ASAIL Home Page
SAIL Indices
SAIL search engine
Guide to Native
American Studies Programs
Subscribe to

VOLUME 21 · NUMBER 3 · FALL 2009

Studies in

, University of Texas at Austin
DANIEL HEATH JUSTICE, University of Toronto

Published by the University of Nebraska Press



Studies in American Indian Literatures (SAIL ISSN 0730-3238) is the only scholarly journal in the United States that focuses exclusively on American Indian literatures. SAIL is published quarterly by the University of Nebraska Press for the Association for the Study of American Indian Literatures (ASAIL). Subscription rates are $38 for individuals and $95 for institutions. Single issues are available for $22. For subscriptions outside the United States, please add $30. Canadian subscribers please add appropriate GST or HST. Residents of Nebraska, please add the appropriate Nebraska sales tax. To subscribe, please contact the University of Nebraska Press. Payment must accompany order. Make checks payable to the University of Nebraska Press and mail to

      The University of Nebraska Press
      PO Box 84555
      Lincoln, NE 68501
      Phone: 800-755-1105 (United States and Canada)
      402-472-3581 (other countries)
      Web site:

All inquiries on subscription, change of address, advertising, and other business communications should be addressed to the University of Nebraska Press at 1111 Lincoln Mall, Lincoln, NE 68588-0630.
      A subscription to SAIL is a benefit of membership in ASAIL. For membership information, please contact

      R. M. Nelson
      2421 Birchwood Road
      Henrico, VA 23294-3513

      Phone: 804-672-0101


The editorial board of SAIL invites the submission of scholarly manuscripts focused on all aspects of American Indian literatures as well as the submission of poetry and short fiction, bibliographical essays, review essays, and interviews. We define "literatures" broadly to include all written, spoken, and visual texts created by Native peoples.
        Manuscripts should be prepared in accordance with the most recent edi-{iii}tion of the MLA Style Manual. SAIL only accepts electronic submissions. Please submit your manuscript by e-mail as an attachment (preferably in Rich Text Format [RTF]).
        SAIL observes a "blind reading" policy, so please do not include an author name on the title, first page, or anywhere else in the article. Do include your contact information, such as address, phone number, and e-mail address, with your submission. All submissions are read by outside reviewers. Submissions should be sent directly to Daniel Heath Justice at

Rights to the articles are held by the individual contributors.
All rights reserved
Manufactured in the United States of America

Excerpts from Jerome Rothenberg, "what the informant said to Franz Boas in 1920," in Shaking the Pumpkin: Traditional Poetry of the Indian North Americas (Albuquerque: U of New Mexico P, 1991) are reprinted by permission of the Armand Schwerner estate.

Excerpts from Steve Goodman, "You Never Even Called Me By My Name," copyright © Jurisdad Music o/b/o itself and Turnpike Tom Music, are reprinted by permission of the publisher.

Simon Ortiz,"The Creation, According to Coyote," in Woven Stone (Tucson: U of Arizona P, 1992) is reprinted by permission of the author.

Excerpts from Jane Johnston Schoolcraft, "To the Pine" and "Song of Okogis," in The Sound the Stars Make Rushing through the Sky: The Writings of Jane Johnston Schoolcraft, ed. Robert Dale Parker (Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 2006) are reprinted by permission of the publisher.

SAIL is available online through Project MUSE at

Articles appearing in this journal are abstracted and indexed in Anthropological Index, Arts & Humanities Citation Index, Bibliography of Native North Americans, Current Abstracts, Current Contents/Arts & Humanities, ERIC Databases, IBR: International Bibliography of Book Reviews, IBZ: International Bibliography of Periodical Literature, MLA International Bibliography, and TOC Premier.

Cover: Photo courtesy of Bonita Bent-Nelson © 2003, design by Kimberly Hermsen
Interior: Kimberly Hermsen


James H. Cox (Production) and Daniel Heath Justice (Submissions)

P. Jane Hafen

Joseph Bruchac and LeAnne Howe

Chad Allen, Lisa Brooks, Robin Riley Fast, Susan Gardner, Patrice Hollrah,
Molly McGlennen, Margaret Noori, Kenneth Roemer, Lisa Tatonetti,
Christopher Teuton, and Jace Weaver

Kirby Brown, Bryan Russell, and Kyle Carsten Wyatt

Helen Jaskoski, Karl Kroeber, Robert M. Nelson, Malea Powell,
John Purdy, and Rodney Simard




From the Editors







"The Injin is civilized and aint extinct no more than a
rabbit": Transformation and Transnationalism in
Alexander Posey's Fus Fixico Letters




"A Limited Range of Motion?": Multiculturalism,
"Human Questions," and Urban Indian Identity in
Sherman Alexie's Ten Little Indians









A Response to Sam McKegney's "Strategies for Ethical
Engagement: An Open Letter Concerning Non-Native
Scholars of Native Literatures"




"The corn people have a song too. It is very good":
On Beauty, Truth, and Goodness









Winter in Lingit Aani Brings Magpies and Ravens









N. Scott Momaday. Three Plays: The Indolent Boys,
Children of the Sun, The Moon in Two Windows




Robert Dale Parker, ed. The Sound the Stars Make Rushing Through the Sky: The Writings of Jane Johnston Schoolcraft




Brewster E. Fitz. Silko, Writing Storyteller and
Medicine Woman





LeAnne Howe. The Miko Kings: An Indian Baseball Story




News and Announcements


Contributor Biographies


Major Tribal Nations and Bands



This spring, Jim, his editorial assistant Kirby, and I all had the opportunity to attend both the Native American Literature Symposium (NALS) and the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association conference (NAISA). They are two very different organizations, with distinctive but connected histories that are worth noting, especially in their relationship to our field and its current and future health.
      NALS celebrated its tenth anniversary this year, a milestone that demonstrates how far our field has come since the first conference was held in Puerto Vallarta in 1999. Jim and I were fortunate to have been there, encouraged by our mentor and editorial predecessor, Malea Powell, who accurately predicted that the symposium would be important, though none of us, I think, could have anticipated the event's full impact until much later. It was a frustrating but enlightening occasion, one that was marked by intense and sometimes rancorous debate regarding not only the place of Indigenous perspectives in the critical study of Native literatures but also the degree to which scholars should take on particular responsibilities when engaged in such study.1
      The final roundtable at NALS 1999 was the heavy splash of a debate that continues to ripple through our discussions today. We had no easy answers, certainly, to the vital questions about the important links between our studies and the living peoples to whom those studies are connected. And it was that conference, more than any other event in my own scholarly trajectory, that affirmed my {viii} dedication to this field and its capacity for making space and constructive change for Native peoples and our allies, at home and in the academy. (I am certainly not alone, as there were a number of emerging scholars at that first conference who continue to be very active in the field and with SAIL and the association.)
      The ten years since a committed independent group of Native scholars (originally Gwen Westerman Griffin, P. Jane Hafen, Ginny Carney, Malea Powell, Patrice Hollrah, LeAnne Howe, and Joanne Quiñones) took responsibility for NALS have certainly had their share of both success and challenge -- change always does. Some of the critical conversations taking place at NALS over the years have revealed fault lines that extend beyond the academy to the difficult politics of Indian Country, but it could hardly be otherwise, given the importance of Native historical, cultural, and political contexts to the critical discourse. Even so, ten years on, NALS continues to be a vibrant scholarly conference dedicated exclusively to Native literary studies, to my knowledge the only one of its kind in North America. It is a place that brings together a wide range of scholars, writers, and artists, community members and tribal leaders, elders and youth and visitors, all to share specifically in the appreciation and understanding of the Native expressive arts in a Native-run venue (this year, the Isleta Pueblo Casino and Resort, just outside of Albuquerque).
      NAISA has a much broader mandate than NALS, as its purview is the full range of scholarship in Native studies, to include any and all disciplines and fields. (I am happy to say, however, that literature and the related humanities are still very well represented!) Yet NAISA, too, is committed to the ongoing relevance of intellectual work to Indigenous communities, concerns, and values, and it demonstrates that commitment by placing rigorous research, criticism, and scholarship at the very center of its concerns. While Indigenous scholars comprised the founding Acting Council (Inés Hernández-Ávila, J. Kehaulani Kauanui, K. Tsianina Lomawaima, Jean O'Brien, Robert Warrior, and Jace Weaver) and constitute the newly elected governing council, this first professional organization for the diverse confederation of disciplines constituting Native studies is open in membership and leadership to all committed scholars {ix} in the field, both Native and non-Native. In just a few short years, NAISA has transformed from the seemingly idealistic dream of the Acting Council members to a vibrant and global organization with an active and exponentially growing professional membership that includes Indigenous and non-Native scholars from at least forty U.S. states and at least thirteen countries, including significant contingents from Canada, Aotearoa/New Zealand, and Australia. Here, too, the conversations have sometimes been difficult, especially those surrounding the degree to which NAISA is primarily North American or fully international, and these discussions will continue, but the heartening result of the willingness to engage in necessarily difficult conversations is the energetic professional community that has emerged and looks very likely to thrive.
      I indulge in this reverie on NALS and NAISA in part to articulate a simple reality: that rigorous scholarship in Indigenous issues (and from Indigenous scholars and communities) is thriving across the world, and it is finding not only a ready audience but also a professional body of scholarly practitioners that is more than capable of balancing the respectful articulation of Indigenous values, knowledges, and intellectual traditions with the institutional and disciplinary expectations of the academy. It is also important to name those people, organizations, and communities that have, in different ways, made space in the academy and in our disciplinary discourses for Indigenous voices, perspectives, histories, and ideas, and to help change those discourses for the better. Certainly, as Jim and I discussed in our introduction to issue 20.1, SAIL and ASAIL have a rich genealogy of their own, one that owes much to over thirty years of direct commitment by writers, scholars, and community members. Yet the journal and the association participate in, strengthen, and are enriched by a larger, interconnected community of purpose, one that is increasingly building bridges of affinity and shared concern between diverse peoples, disciplines, and ways of understanding and being in the world.
      As the only scholarly journal to focus specifically on the study of Native literatures and languages, SAIL is part of that larger project, offering something distinctive to those varied conversations. {x} For example, the critical essays by Tereza M. Szeghi and Jennifer K. Ladino focus on very different writers of very different times -- Alexander Posey (Creek) and Sherman Alexie (Spokane/Coeur d'Alene) -- but both argue for their respective author's complex articulation of Native agency in challenging times and vexed places. Rob Appleford continues a conversation started in these pages by Sam McKegney (in issue 20.4) on the role of non-Native scholars in Native literary studies, and he offers a provocative response to a provocative query. Following in this vein, we are pleased to share words of challenge from J. Edward Chamberlin, one of Canada's most distinguished scholars of comparative literature, who has dedicated his professional career and much of his life to Indigenous peoples and their concerns. Reprinted herein is a recent address to his comparative literature colleagues at a major academic conference in British Columbia. We have been privileged to publish some impressive creative work by Native writers, and this issue is no exception. Closing out 21.3, along with our regular book reviews, is an elegant and evocative piece by Tlingit writer Ernestine Hayes.
      As we look to the end of this volume and the start of the third volume of our editorial tenure, we hope to see even more of the above: compelling, provocative, rigorous, and challenging work by both Native and non-Native scholars and writers; contributions from emerging scholars in the field as well as established critics; compelling letters in response to published pieces and challenging commentaries on issues of concern to the field; short creative pieces that push the edges of our understanding to new and better places; and so on. We would like to see more feedback in the form of public letters and commentaries we can share in the pages of SAIL, particularly as such conversations are vital to a healthy critical discourse.
      SAIL's contribution to that discourse (and to the broader conversations in Native studies) is always growing and often challenging, but it depends entirely on the willingness of people to participate in its possibilities, not only through reading and discussion but also through submissions, reviews, and engaged critical response. Just as the NALS Clan Mothers reclaimed that gathering from its problematic roots and brought it home to Indian Country, and just as the {xi} NAISA Acting Council envisioned and then gifted the association to a ready community of scholars, so too has SAIL grown stronger through the active commitment of its readers, contributors, editors, and reviewers to making it better, more responsive, and more reflective of the very best work in our field.
      And if that is going to continue, we rely upon you to offer your written words, your review time, your conversations with students and colleagues, your ideas, and your energy to further our mutual commitment to the journal and this field. We are nearly two volumes into an important relationship, both within the field and beyond it, but there is much more work to do.
      So let's get to it. Together.

