Comps Notes: Native American Sovereignty and Literature

The other day on the phone, I spent five minutes narrating what amounts to two pages of Leslie Marmon Silko’s Yellow Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit. In the introduction to the collection of essays, she explains why she went to law school and later why she left and pursued writing instead. Over the course of her adolescence, her community, the Laguna people, fought the U.S. for the claim to their land. When the case was settled, the court found that the land had been wrongfully taken, but rather than returning the land, they decided to pay for it–for the value at the time when it was taken, without interest. In all, the tribe was paid twenty-five cents an acre for six million acres of land, but their twenty year lawsuit cost them $2 million. Silko concluded that “injustice is built into the Anglo-American legal system” and that “the only way to seek justices was through the power of the stories” (19-20). Much of the rest of the book dwells on these themes of injustice and the power of stories and indigenous culture both for personal and collective identity. For example, in “America’s Debt to the Indian Nations: Atoning for a Sordid Past,” Silko writes about Indian Law and the historical gap between agreements and practices, as the Indian tribes were historically viewed as sovereign nations in international law, yet not treated as sovereign nations when in conflict with the United States. In other sections, Silko’s tone is less academic and she instead makes points through more pointed and sarcastic tones. For example, in “Auntie Kie Talks About U.S. Presidents and U.S. Indian Policy,” she critiques presidents  through the unfiltered opinions of elderly Auntie Kie, who concludes that “American presidents are just there to give the people a good show” (84).

The Third Space of Sovereignty: The Postcolonial Politics of U.S.-Indigenous Relations (Indigenous Americas) is an excellent resource for

Tracksby Louise Erdrich is gorgeous and fascinating for many reasons, but in this case it draws on the loss of power through the loss of land and the role of both religion and education as institutions that aimed to assimilate or push out Native Americans. One of the most upsetting parts of the novel is the way that the Pillagers are gradually pushed or taxed off their land, up until the final effort to raise the money to keep their land.

See Also:

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven: “A Drug Called Tradition,” “The Trial of Thomas Builds-the-Fire,” “Indian Education” and others

From the Belly of My Beauty by Ester Belin

American Indian Stories, Legends, and Other Writings (Penguin Classics)

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