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1 - Indians with Voices: Revisiting Savagism and Civilization

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  06 June 2017

Betty Louise Bell
Affiliation:
University of Michigan
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Summary

Keep in mind that Indian Bureau, Indian reservations, Indian schools, Indian college, Indian art, Indian novels, Indian music, Indian shows, Indian movies, and Indian everything create prejudice and do not help our race.

Wassaja (Carlos Montezuma), 1915

Native American authors, in creating a literature distinctive of their experiences and cultures, have first had to confront and negotiate their own otherness in American history and literary tradition. Strategies in this confrontation have, for the most part, refused to isolate native life and cultures from colonial history and its literatures; instead, the principal strategy has been the appropriation and hybridization of those literatures to create intertextual opportunities for political intervention. Oppositional narratives, Euroamerican or Indian, produced by the colonial or postcolonial subject can reify the racial and cultural binaries used to justify the displacement and elimination of indigenous populations. Native authors have had to resist the demand to position, order and categorize experiences which, simply, confirm current social, political and literary hierarchies. Indigenous survival, as reflected in postcolonial cultures and literatures, has always depended on the ability to transform social ordering and its supporting binaries into sites of hybridity that resist categorization and, thereby, challenge systems of domination. This survival has depended, as well, on the creation of an indigenous perspective, independent of but in dialogue with the dominant mythologies of the United States.

Early native writers produced ambivalent narratives which reflected – in language, genre and audience – their interpellation as colonial subjects, but which also challenged native absence and silence. When Samson Occum confesses, in his 1772 autobiographical essay, that ‘I speak like a fool, but I am Constrained’, the circumstances of native representation of life and reason are revealed and, through this revelation, Occum forces a monologic discourse to integrate and represent the silencing and othering of his experiences (526). Contemporary native authors dialogize American history and literature to recuperate twentieth-century indigenous experience and land. Of some authors mentioned in this text, Linda Hogan, in Mean Spirit (1990), retells the Osage Terror in the 1920s; Tom King, in Green Grass, Running Water (1993), makes the creation of America the (ir)responsibility of four tricksters; and Gerald Vizenor, in Landfill Meditation (1991), parodies racial essentialism. These narratives hybridize Western racial and cultural oppositions to disrupt political power and control gained from essentialized binary – separate and Other – histories and cultures.

Type
Chapter
Information
American Mythologies
New Essays on Contemporary Literature
, pp. 15 - 28
Publisher: Liverpool University Press
Print publication year: 2005

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