Daniel Heath Justice and James H. Cox


      1. I have written at some length about the first Puerto Vallarta NALS and its aftermath in "We're Not There Yet, Kemo Sabe: Positing a Future for American Indian Literary Studies," American Indian Quarterly 25.2 (Spring 2001): 262, 264-65.


"The Injin is civilized and aint
extinct no more than a rabbit"

Transformation and Transnationalism in
Alexander Posey's Fus Fixico Letters



Opposing narratives of Alexander Posey's death quickly set the ambivalent tone of his legacy. In short, his drowning in his beloved Oktahutche ("Sand Creek"), or North Canadian, river at the age of thirty-five has been seen either as a type of return to a part of the natural world with which he had a close affinity or as a just punishment for his work for the Dawes Commission and his speculation in the sale of Indian land allotments.1 Posey's friends, family, and supporters "romanticized [Posey] as a literary artist snatched from life before he had achieved the greatness he was destined for" (Littlefield, Alex Posey 5). Others believed -- and some continue to believe -- it was no accident that he drowned in the Oktahutche, the home of Tie-Snake, a member of the Creek underworld associated with chaos and known to lure people to drowning (see Womack, Red on Red, 133). Both interpretations of Posey's life and death have some basis in truth. However, like most absolute and oppositional views, each fails to fully capture the complexity of Posey and his ever-evolving vision for his people's future. Although Posey considered himself a progressive, due to his belief that the Creeks' best means of survival was appropriating aspects of Euroamerican culture for their own ends, his Fus Fixico letters (fictionalized letters to the editor written in Creek-English dialect, published in epistolary installments between 1902 and 1908 in Indian Territory newspapers) illustrate that he was, in fact, highly critical of U.S. Indian policy and sympathetic to the arguments of conservative Creeks who advocated {2} resistance to allotment and maintenance of traditional Creek social and political systems.
      The complexity and evolution of Posey's political thought can be discerned through a historicized consideration of an aspect of the Fus Fixico letters that has not yet received sustained scholarly attention: the letters' brief but significant references to the plans of some members of the conservative Creek faction, the Snakes (and other conservative groups in Indian Territory, such as the Cherokee Kee-too-wahs), to emigrate to Mexico, where they hoped to secure lands and live free of the U.S. government's paternalistic policies.2 These groups aimed to escape the forced transition from communal to private land ownership and the dissolution of their tribal governments (as mandated by the 1898 Curtis Act and carried out by the Dawes Commission), as well as the incorporation of Indian Territory (along with Oklahoma Territory) into the state of Oklahoma.3 Initially, Posey dismissed the plan as far-fetched and unrealistic, but he finally endorsed emigration based on his contention that staunch Creek traditionalists could not survive in what was to become Oklahoma. His evolving views of emigration to Mexico correspond to his growing understanding of the increasing difficulty of life in the Creek Nation for conservative Creeks who opposed the changes sweeping Indian Territory at the turn of the twentieth century. Further, his ultimate endorsement of emigration for staunch traditionalists exemplifies his contention that only certain Creeks -- namely those who embraced allotment and participation in U.S. social and political systems -- could survive within the United States.
      In this article I first introduce my critical approach to Posey's life and work in conjunction with an overview of the Fus Fixico letters, as situated in their historical and cultural context. I position my argument in relation to the ideological framework outlined by Creek/Cherokee writer and theorist, Craig Womack (one of the most significant Posey scholars), and throughout the article I draw upon the groundbreaking historical and archival research of Daniel Littlefield. Following an introduction to the letters and an outline of my central arguments, I analyze Posey's conception of transfor-{3} mation, as it manifests in the Fus Fixico letters, as an alternative to both traditionalist resistance and the assimilationist view that full participation in U.S. society requires the wholesale abandonment of American Indian cultural norms. I follow this discussion with an exploration of the letters' references to emigration plans vis-àvis Posey's vision for transformation. Finally, by way of conclusion, I offer some thoughts about the implications of Creek emigration plans to Mexico -- and their historical precedents -- for transnational approaches to Creek culture and literature.
      In my consideration of Posey's life and work, I operate according to the fundamental conviction, posited by Womack, that Posey wrote as a means of actively shaping the political landscape of the Creek Nation -- and Indian Territory more generally -- and not simply to comment upon it (Red on Red 147-48). Moreover, rather than seeing his progressivism as symptomatic of estrangement from Creek culture or Creek people, I share Womack's view of Posey as an active member of a complex, nuanced community with competing, actively debated worldviews.4 With the Fus Fixico letters, Posey dramatized the political climate of his time and the diversity of the Creek Nation. In so doing, he countered dominant conceptions of American Indians more generally as members of cultures destined to disappear through assimilation or annihilation. Instead, he crafted complex human characters who mull over political events and consider a variety of responses.
      In the context of evaluating Posey's various literary influences and sources (American Indian, Euroamerican, and European) in the Fus Fixico letters, Womack recently suggested that we think of Posey's work in terms of transformation rather than hybridity (Weaver, Womack, and Warrior 160). I will extend Womack's argument by suggesting that Posey's vision for the Creeks' future was based on his ardent, historically grounded belief in his peoples' capacity for adaptation and change as a means of survival.5 In the letters, Posey consistently dramatizes the possibilities for Creek transformation and provides models of what I term the "Transforming Indian" -- a construct that opposes the myth of the Vanishing Indian that originated with colonization and persisted during Posey's time. Through {4} his vision of Indian transformation, Posey challenged -- and arguably corrected -- the myth's premise: that is, that American Indians were destined to disappear (via assimilation or extinction) as a consequence of contact with an allegedly superior (Euroamerican) culture.
      Posey's belief in transformation, which has led to charges of assimilationism, is actually a traditional Creek belief, as evidenced by the tribe's long history of incorporating other cultural groups and adopting aspects of their cultures (see Debo 4-5; Womack, Red on Red 30-31). We might note the distinction between incorporating other groups and being incorporated by one. Yet here too Posey draws on Creek historical practice in his suggestion that Creeks take an active role in selecting which aspects of Euroamerican culture they can usefully appropriate in order to participate in U.S. social systems while retaining Creek cultural autonomy. His Transforming Indian is distinctly Creek and is an active agent in the process of acculturation. Although the Snakes, of course, took a different view of the situation and regarded the imposition of U.S. policies -- and growing U.S. cultural hegemony -- as a grave threat to tribal sovereignty, the material point is that, historically, Creeks have used cultural adaptation as a means of survival. They certainly did not, as a general rule, equate adaptation with cultural extinction.
      As Womack argues, however, refuting the notion that Posey was an assimilationist or that his actions are symptomatic of cultural confusion does not require turning Posey into a "'Super-Creek,' a staunch traditionalist, or overlooking the history of his more unsavory activities such as working for the Dawes Commission or his later real estate dealings." Instead, Womack suggests that what is appropriate here "is historicizing Posey according to the realities of Creek national life during Posey's time" (Red on Red 138). Womack thereby offers an approach, which I will deploy here, that allows us to avoid the reductive, binary logic that has plagued Posey's legacy. I will attempt, specifically, to subvert a binary approach to Posey's life and work by arguing that Posey's rejection of the myth of the Vanishing Indian must be tempered by a consideration of the limits of that rejection. Critical to a nuanced reading of Posey's work is the {5} recognition that, even though he offers a model for Creek continuance, he consigns those who fail to embrace that model to the fate of the Vanishing Indian.


