Runners of a Different Race: North American Indigenous Athletes and National Identities in the Early Twentieth Century
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This thesis explores the intersection of indigeneity and modernity in early-twentieth-century North America by examining Native Americans in competitive running arenas in both domestic and international settings. Historians have analyzed sports to understand central facets of this intersection, including race, gender, nationalism, assimilation, and resistance. But running, specifically, embodies what was both indigenous and modern, a symbol of both racial and national worth at a time when those categories coexisted uneasily. The narrative follows one main case study: the “Redwood Highway Indian Marathon,” a 480-mile footrace from San Francisco, California, to Grants Pass, Oregon, contested between Native Americans from Northern California and New Mexico in 1927 and 1928. That race and others reveal how indigenous runners asserted both Native and modern American/Canadian/Mexican identities through sport, how mainstream societies understood modern indigenous people, and to what extent those societies embraced images of “Indianness” in regional and national identities, economies, and cultures.