Voices and Votes in the Fields of Settler Society: American Indian Media and Electoral Politics in 1930s Wisconsin

Arndt, Grant
Arndt, Grant
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World Languages and Cultures
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World Languages and Cultures

In 1939, Wisconsin readers of a weekly newspaper column by Mitchell Redcloud, a member of the Ho-Chunk Indian community settled within the rural township of Komensky, were greeted with a set of headlines from the imaginary “Komensky News” about an actual local event. The headlines reported that despite opposition from local whites, Ho-Chunk people had successfully elected a Ho-Chunk candidate to the township board. This article draws on studies of Indigenous media and recent efforts to develop field-theoretic accounts of social action to understand the interdependence of Redcloud's headlines and the Ho-Chunk vote as part of an incipient project of Indigenous political action. Using census records, I first describe the positions in the everyday field of race and class relations that Ho-Chunk people occupied in Komensky, based on their incomes, educations, and occupational statuses. I then draw on this description to understand Redcloud's position-taking strategies before the election. I next examine Redcloud's writing career in the newspaper to understand his strategy of self-positioning as a marked Indian voice within a print-based discursive field that denigrated other Ho-Chunk voices. I finish by examining new position-taking strategies manifest in the 1939 vote and in Redcloud's turn to headline register. I argue that both media and electoral mechanisms offered relatively autonomous fields that made these experiments with Indigenous action possible despite the absence of tribal political institutions necessary to transform the positions Ho-Chunk people occupied in their everyday lives. Together, the headlines and the election suggest the interdependence of activism carried out in media and in governmental structures in the production of transformative acts of political self-representation.


This article is published as Arndt, G. Voices and Votes in the Fields of Settler Society: American Indian Media and Electoral Politics in 1930s Wisconsin. Comparative Studies in Society and History. July 2015, 57(3); 780-805. Doi: 10.1017/S0010417515000286. Posted with permission.