Posey is able to capture the complex political climate of the Creek Nation at the turn of the twentieth century due, in large part, to the rhetorical strategies that he employs in the Fus Fixico letters. In the letters, Posey's persona, Fus Fixico (a fictional newspaper correspondent whom Posey frequently uses as a mouthpiece for his own political views) records the overheard conversations of a group of his full-blood Creek friends. Most of these conversations include careful evaluations of U.S. Indian policy and the consequent challenges faced by Creeks around the turn of the twentieth century. Because they were written over the course of six years, the letters offer insight into the unfolding of Posey's political views over time, particularly his disillusionment with disparities between the stated goals of U.S. Indian policies and their practical applications and consequences. The letters capture not only the changing political climate in the Creek Nation but also the range of opinions held by members of the same political faction (namely Creek conservatives). Although Posey wrote the letters for immediate political ends, the letters nonetheless invite modern readers to sit around the fire with Fus Fixico's friends and listen in on their discussions about how to respond to the changes being forced upon them. Accepting this invitation will allow us to gain a deeper understanding of the difficulties that the Creeks -- and members of other tribes -- faced in anticipating the long-term effects of one of the most catastrophic eras in U.S. Indian policy.6
      Given Posey's active interest in Creek politics and his desire to sway his people to embrace the changes underway in Indian Territory, we might expect that he would people the letters with characters who share his views. On the contrary, although he used Fus Fixico to represent some of his own political positions, he placed a group of full-blood traditionalists at the heart of the letters.7 In so {6} doing, Posey largely eschewed a direct, didactic approach to political activism and showcased the oral exchange of ideas and the process of coming to terms with political realities. Although Posey relied on the racialized political terms current during his lifetime (full-blood/ traditionalist versus mixed-blood/progressive), the basic structure of the letters discloses his understanding of the permeability of these categories. Posey's portrayal of the struggles of a group of full-blood conservative Creeks to address the changes they face, and their debates about how best to do so, reflects a more nuanced understanding of the inner workings of this Creek subgroup than his use of political shorthand might suggest. These characters, moreover, do not blindly subscribe to conservative positions but critically assess the changes they witness in their daily lives.
      In addition, through the creation of his progressive full-blood persona, Fus Fixico, Posey suggests that blood quantum is not an absolute determinant of political affiliation. During a period when blood quantum was used by conservatives, progressives, and the U.S. government as an indicator of both political views and behavior, Posey's blurring of these boundaries is not insignificant. Many mixed-bloods, cognizant of the racial norms of the broader U.S. culture, emphasized their white ancestry and distinguished themselves from "real" or full-blood Indians, who many whites believed were too savage to successfully participate in the emerging U.S. economic system. For their part, many full-bloods, protective of traditional ways, claimed the label "real Indian" and emphasized their high Indian blood quantum as evidence of their cultural purity.8 These biological markers of cultural values and competency also were encoded in U.S. law, in legislation like the 1906 McCumber Amendment, which restricted full-bloods (legally those with three-quarters or more Indian blood) from selling their allotments for twenty-five years based on the view that they were too "incompetent" to manage their land and financial affairs.9
      Due to uneven levels of contact and intermarriage with white settlers and the tendency for Creeks exposed to Euroamerican culture to be more open to embracing it, racialized political divisions had long been part of Creek culture. However, the stresses of the {7} allotment period widened these divisions to the point that certain members of each faction came to see themselves as fundamentally culturally distinct from members of the other faction. Prior to this period, members of the so-called Five Civilized Tribes (hereafter the "Five Tribes") -- namely the Creek, Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Seminole tribes -- utilized their own governmental structures for debating political views and working toward common ground.10 Nevertheless, with the tribal governments on the eve of dissolution and a new social order (in the form of individual land ownership, U.S. citizenship, and the influx of white settlers) quickly displacing traditional tribal norms, the groups became increasingly polarized.


A first-time reader of the Fus Fixico letters is likely to be struck by Posey's simultaneous reliance on the racialized political categories current in Indian Territory during his lifetime and his use of parody to uncover the reductive nature of the binary logic inherent in such discourse. By illustrating how a group of conservative full-bloods come to embrace -- or at least accept -- allotment and aspects of Euroamerican culture, Posey suggests that even those he refers to as "real Indians" are capable of surviving into the new social order if they are willing to embrace it. Throughout the Fus Fixico letters, Posey dramatizes the ability of Indians to transform themselves. For instance, letter 57 (Muskogee Daily Phoenix, August 27, 1905) begins:

"Well, so," Hotgun he say, "the Injin has spoken. Long time ago he give a war whoop and go on the warpath; this time he call a convention and go on record. Instead a making medicine he make history; instead a chasing the pioneers with a tomahawk, he preside in convention and use the tomahawk for gavel to call the pioneers to order; and instead a swearing vengeance against the pale face, he get up and make a big talk on how to make a state. The Injin is civilized and aint extinct no more than a rabbit. He's just beginning to feel his breakfast food." (Posey, Letters 217)

One interpretation of this passage would be that Hotgun simply replaces aspects of Creek culture with their Euroamerican counterparts. But a closer reading allows for a more nuanced understanding of Posey's vision of the Transforming Indian. He firmly opposes the annihilation of Creek culture but affirms its capacity to change while remaining Creek. By drawing correspondences between traditional Creek activities and those the Creeks now engage in to protect their tribal autonomy and ensure their survival, Hotgun envisions the newer counterparts as Indian, not Euroamerican, in origin. Moreover, he documents the engagement of the Five Tribes with the specific political issues current in Indian Territory: namely, the political battles associated with statehood. In documenting the Five Tribes' efforts to see Indian Territory entered into the Union as a separate state (rather than being combined with Oklahoma Territory), Posey communicates to readers that the Transforming Indian is not merely a theoretical model but already a reality. Although, in the end, the Five Tribes were not successful in their efforts toward separate statehood, Posey's support of the plan -- coupled with his larger emphasis on transformation -- gives us a concrete example of the type of Indian engagement with the United States that he endorsed, a type of engagement that still would allow Native peoples to retain distinct tribal identities. The significance of cultural distinctiveness is exemplified further by his suggestion that Indian Territory -- and the proposed Indian state -- be given an Indian name, such as Sequoyah, instead of being organized as the Territory of Jefferson, as stipulated by the 1901-1902 Moon Bill.11
      Hotgun's claim that the "Injin is civilized and aint extinct no more than a rabbit" runs counter to both the Vanishing Indian myth and the related Euroamerican assumption that American Indians, in general, were a savage race incapable of change. According to literary critic and cultural historian Roy Harvey Pearce,

When, by the 1770's, the attempt [to "civilize" the so-called savage] had obviously failed, Americans were coming to understand the Indian as one radically different from their proper selves; they knew he was bound inextricably in a primitive past, a primitive society, and a primitive environment, to {9} be destroyed by God, Nature, and Progress to make way for Civilized Man. Americans after the 1770's worked out a theory of the savage which depended on an idea of a new order in which the Indian could have no part. (4)

