and attend to ethical considerations as a researcher.






Attend/view a public event or textual display (i.e., play, speech, protest, mural, boutique), and present to the class the rhetorical work being done/performed.

Short mid-term paper (7-10 pages):  a seminar paper mapping discursive practices with rhetorical strategies across two or more nations or communities.


Final Project: Examination of the genesis of an Indigenous-authored Rhetorical Text through research and/or interview, engaging the rhetorical choices the author considered, enacted, and achieved; OR a community grounded project involving becoming familiar with a movement and the rhetorical choices made in information dissemination (the project in this case could also involve producing artifacts in service of that movement). 


20-minute conference-like presentation on in-process final project.


Possible Texts to include


Textual/Visual/Aural Artifacts from Indigenous protest movements (i.e., Mauna Kea; Keystone Pipeline; Auʻa ʻIa: Holding On (if we can get it))


Martha Augoustinos, Amanda Lecouteur And John Soyland (2002). “Self-Sufficient Arguments In Political Rhetoric: Constructing Reconciliation And Apologizing To The Stolen Generations.”

Damián Baca (2010). “The Other Face of the Americas.”

Keith Barber (2008). Indigenous rights’ or ‘racial privileges’: The rhetoric of ‘race’ in New Zealand politics.”

Maria Bargh (2011). “Maori Political Rhetoric.”
Burke, K. (1966). Identification and consubstantiality.’ Rhetoric of Motives.

Burke, K. (1966). Terministic screens. Language as symbolic action.

Ellen Cushman (2011). “We are Talking the Genius of Sequoyah Here: The Cherokee Syllabary, Peoplehood, and Perseverance”

Nick Estes and Jaskiran Dhillon, Editors (2019). Standing with Standing Rock: Voices from the #NoDAPL Movement.

Candace Fujikane (2021). Mapping abundance for a planetary future: Kanaka Maoli and critical settler Cartographies.

Faye Ginsburg (2004). “Production Values: Indigenous Media and the Rhetoric of Self-Determination.”

Noelani Goodyear-Kaʻōpua (2015). “Reproducing the Ropes of Resistance: Hawaiian Studies Methodologies.”

Bruce Herzberg & Patricia Bizzell (2000) The Rhetorical Tradition (selections from).

Lisa King, Rose Gubele , Joyce Rain Anderson (2015).  Survivance, Sovereignty, and Story: Teaching American Indian Rhetorics. 

Scott Richard Lyons (2000). “Rhetorical Sovereignty: What do American Indians want from Writing”

David Uahikeaikaleiʻohu Maile (2015). “He Moena Pāwehe Makana: Weaving Anti-Capitalist Resistance into Kanaka Maoli Critiques of Settler Colonialism.”

Northern Territory Government. “Ampe Akelyernemane Meke Mekarle ʻLittle Children are Sacred’”

Malea Powell (2002). “Rhetorics of Survivance: How American Indians Use Writing”

Iokepa Casumbal-Salazar (2017). “A Fictive Kinship: Making ʻModernityʻ ʻAncient Hawaiians,’ and the Telescopes on Mauna Kea.”

Noenoe Silva (2004). Aloha Betrayed.

Marata Tamaira (2017). “Walls of Empowerment: Reading Public Murals in a Kanaka Maoli Context.”

Teao Maori News (ongoing).