Although political and humanitarian supporters of the allotment of Indian lands, those who called themselves "friends of the Indian," still operated according to the belief that American Indians could be assimilated into U.S. society (and must be in order to avoid extinction), the competing view Pearce describes (of irreconcilable racial difference) also shaped U.S. Indian policies around the turn of the twentieth century, perhaps most notably policies that applied restrictions to full-bloods' lands (e.g., the McCumber Amendment). A sort of selective concession of the capacity of American Indians to be civilized has permeated U.S. history. For instance, the reputation of the Five Tribes as exemplary in their degree of civilization -- evidenced by their adaptation of Euroamerican-style governments, educational systems, and the institution of slavery -- did not prevent them from being seen as obstacles to the advance of the United States in the 1830s (a view that was used to justify removing them from their southeastern homelands to Indian Territory).
      Hence, with his promotion of the concept of Indian transformation, Posey handily subverted the view current in turn-of-the-twentieth-century Indian Territory -- held by white settlers and many mixed-blood members of the Five Tribes -- that "real Indians" cannot change (thus making them incapable of participating in U.S. society). At the same time, he destabilized the broader view, common throughout the United States and traceable to first contact, of the "savage" Indian as foil to the "civilized" European. Although Posey focused on events particular to the Five Tribes in Indian Territory, he was also familiar with assumptions about American Indians more generally that were often applied to his people. In letter 21 (Indian Journal, May 15, 1903), for example, Hotgun pokes fun at Secretary of the Interior Ethan Allen Hitchcock, who is horrified to see the flimsy shacks that lessees of Creek lands had built in order to fulfill their legal obligation to improve property leased for five years or more. Because such improvements became the property {10} of the Indian landowner at the end of the lease, these shoddy constructions both undermined the intention of the law and defrauded Indian landowners. Seeing Hitchcock's reaction, Hotgun suggests, "Maybe so Secretary It's Cocked was out a humor 'cause he didn't run onto some wigwams" (Letters 96). Rather than decrying such practices as Hitchcock does, despite their impact on American Indians, Hotgun calls attention to the generic expectations he imagines Hitchcock brings to Indian Territory, as illustrated by the suggestion that Hitchcock would expect to find wigwams among Native peoples who never lived in wigwams.
      Posey subverts the civilized-versus-savage binary so often applied to American Indians, in part, by grounding his ideology of transformation in Creek oral tradition. In Red on Red, Craig Womack provides a detailed discussion of Posey's adaptation of Creek oral tradition in the letters.12 For instance, he traces the imagery of bones picked clean -- which appears often in the letters -- to a story in which the Creek trickster Rabbit is "doctored" by Buzzard by being eaten until only bones remain. As Womack notes, Posey draws parallels between the voracious greed of Buzzard and that of whites and between Rabbit's annihilation and Indians being robbed of all they have. Thus, in light of Posey's familiarity with and use of oral tradition, Hotgun's assertion that the "Injin is civilized and aint extinct no more than a rabbit" may be read as an allusion to the Creek trickster. Such a comparison is apt in light of Rabbit's practice of disguising himself in order to survive difficult situations. With this allusion, Hotgun suggests that outsiders, blinded by their stereotypical assumptions of American Indian savagery/incompetence, fail to recognize American Indians acting in the political arena without suffering from cultural alienation.
      By comparing American Indians to Rabbit/trickster, Hotgun advances his belief in the ability of American Indians to transform themselves and gestures to the fact that such a belief has its origins in a long Creek intellectual history. He develops this portrait of the Transforming Indian by illustrating how a tomahawk can be used in a new context. Hotgun thereby suggests that American Indian cultures naturally lend themselves to necessary transformations, {11} while at the same time poking fun at and upending the stereotypical image of the tomahawk-brandishing savage. Further, his ostensibly absurd substitution of a tomahawk for a gavel calls attention to the fetish character of such symbols of jurisprudence. He thus points to the surface elements of assimilationist ideologies, namely their emphasis on appearances as indicators of the Indian position on the savage/civilized spectrum.13 On the other hand, by endowing the tomahawk with utility in the context of Euroamerican-style governance, Hotgun implies that Native peoples have the capacity to engage in Euroamerican culture without swallowing it whole. In opposition to the contention that civilization was a gift given by European settlers to savage Indians, Hotgun depicts American Indians leading the pioneers into a new social order, not the other way around.14 Littlefield interprets the final line of this passage ("He's just beginning to feel his breakfast food") to mean that the Indian is just getting started, which suggests that Creeks will continue to adapt and change as they always have, instead of simply substituting Euroamerican culture for their own (Letters 220n1).
      In the letters and in other writings, Posey mocks the nostalgia many Euroamericans felt in the late nineteenth century for traditional aspects of American Indian cultures -- a nostalgia enabled by the end of the major Indian wars and the popular sense that American Indians were vanishing due to the large-scale removal of Native peoples to the West.15 Spurred by the broad Euroamerican belief that Native cultures were waning and must therefore be captured before they disappear, this nostalgia led to intense ethnographic study of Native peoples (see Deloria). Renato Rosaldo refers to this phenomenon as "imperialist nostalgia," which he defines as the longing felt by members of imperial cultures for elements of an Indigenous culture that they, as members of the imperial culture, helped destroy. Nostalgia for what Euroamericans perceived as lost aspects of American Indian cultures led them to conclude that American Indians simply had vanished. Many Euroamericans, like Hitchcock, could not recognize American Indians (qua Indians) who operated in new environments and donned nontraditional attire. In an article published in the Indian Journal on April 4, 1902, {12} Posey directly addresses and characteristically mocks such myopic sentimentality. He affirms the ongoing presence of American Indians in new guises while simultaneously illustrating the negative consequences of some of their adaptations. Littlefield frames Posey's editorial as follows:

To the ethnologist who claimed that the Indian had become extinct, [Posey] replied, "We fear the ethnologist has been going about looking for wigwams, arrowheads, and the like and not coming across many such relics, has concluded that the Indian is fast going the way of the dodo." There would be no "blanket" Indian in sixty years, [Posey] predicted, but there would be plenty of them "wearing overalls and loving firewater." (Alex Posey 159)

Posey plays on the notion that Indians will disappear by suggesting that a certain type of Indian will cease to exist: the traditional, so-called blanket Indian that had become a staple of Euroamericanauthored books and films. Yet he turns Euroamerican assimilationist ideologies on their heads by claiming this outdated and stereotypical image of American Indians and proposing that American Indians may exchange their blankets for aspects of Euroamerican culture that are less than desirable, such as firewater (i.e., alcohol). Although Posey generally endorsed the idea of progress and envisioned a future in which the Creek Nation would participate in the mainstream U.S. economy, he also understood that all aspects of Euroamerican culture were not worthy of emulation and had already proved damaging to American Indian communities. Again we see that he espoused neither complete assimilation nor acculturation to Euroamerican norms for their own sake; rather, he believed his people could selectively appropriate aspects of Euroamerican culture (e.g., private property) to better ensure a competitive future for themselves within the United States.       

Now that we have a clear sense of Posey's ideology of transformation, as distinct from assimilationism, it is important to note its limitations. Posey's depictions of the Transforming Indian, for all their wit {13} in pointing to some of the absurdities of assimilationism and dramatizing the Creeks' ability to become active members of the United States without disposing of their own cultural norms, nonetheless stand in opposition to his depictions of those he identifies as "real Indians." In one way or another, he consigned such Creeks, whom he referred to as "pull-backs," to the fate of the Vanishing Indian.16 As I noted above, his inclination to label more traditional, conservative Creeks as "real Indians," in contrast with others like himself, suggests that he subscribed (at least to a degree) to the "pure versus tainted" framework that Womack critiques (Red on Red 65).
      Littlefield rightly cautions readers not to mistake Posey's "forecast of doom for the Snakes" with acceptance that the Five Tribes were vanishing; he notes that, for Posey, survival depended on change, as it historically had for the Creeks (Littlefield, Alex Posey 243). Although these distinctions are indeed significant to a nuanced understanding of Posey's views, I do not believe we can entirely exempt Posey from the charge of embracing some of the popular Vanishing Indian ideology, despite the fact that he did not apply it in a blanket fashion to all Indians. In fact, we can only apprehend the nature of his vision of Indian transformation by considering whom he included in this vision, whom he excluded, and why. By evaluating Posey's references to Creek emigration plans in the Fus Fixico letters and how the tone of these references changes over time, we can shed some light on Posey's conviction that Creeks who did not transform in the manner he advised faced what he termed "immanent peril" -- a conviction that ultimately led him to endorse what can be read as a removal of certain Creeks from their Oklahoma homelands (qtd. in Littlefield, Alex Posey 75).


When Posey first heard of the Snakes' plans to emigrate to Mexico, where they thought they could maintain their systems of government and culture, he scoffed at the idea. He believed that, by clinging to what he viewed as "old ways," the Snakes simply resisted the inevitable and pointlessly opposed the transformations he believed {14} so necessary to the survival of his people. Nevertheless, when their resistance to allotment and new systems of government led to many of them being left landless or consigned to allotments far from their homes, Posey contended that the best solution was for them to go to Mexico after all: arguably a perpetuation of the U.S. policy of Indian removal.
      In Posey's view it was the "more intelligent" conservative Creeks who favored removal to Mexico, where they could obtain land grants (Littlefield, Alex Posey 241). Believing conservative Creeks to be impediments to progress, he felt that the best policy was removal, a belief that echoes the fundamental principle behind the U.S. government's policy of removing eastern Indian tribes to the western United States -- a policy that was justified by the contention that, because Indians could not possibly participate in Euroamerican culture, they would be impediments to Euroamerican progress.17 According to this view, removing American Indians would free them to continue their lifestyles undisturbed while making room for the inevitable advance of the United States. And yet, as the Fus Fixico letters illustrate, removal only provided the Creeks with a brief period of relative freedom from U.S. interference. In light of this history, we might wonder why Posey did not also question if and for how long conservative Creeks actually would be free to live undisturbed in Mexico. It seems that the naturalization of the border, which entails a presumption of inherent difference between the countries on each side, resonated in Indian Territory due to its political expediency at this particular historical moment.18 For some full-blood traditionalists, Mexico represented a safe haven from the United States; for many mixed-blood progressives, it was an answer to their own "Indian problem," which they believed jeopardized their social standing in the United States. Mixed-bloods who aimed to assert their competency to participate in the socioeconomic and political realms of the new state of Oklahoma -- and who often emphasized their white ancestry as indicative of such competency -- felt undermined by the separatist movements spurred by traditionalist members of the Five Tribes. The violence engaged in by some separatists, such as the Snakes, provoked anti-Indian sentiments among white {15} settlers that, according to historian Erik M. Zissu, "threatened to tar all tribal members with the same brush of dangerous inferiority" (43). Zissu notes that progressives responded by emphasizing their distinctiveness from full-bloods and from traditional tribal practices. He writes, "Progressives repeatedly pointed out that separatists were full bloods and that their acts were the products of a full-blood mentality" (43).
      In the Fus Fixico letters, Posey references emigration plans in order to advance his political goals. He speaks of an alternate location where conservative Creeks can survive, but he also references the plans in order to critique the political conditions in Indian Territory that led to the consideration of such a drastic measure. It is my contention that Posey was primarily interested in the latter, as his central concern was Indian Territory politics. This contention is substantiated by Posey's apparent lack of serious consideration of the situation in Mexico or questioning of whether it would indeed be the safe haven many Creeks, for various reasons, imagined.
      What Posey initially perceived as the extreme nature of emigration plans signified to him the incredible lengths to which some would go to avoid what he saw as inevitable changes. But it was this same tenacious adherence to tradition that led him to endorse emigration as a means of ridding Indian Territory of "pull-backs." Although Posey only addresses the emigration plans of his contemporaries, the idea that Mexico offered a safety valve for American Indians displaced by U.S. settlement dates back to the 1830s, when the U.S. government initiated its removal policy. Instead of removing to Indian Territory, some Creeks and members of other southeastern tribes chose to relocate in Mexico. According to Littlefield, "Mexico was considered a political haven by many conservatives of the Creek and other Indian nations" (Posey, Letters 57). Moreover, the concept of emigrating in order to find a homeland in which the people can thrive is as old as the Creeks themselves. Creek writer Louis Oliver recounts the origin of the Muscogee (Creek) as told by "an ancient one by the name of Chikili" (3). Chikili describes the Creeks' emergence from the "backbone of this continent" and their subsequent migration east in search of the homeland of the sun (3). {16} The Spirit guided them as they traveled in the path of arrows they shot ahead of them, which the Creeks took as indicators -- in conjunction with the wisdom of their elders -- of the location of their proper homelands. In subsequent years, migration continued to be a means of ensuring cultural continuance and survival, as illustrated by the movement of some Creeks into Florida and Mexico during removal and the migration of Creeks to Kansas during the Civil War (led by chief Opothleyahola, who also had negotiated with the Mexican and U.S. governments to migrate to Texas when it was still part of Mexico in 1834; see Littlefield, Alex Posey 15). It is therefore no surprise that migration (and Mexico as an alternative home) was seriously considered during the upheavals of the allotment era.
      In the early letters, Posey's lack of regard for migration plans as a serious alternative comes through with clarity and humor and serves his larger interest in shaping politics in the Creek Nation. His early Fus Fixico letters focus specifically on what he saw as Chief Pleasant Porter's inefficiency in issuing allotment deeds to members of the Creek Nation. During this period, Porter was working to rectify what he and other Creek leaders perceived as flaws in their 1901 allotment agreement with the United States. In letter 4 (Indian Journal, December 12, 1902), Fus Fixico writes, "Well, so I guess when I was go to the postoffice next time I get my deed for Christmas times. Choela he say he was druther had a ticket to Mexico instead of a deed, and Hotgun he says the same thing too. If Porter don't hurry up maybe they go horse back or 'foot" (Letters 58). Using the voice of his fictional persona, Fus Fixico, Posey suggests that there is no legitimate reason for Porter's delaying of the allotment process. Rather, through Choela and Hotgun, he implies that such delays only serve to exacerbate full-bloods' frustrations with allotment. He suggests that if Porter does not hurry, Creeks may have no choice but to abandon the Creek Nation entirely. Thus, Porter's inefficiency threatens to bring about the very outcome that Posey and others sought to avoid by supporting allotment. Hotgun and Choela represent Creeks who, in Posey's view, are resistant to allotment yet, if the Creek tribal government facilitates the process, might come to accept and profit by it. The idea that they might set out for Mexico {17} on foot or horseback, during a time when travel by carriage or train was common, alludes to the ways in which the Creeks were forced to travel from their homelands in the Southeast to Indian Territory. The suggestion that Creeks might be forced to engage in another removal, as a consequence of Chief Porter's incompetence, is harsh criticism indeed! At the same time, the notion that Hotgun and Choela might travel in this fashion may also illustrate the poverty they have been reduced to while waiting for their allotment deeds.
      Posey portrays Choela and Hotgun's presence in the Creek Nation as tenuous at best. Despite their preference for emigration over allotment, the fact that they linger indicates that they could be persuaded to accept their allotments -- but only if their deeds arrive before they lose patience with the bureaucracy. Thus, ironically, through characters that occupy the opposite end of the political spectrum, Posey finds an outlet for his own frustration with Porter's handling of the allotment process. Littlefield characterizes Posey's frustration as follows:

In May 1902, Posey accused them [Porter and other Creek leaders] of using the proposed supplemental agreement as an excuse to delay issuing deeds until large land companies could gain a hold in Creek lands. Delay also worked against economic progress, which Posey had personally and editorially praised. He had written on May 16, "Delay of deeds means delay of progress." Even though a supplemental agreement was reached in June and ratified by the Creeks in July, no deeds had been issued by October, when Posey began the Fus Fixico letters. Meanwhile, some Creeks had made agreements with land dealers who sought title to Creek lands; others, like Fus Fixico, charged goods against the value of their allotments. (Posey, Letters 51)

Posey's support of allotment was based, in part, on his belief that it was the only way that Creeks could secure their land claims. Further, as Littlefield notes, delays in the allotment process made many Creeks financially vulnerable. By making agreements with land dealers and obtaining goods against the value of their allotments, {18} many Creeks sunk into financial debt and were forced to sell their land in order to secure enough money for their immediate needs. Fus Fixico's impatience to obtain his allotment, as well as his concern about the impact of inefficiency in the allotment process on full-blood Creeks, echoes Posey's own anxieties.
      In subsequent letters, Posey's references to Mexico as a potential alternative home for conservative Creeks begin to take on a more serious tone. In letter 5 (Indian Journal, December 19, 1902), Posey invokes Mexico in, at once, a playful and serious manner. Fus Fixico quips, "Well, I think was have to make big ark like old Noah and put my families in it if it was keep on raining this way all the time" (Letters 59). Only, unlike Noah in Genesis 5-8, Fus Fixico does not wish to ensure the survival of all life forms on earth by bringing along a pair from each species. Rather, he plans to equip the ark with meat and sofky (a traditional Creek staple food made of fermented corn). Fus Fixico thereby appropriates the ark from the Judeo-Christian tradition to preserve aspects of Creek culture. When Hotgun makes suggestions about how to properly build the ark, Fus Fixico speculates, "Maybe so Hotgun thinks he could get in and go to Mexico easy this way" (59-60). Posey's irreverence for Christianity is palpable in this scene, as is his dismissal of Mexico as a realistic home for the Creeks. Fus Fixico does not build an ark in response to a divine mandate or as a result of being selected as the only virtuous person left on earth, as in the case of Noah. Fus Fixico instead extracts survival tactics from a sacred story, thereby suggesting that there was nothing exceptional or divine about Noah's experience; the ark was simply a means of surviving a life-threatening situation. This is precisely what Posey attempts to discover for his people: how they can best survive in a political climate that threatens their culture, autonomy, and land base. Like Fus Fixico, Posey is willing to transgress cultural boundaries in order to piece together an effective survival strategy.
      Although Posey, through Fus Fixico, transforms the biblical account of Noah's journey into a vehicle for Creek cultural survival, the comedic manner in which he does so reveals his skepticism about such forms of salvation. He consigns both Noah's {19} story and, by extension, Creek emigration to Mexico to the realm of fiction -- which lends strong support to my contention that the primary function of these references to emigration was to make a point about Creek politics and not to seriously mull over emigration itself. Fus Fixico's suggestion that Hotgun might be considering such an unlikely journey indicates that Hotgun is not approaching his situation rationally. Through his juxtaposition of Fus Fixico's and Hotgun's survival strategies, Posey asserts that accepting a land allotment is the proper course of action, albeit an exasperating one.
      Letter 5 does not leave emigration plans solely in the realm of fantasy, however. Fus Fixico alludes to the delegations that the Snakes regularly supported sending to Mexico (Letters 60-61n5). He writes, "I read in Journal Charley Gibson was go to Gulf a Mexico. He say he was Snake Reporter and maybe so he call council and tell Latah Micco and Chitto Harjo [Snake leaders] he was find lots good hunting ground cheap" (60). Here Fus Fixico refers to Posey's friend, Charles Gibson, and his regular column, "Rifle Shots," which he wrote for the Indian Journal.19 Not only does Posey, through his persona, reference practical measures that were being taken to secure land in Mexico for emigrating Creeks, but he also endorses the idea that they will be free to live there in a traditional manner through his suggestion that they will find hunting grounds.20 Nevertheless, Posey's skepticism about the practicality of such a plan manifests itself in the speculative language Fus Fixico employs when discussing Gibson's trip. He writes that Gibson "says" or claims to have been a Snake Reporter and speculates ("maybe so") that he had reported his discoveries of available land to the Snake leaders. Such language is reflective of Posey's opinion (at this point in his life) that emigration was still a dubious plan. Thus letter 5 represents a turning point in the letters with respect to Posey's view of emigration. Here we see the tone of the references begin to shift from humorously dismissive to increasingly serious as Posey comes to apprehend the situation of full-bloods in the Creek Nation as increasingly dire and unsustainable.
      When Fus Fixico next mentions Mexico, in letter 12 (Indian Journal, March 6, 1903), he juxtaposes it with the increasingly vola-{20}tile environment faced by the Snakes remaining in the Creek Nation. Fus Fixico writes:

Well, so Hotgun was glad his hair was getting long again like before the white man was put him in jail for making too much medicine [performing ceremonies] at Hickory Ground, while them Snake Injins was hold council and talk about what good times they could had in Mexico, or, maybe so, South America. Hotgun was say they was shaved his head like it was some mule's tail and shut him up with bad men in the bull pen. (73)

The Snakes regularly gathered at Hickory Ground (a traditional meeting place in the Creek Nation) to practice ceremonies and conduct the business of the tribal government that they developed as an alternative to Chief Pleasant Porter's administration. The fact that such activities lead to Hotgun's arrest (and, historically, the arrests of many Snakes) by "the white man" speaks to the erosion of the Creek Nation's sovereignty and the U.S. government's abrogation of American Indian civil rights. By shaving Hotgun's head, U.S. authorities target a traditional aspect of Creek culture, illustrating that Creek culture itself is under attack, not just Creek methods of government and land management.
      The contrast between Hotgun's imprisonment in the Creek Nation and his fantasies of freedom in Mexico and South America brings into sharp focus how unfriendly life had become in the Creek Nation for Creeks who were unwilling to adapt and change in order to survive. Hotgun illustrates his refusal to embrace Euroamerican cultural norms by repeating the very offense that led to his imprisonment: growing his hair long. Thus, for a traditionalist like Hot-gun, the options -- from Fus Fixico's perspective, and presumably Posey's -- appear to be either jail in the United States or relocation to a nation south of the border. However, by advocating relocation for traditional Creeks on the basis of their alleged refusal to change, Posey fails to recognize that their desire to emigrate itself was indicative of their capacity to undertake a hugely transformative change if it could provide them with the means to sustain traditional Creek social and political praxis. Instead of seeing the Snakes' resistance {21} as a form of self-determination and an assertion of sovereignty that ultimately led, as Womack argues, to the restoration of the Creek tribal government (with the 1936 Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act), Posey suggests (through Fus Fixico and in his own editorials) that such persistent resistance signifies traditionalists' refusal to change and thus continue within the new social structure of the state of Oklahoma.21
      Although Posey critiques the ways in which conservative Creeks are treated in an increasingly Euroamerican-dominated political atmosphere, thereby acknowledging the legitimacy of their complaints, he comes to very different conclusions about the proper course of action than that which the Snakes endorsed. He ultimately accepts and perpetuates the idea that not all Creeks will survive the transition from Creek tribal government and its system of land management to allotment, statehood, and U.S. citizenship. In letter 12, for example, he draws distinct lines between those he believes will survive and those he believes will not. Following his discussion of Hotgun's imprisonment and fantasies of emigration, Fus Fixico turns to another type of Creek presumably destined for elimination:

So Wacache was great prophet and he was told about big flood, like bible people was had to ford in olden times. Wacache he say his old swimming hole was hide everything so you can't see Bald Hill floating 'round in it. And so he was send Hotgun word he was had to go to work and don't quit till he was make a ark and put all Snake Injins in it. Wacache he say Dawes Commission was had to save other Injins like me and Charley Gibson. When Hotgun was got that word from Wacache he give Choela order to make lots a boards to cover his ark with. But Choela was hardly know where to get board timber that was not filed on. (73)

In this passage Fus Fixico unites a number of the key threads that run throughout the letters: ideological distinctions among Creeks, positioning of Creek traditionalists in anachronistic space, and criticism of the allotment process.22 Posey again communicates his own {22} political opinions through Fus Fixico; he does not blame conservative Creeks entirely for what he perceives as their inability to survive the transitions underway in the Creek Nation around the turn of the twentieth century. As this passage suggests, Posey also holds the Dawes Commission and its method of carrying out the allotment process accountable for the increasingly precarious position of conservative Creeks. As Wacache argues, the Dawes Commission favors progressive Creeks who are amenable to its policies. He suggests that allotment was never meant to preserve the Creeks' land base but to allocate land to those who would use it according to Euroamerican norms. Posey assigns Creeks like Hotgun and Wacache to the past by linking them, once again, to the ancient biblical story in which the earth was cleansed of nearly all life and a new era begun. Whereas Noah's life was spared, it seems that conditions in the Creek Nation (both political and meteorological) conspire to usher traditionalists out of the United States. Only those who cooperate with allotment, such as Fus Fixico and Charley Gibson, have a future in the United States. However, as I argued above, by including an ostensibly conservative Creek, namely Fus Fixico, in the category of saved Creeks, Posey concedes that at least some conservative Creeks are capable of change. Thus, his racialized schema of fitness for survival is not absolute.
      Although the letters only include brief mentions of Mexico as a fantasy-like safety valve for conservative Creeks who are unwilling to accept allotment and eventual statehood, Posey was more explicit about his views on emigration in the editorials he published in the Indian Journal toward the end of his life. Like the Fus Fixico letters, the Indian Journal showcased debates among Creeks and other members of the Five Tribes throughout the allotment and statehood processes. The possibility of emigration to Mexico was one common topic of debate.23 Posey's decision to change his position on emigration may have been motivated by a number of factors. As letter 12 suggests, the consequences for conservative Creeks who resisted change became increasingly dire under U.S. jurisdiction. Hotgun is imprisoned for his activities at Hickory Ground (participating in traditional ceremonies and attempting to sustain the Creeks' tradi-{23}tional form of government). In addition, due to a combination of what Posey saw as Chief Porter's inefficiency in delivering allotment deeds and the tendency of conservative full-bloods to purchase goods against the credit of their deeds, conservative Creeks often found themselves landless and without money.
      In "Future of the 'Snakes,'" an article Posey published in the Indian Journal on April 24, 1908 -- just over a month before his death -- Posey weighs in on the issue directly. He makes a strong case for the Snakes emigrating to Mexico based on the disparity between how full-bloods and mixed-bloods have fared under allotment and on his contention that the Snakes are incapable of surviving in the newly formed state of Oklahoma. At this late stage in Posey's career, his disillusionment with the execution of the allotment process and his increased regard for conservative Creeks (a consequence of the time he spent with them while enrolling them for allotments) are apparent. In the interest of offering a complete account of the various factors that led Posey to endorse emigration for the Snakes, I include the article in its entirety below. Although he only explicitly mentions Mexico once here, the article, when taken as a whole, sheds light on how Posey's ultimate endorsement of emigration dovetailed with his late view of racial politics in Oklahoma.


When the commission to the Five Civilized Tribes opened the Creek land office at Muskogee in April 1899, there was a rush to file by those citizens of the nation possessing the least Indian blood. These people secured the cream of the Creek Indian land. Later the full-bloods began slowly to file upon their allotments, but in almost every instance they could find nothing to file upon but second and third grade land. The best lands lying along the streams and adjacent to thriving towns had all been taken up. After it appeared that all who would file had done so, there was a numerous remnant of the Creek tribe which had absolutely refused to accept the situation and accept their part of the common domain in severalty. They were arbitrarily filed by the Dawes commission upon {24} lands in the western part of the nation, lying for the most part twenty-five to fifty miles from their cabins and sofky patches. These people have made homes principally along the South and North Canadian river bottoms. The lands on which they live have been allotted in many instances to others. It is only a question of a very short time until these people will be evicted from their homes and be compelled to make new ones on their allotments to which they are strangers. This will work great hardships upon these people. There are several hundred families of these Indians thus situated and they are the real Indians which the United States Government has made so much talk and bother about protecting. These people are totally unfitted to face the conditions that now surround them in Oklahoma. Those of their friends among the more intelligent and well informed Indians think that their affairs should be taken in hand by a commission under the auspices of the United States government, which commission could realize in Mexico a new and better home for them in exchange for their allotments and share of the tribal funds of the Creek nation.

Posey's understanding of the plight of the Snakes leads him, ultimately, to hold the U.S. government accountable for their future. He accuses the U.S. government of hypocrisy in its "talk" about protecting those he refers to as "real Indians" -- talk that is not supported by protective action. The shift in his view of allotment is evident here, as he describes allotment as another form of removal rather than as a means of securing Creek land claims, as he once thought it to be. Once again, American Indians are pushed off their lands by people who profess to have more valid land claims, and they are consequently forced to abandon their homes for inhospitable regions, far from family and friends. Posey's use of the racialized language of the period underscores his critique of the U.S. government. He points out that federal policy, ostensibly designed to protect American Indians, favors "those with the least Indian blood" -- a category that includes not only Creeks of mixed Creek and European ancestry, like himself, but also {25} whites who managed to secure allotments through intermarriage. Posey suggests that those with the strongest land claims, the "real Indians," are left with the worst land. However, as Posey implies, the reasons for this are not merely racial but also pertain to the political views generally associated with different racial groups within the Creek Nation. Whereas the mixed-bloods eagerly await allotment, many full-bloods, such as the Snakes, resist individual allotments of commonly held lands.
      "Future of the 'Snakes'" might lead us to expect that Posey would support measures that put special protections on lands belonging to full-bloods. However, his view that full-bloods were ill equipped to survive in the new state of Oklahoma led him to conclude that restrictions should be removed. He believed full-bloods would be free then to sell their lands in order to fund their removal to Mexico. Posey also maintained that the sale of Indian land was necessary for developing a tax base for state and local governments (Littlefield, Alex Posey 229).24

Some contextual information regarding Mexico and its relationship with the United States during this period might allow us to better evaluate Posey's ultimate endorsement of emigration for Creek traditionalists. In short, I agree with Littlefield's contention that the conception of Mexico as a haven from U.S. interference -- which was entertained throughout Indian Territory during the allotment era -- is best understood as a utopian fantasy (Littlefield, "Utopian Dreams"). During this period the United States sustained an aggressive colonialist policy toward Mexico, which caused the Mexican government much anxiety.25 The U.S. desire for Mexican land in the nineteenth century was followed by U.S. manipulations of the Mexican economy, labor force, and natural resources in the twentieth century -- all of which mitigated Mexico's independence and economic stability.
      Due to restrictions on full-bloods' allotments, few could afford to emigrate to Mexico during the allotment period.26 {26} Nevertheless, the broad consideration of and planning for the utilization of this escape route is suggestive of how dangerous a place Indian Territory -- and later Oklahoma -- had become for traditionalists of the Five Tribes. For Posey as well, as I argued above, reference to the plan functioned more as a rhetorical device for the development of political critique -- either of the full-bloods themselves or of the U.S. government for dealing so poorly with the more conservative members of the tribes. Thus the concept of Mexico as a safe haven largely remained theoretical. Many mixed-bloods alleged that the emigration plan was in fact a means of defrauding full-bloods of their land and money. And, of course, there was plenty of room for land fraud -- on the part of Mexican officials as well as Euroamericans and mixed-blood American Indians who participated in recruiting efforts -- in negotiating prices for Mexican lands and determining the value of allotments that would be sold in order to fund the move to Mexico.
      Significantly, while the border functioned as a marker of difference for certain members of the Five Tribes, even a cursory glance at the experiences of Indigenous peoples in Mexico during this period reveals that Indigenous peoples on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border suffered under strikingly similar colonial yokes. When Porfirio Díaz (1830-1915) became Mexico's president in 1876, he initiated radical changes in Mexican politics, government, and business with catastrophic consequences for Mexico's poor population -- predominantly Indigenous and mestizo. During his presidency (1876-1880, 1884-1911), he consolidated the federal government's power and undermined the autonomy of local villages by appointing politicians to local offices.27 In both countries the construction of railroads as part of a broader modernization project led to the appropriation of communally held Indigenous lands (Gonzales 10).28 Not only did Indigenous people on both sides of the border suffer similar oppressions, they also looked to the opposite side of the border for refuge. In the case of some Indigenous Mexicans, such as the Yaquis, forced {27} labor was one catalyst for emigration. Increased agricultural production in Mexico created demand for cheap labor (generally performed by Indians and mestizos) -- a circumstance that provided Díaz with what he saw as an answer to his own problems with tribes who resisted his policies. In the case of the Yaquis, forced labor was coupled with forced removal from their homelands in Sonora to plantations in Yucatán, leading a number of Yaquis, ironically (in the context of our broader discussion), to flee to the United States.29

While it is beyond the scope of my discussion to offer a more detailed and complete account of Porfirio Díaz's Indian policies, it should be clear that Mexico was by no means an idyllic refuge for Indigenous people hoping to move beyond the reach of a paternalistic government. Nor was it a place where Indian lands were safe from co-optation by government-sponsored corporations. Conservative Creeks who considered emigrating to Mexico did so with the hope of securing the land base necessary to maintain their cultural, political, and economic sovereignty. Yet these are precisely the things that Indians in Mexico lacked at this time and that many of them joined revolutionary movements that arose in Mexico between 1910 and 1940 in order to reclaim. Given Díaz's consolidation of government power, it should come as no surprise that, at least in one instance, a Mexican federal official disabused potential American Indian emigrants of the idea that they would be able to carry on their traditional governments free of federal interference. In 1897, Mexican Minister Don Matias Romero stated that, if American Indians emigrated, they would be subject to the laws of the Mexican states in which they lived (Littlefield, "Utopian Dreams" 412).
      Although financial constraints and lack of cooperation from the U.S. and Mexican governments largely prevented the emigration plans of members of the Five Tribes from becoming realities, the seriousness with which these plans were contemplated and pursued is itself worthy of our attention. Despite the chasm between Posey's political ideology and that of the {28} Creek traditionalists, he nonetheless appreciated that the mere consideration of emigration said something serious about the position of Creek full-bloods in the Creek Nation and the nascent state of Oklahoma. At turns, he interpreted emigration plans as evidence of the full-bloods' resistance to change and of the U.S. government's failure to protect those whom he viewed as the most Indian of the Indians. I would add that the potency and persistence of the conception of Mexico as a safety valve among members of the Five Tribes, from the removal era to the 1920s, says something about the importance of Indigenous transnationalism and anti-colonial resistance.
      Five Tribes traditionalists, in their consideration of emigration, made plain their commitment to maintaining culturally distinct tribal communities organized according to traditional values and social structures. This commitment trumped any association with the United States, and tribal nationalism superseded affiliation with the colonial nation demarcated at its southern extremity by the U.S.-Mexico border. Members of the Creek Nation relied on the most ancient means of ensuring the safety of their people and their survival as a people: migration. It is even possible that a move to Mexico would have been a return to their origins as a people, as Mexico (in addition to the Red River and the Rocky Mountains) has been suggested as the origin point of the Muscogee-speaking bands of the Creek Nation (Grantham 19). In any case, such disregard for one of the foundations of the colonial project -- the construction of colonial nation-states defined through the imposition of borders across tribal lands -- speaks to the strength of the Creeks' insistence on the very tribal systems colonialists have attempted to stamp out for hundreds of years through extermination and assimilation.


Although, as I suggested above, proponents of emigration seem to have subscribed erroneously to the logic of the border (as evidenced by their belief that it signified inherent difference between {29} the nations on each side), their willingness to follow the lead of their ancestors in migrating long distances for cultural survival must be understood as a significant anti-colonial disposition -- and as part of what Emma Pérez terms the "decolonial imaginary" (5-8). In her study of Chicana/o history, Pérez suggests that the agency of the Chicana/o people -- and an important part of their resistance -- can be located in the silences and spaces of dominant colonial discourses that have been codified as "knowledge." Likewise, at a time when the U.S. government prescribed two options for American Indians (assimilation or extinction), members of the Five Tribes carved out other avenues for survival. By publishing editorials and fictionalized debates about the various avenues under consideration in the Creek Nation (and in Indian Territory more generally), not only did Alexander Posey propel and help to create a decolonial discursive space in his own lifetime, but he also gives today's readers access to areas of Creek history that have been silenced in dominant Euroamerican histories -- areas that are crucial to a more complete understanding of the Creeks' fidelity to their own sovereignty, particularly at a time when the U.S. government attempted to retract it.


Permission for the reproduction of Alexander Posey's "Future of the 'Snakes'" was obtained from the Research Division of the Oklahoma Historical Society.
      1. The Dawes Commission carried out the separation of communally held tribal lands into individually owned allotments. Posey's work for the Dawes Commission entailed traveling throughout the Creek Nation in order to enter Creeks into the tribal rolls, thereby making them eligible for allotments. Many members of the Creek Nation, particularly those with more traditional political views, resented Posey's work for the Dawes Commission and viewed his real-estate speculation as a deep betrayal. For example, Chitto Harjo ("Crazy Snake"), leader of the conservative Creek faction, the Snakes, is said to have called Posey a traitor and accused Posey of having "seduced him with the Creek tongue of his mother and betrayed him with the lying tongue of his white father" in order to sway him to cooperate with the Dawes Commission (Littlefield, Alex Posey 203).
      2. See Hendrix and Littlefield ("Utopian Dreams") for more extended discussion of the Kee-too-wahs' emigration plans during the allotment era and prior.
      3. The 1887 Dawes Act, the first piece of legislation to mandate the allotment of Indian lands, initially did not apply to the Creeks or the rest of the Five Tribes (see note 10) due to their successful resistance to the legislation and the popular view that these tribes were more civilized than other American Indians (therefore making the assimilative aims of the Dawes Act less necessary for these tribes). However, this exemption ended with the passage of the Curtis Act in 1898. Oklahoma became a state on November 16, 1907.
      4. In his scholarship on Posey, Womack has consistently argued against the use of hybridity theory, biculturalism, or what he terms "torn between two worlds" approaches. Instead, he asserts that Posey "was very solidly in the midst of Creek culture in all its complexity" and that Posey's use of European and Euroamerican literary references and his donning of a suit do not signify cultural confusion (Red on Red 137, 141).
      5. As Womack suggests, "Posey's supposed endorsement of progress may have been a simple recognition that Native people could and would move into the future, that is, a rejection of the vanishing notion" (Red on Red 143).
      6. According to Kent Carter, the "amount of land in the 'Indian estate' fell from 138 million acres in 1887 to 52 million in 1934. . . . By 1928 only approximately twelve thousand members of the Five Civilized Tribes were still protected by restrictions, and they owned just 1,727,702 acres" (226).
      7. For a discussion of how Posey's persona developed and the roles that the different characters in the Fus Fixico letters played over time, see Littlefield, "Evolution of Alex Posey's Fus Fixico Persona." See also Womack's "Alexander Posey's Nature Journals" for consideration of the implications of Posey's use of Creek-English dialect for his Creek readership.
      8. For a more detailed account of the politics of race in turn of the twentieth-century Indian Territory, see Zissu.
      9. For an extended discussion of the implications of restrictions on full-bloods' allotments, particularly the ways in which this policy opened the door to full-bloods being defrauded of their land and money, see Thorne.
      10. The Creek, Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Seminole tribes came to be known as the Five Civilized Tribes because of their adoption of Euroamerican style dress, housing, government, and education. I follow the lead of other contemporary scholars in using the less offensive term, "The Five Tribes."
      11. See Letters (101) for Littlefield's discussion of the statehood process and related debates in Indian Territory.
      12. Womack outlines the many similarities between the Fus Fixico letters and the Creek oral tradition. These similarities include the use of understatement as a comic device, punning, a story's denouement centering on a pun, references to races in which the underdog wins, and frequent mentions of features of the local landscape. Posey appropriates common themes found in Creek stories and adapts them to respond to contemporary challenges the Creeks faced. See Red on Red (157-66).
      13. The emphasis Euroamericans placed on appearance as a signifier of civilization among American Indians is most famously exemplified by Indian boarding schools (such as the Carlisle Indian school) displaying before and after pictures of students. The schools illustrated their success by juxtaposing before shots of students in traditional Indian dress with after shots of students in Euroamerican style dresses and suits.
      14. Pearce chronicles this ideology and how it has wavered throughout U.S. history depending on popular views of whether or not American Indians were capable of assimilation to Euroamerican culture. For example, with respect to English settlers of the late seventeenth century, he argues, "Their faith was simple. If English missionaries could go to the Indians, first organize their living into some civil pattern, and then teach them the Word, they might pull them from the embrace of Satan. An ordered civil life was the basic condition of a holy life; civilization was properly a means to holiness" (29).
      15. See chapter 3 of Deloria's Playing Indian for a detailed discussion of popular perceptions of American Indians during this period.
      16. In the Indian Journal, January 9, 1903, for example, Posey wrote, "The Indian that falls in line with progressive movements and manifests a cooperative disposition will not fail of recognition in the councils of his white brethren. But the pull-back Indian, as well as the unregenerate white man, will not survive the sentiments and traditions which have been outgrown" (qtd. in Littlefield, Alex Posey 141).
      17. For a detailed discussion of the Five Tribes' removal from their southeastern homelands and the various ideologies that propelled it, see Grant Foreman's Indian Removal.
      18. For an excellent discussion of the naturalization and logic of the border, see chapter 2 of Mary Pat Brady's Extinct Lands, Temporal Geographies.
      19. Posey and Gibson regularly referenced each other in their articles, a dialogue that dramatized the political debates taking place in Indian Territory at the time.
      20. The Creeks traditionally supported themselves largely by hunting,
{32} but they were forced to rely more on farming when their hunting grounds were reduced by Euroamerican settlement and the animal population was consequently depleted.
      21. See Red on Red (39-40) for Womack's discussion of the 1936 Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act.
      22. I use the phrase "anachronistic space" as Anne McClintock defines it in Imperial Leather (40). She argues that one of the assumptions that drove and justified the nineteenth-century British colonial enterprise was the characterization of the colonized subject as existing at an early stage in human history.
      23. In "Utopian Dreams of the Cherokee Fullbloods: 1890-1934," Little-field outlines various plans for emigration to Mexico that developed among members of the Five Tribes. Although Littlefield focuses on the Cherokees in his article, he describes the debates that occurred about this topic in Indian Territory as a whole and discusses emigration plans that included members of various tribes, including the Creeks. While many full-bloods viewed Mexico as a safe haven from U.S. interference, Littlefield suggests that this image of Mexico was little more than a fantasy.
      24. It was this latter view that led him to engage in the activity that has most stained his reputation: working for the International Land Company, which speculated in the sale of Indian allotments.
      25. According to Rosaura Sánchez and Beatrice Pita, critics of Chicano and Chicana literature, the threat of the United States annexing additional regions in Mexico persisted beyond the Mexican-American War (1846- 1848) through the end of the nineteenth century: "In particular, the United States was eyeing the Northern Mexican states and trying to get access to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, which President Franklin Pierce also wanted to purchase for building a railroad across the isthmus. But the United States also had its eye on Baja California. And incursions across the border were frequent, from California to Brownsville Texas" (108).
      26. The fate of the Creeks who moved to Mexico is a subject that merits further inquiry and research. Although there is an absence of scholarship on the experiences of Creeks who moved to Mexico during and after the allotment era (due to the fact that relatively few Creeks emigrated during this period), slightly more is known about Creek emigration to Mexico during the removal era. During this time, some Creeks went to live with the Alabama-Coushetta Indians in Texas (then Mexico), but most later moved to Indian Territory. Far more is known about the Seminoles' experiences with emigration to Mexico during the removal era; the Seminoles
{33} were a former faction of the Creek Nation, whom some Creeks joined in fleeing their Southeast homelands. During the 1830s, a group of Seminoles moved to Texas; later they relocated to the Mexican state of Coahuila when the United States annexed Texas. By 1861, with the exception of Seminole freedmen, Seminoles in Mexico returned to the United States and settled in Indian Territory. They left Mexico to avoid entanglements with civil wars underway there and because of their difficulties in producing enough food for subsistence. When the movement for Oklahoma statehood began, they tried to reclaim their land grant in Coahuila but without success. For more information about the Seminoles' quest for a new homeland, see Kevin Mulroy's Freedom on the Border.

27. In his history of the Mexican Revolution (1910-1940), Michael J. Gonzales describes village politics prior to Díaz's regime. He writes:

For most Mexicans, political life rarely went beyond the confines of their home village. Mexico had a long tradition of local political autonomy, in some areas predating the Spanish conquest, that permitted villagers to control certain basic judicial, administrative, and legislative aspects of their daily lives. Villagers prized this independence. Selection of village leaders had democratic trappings, although those selected invariably possessed greater wealth and status within the community. Effective local leadership helped villagers protect land and water rights, contest questionable taxes, and generally survive the uncertainties of a premodern agricultural economy. (13)

This network of semi-autonomous villages invites comparisons with the Creeks' traditional sociopolitical system. Prior to consolidating their government, in order to face the challenges engendered by Euroamerican colonization, the Creek Nation was composed of a number of loosely affiliated towns. Given the ostensive similarities between traditional Mexican and Creek systems -- both of which predated European colonization -- one can imagine how Mexico might have seemed like an inviting place for conservative Creeks. Creeks who emigrated to Mexico during the removal era, prior to Díaz's presidency, may have taken advantage of the relative autonomy of Mexican villages in order to maintain their traditional way of life. However, it is highly unlikely that Creeks who emigrated during the allotment era would have been able to establish an autonomous nation within Mexico.
      28. During Díaz's presidency, lower-class Mexicans lost not only their political power but also much of their land base. In his efforts to expand Mexico's business sector, attract foreign investors, and develop international trade networks, Díaz initiated a massive consolidation of Mexican {34} land. Under Díaz's supervision, public lands were transferred to private owners -- including U.S. corporations -- and used for commercial agriculture and railroad lines. According to Gonzales, between 1878 and 1908, nearly 45 million hectares of public land -- previously available to peasants for grazing and farming -- became private property (Gonzales 29). By eliminating much of Mexico's public lands, Díaz undermined provisions made by the Spanish Crown in the sixteenth century aimed at protecting dwindling Indigenous populations -- which the Spanish relied on for manual labor -- by establishing autonomous Indian villages with communal property rights and local governments. These villages were granted the protection of church and state. In addition to eroding the political autonomy of Mexican Indians (and Mexican villagers in general), the loss of public land posed a serious economic threat to Mexico's lower classes.
      29. Between 1907 and 1910, Díaz deported 16,000 Yaquis from Sonora (in northern Mexico) to the Yucatán (in southern Mexico) to serve as forced laborers. Most of these Yaqui workers died within a year of their deployment due to grueling labor in Yucatán's tropical climate. The Mayans in the highlands of Chiapas were among those who consented to this low-paying, arduous work out of sheer economic necessity.


Brady, Mary Pat. Extinct Lands, Temporal Geographies: Chicana Literature and the Urgency of Space. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2002. Print.

Carter, Kent. The Dawes Commission and the Allotment of the Five Civilized Tribes, 1893-1914. Orem, UT: Ancestry Incorporated, 1999. Print.

Debo, Angie. The Road to Disappearance. Norman: U of Oklahoma P, 1941. Print.

Deloria, Philip J. Playing Indian. New Haven: Yale UP, 1998. Print.

Foreman, Grant: Indian Removal: The Emigration of the Five Civilized Tribes of Indians. Norman: U of Oklahoma P, 1972. Print.

Gonzales, Michael J. The Mexican Revolution, 1910-1940. Albuquerque: U of New Mexico P, 2002. Print.

Grantham, Bill. Creation Myths and Legends of the Creek Indians. Gainesville: U of Florida P, 2002. Print.

Hendrix, Janey B. "Redbird Smith and the Nighthawk Keetoowahs." Journal of Cherokee Studies 2 (Fall 1983): 73-85. Print.

Littlefield, Daniel F. Alex Posey: Creek Poet, Journalist, and Humorist. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1992. Print.

------ . "Evolution of Alex Posey's Fus Fixico Persona." Studies in American Indian Literatures 4 (Summer-Fall 1992): 136-44. Print.

------ . "Utopian Dreams of the Cherokee Fullbloods: 1890-1934." Journal of the West 10.3 (July 1971): 404-27. Print.

McClintock, Anne. Imperial Leather: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest. New York: Routledge, 1995. Print.

Mulroy, Kevin. Freedom on the Border: The Seminole Maroons in Florida, the Indian Territory, Coahuilla, and Texas. Lubbock: Texas Tech UP, 1993. Print.

Oliver, Louis. Chasers of the Sun. New York: The Greenfield Review Press, 1990. Print.

Pearce, Roy Harvey. Savagism and Civilization: A Study of the Indian and the American Mind. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins UP, 1953. Print.

Pérez, Emma. The Decolonial Imaginary: Writing Chicanas into History (Theories of Representation and Difference). Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1999. Print.

Posey, Alexander. The Fus Fixico Letters. Ed. Daniel F. Littlefield Jr. and Carol

A. Petty Hunter. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1993. Print.

------ . "Future of the 'Snakes.'" Indian Journal. April 24, 1908: 1. Oklahoma Historical Society, Research Division. Print. Rosaldo, Renato. "Imperialist Nostalgia." Representations 26 (Spring 1989): 107-22. Print.

Sanchez, Rosaura, and Beatrice Pita, eds. Conflicts of Interest: The Letters of María Amparo Ruiz de Burton. Houston: Arte Público Press, 2001. Print.

Thorne, Tanis C. The World's Richest Indian: The Scandal over Jackson Barnett's Oil Fortune. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2003. Print.

Weaver, Jace, Craig S. Womack, and Robert Warrior. American Indian Literary Nationalism. Albuquerque: U of New Mexico P, 2006. Print.

Womack, Craig S. "Alexander Posey's Nature Journals: A Further Argument for Tribally-Specific Aesthetics." Studies in American Indian Literatures 13 (2001): 49-66. Print.

------ . Red on Red: Native American Literary Separatism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999. Print.

Zissu, Eric M. Blood Matters: The Five Civilized Tribes and the Search for Unity in the Twentieth Century. New York: Routledge, 2001. Print.


"A Limited Range of Motion?"

Multiculturalism, "Human Questions," and Urban Indian
Identity in Sherman Alexie's Ten Little Indians


Despite the fact that more than two-thirds of American Indians live in urban areas, many readers and scholars of American Indian literature continue to associate Indigenous peoples with natural environments rather than urban ones.1 In the minds of many non-Native Americans, Indians still wear headdresses, live in tipis, paddle canoes, and live in perfect harmony with plants and animals in a prehistoric pastoral world. Such stereotypes are problematic not just because they romanticize, generalize, and eulogize Indians; these myths also fail to represent contemporary demographics and effectively ignore the real lives and concerns of the majority of today's American Indian population. As historian Donald Fixico explains in The Urban Indian Experience in America, the relocation years of the 1950s and 1960s saw "as many as one hundred thousand" Indian citizens make their homes in the city, and several generations have "survived" urban life since then (4, 27). In spite of "a long road of overcoming socioeconomic obstacles, cultural adjustments, and psychological struggles," many urban Indians now hold professional careers and are established members of the American middle class (7). Accordingly, Fixico notes, the image of the victimized and "downtrodden" urban Indian -- unable to fit in due to insufficient training or skills or a lack of education, and either homeless or living in dilapidated housing -- has become less and less representative (26-27).2
      Highlighting literary texts written by Native authors that reflect the multifaceted dimensions of urban Indian life is one way to begin {37} combating lingering stereotypes and complicating notions of contemporary Indian identity in productive ways. As Paula Gunn Allen has noted, "images of Native people [have] come increasingly under the control of Native writers" over the course of the twentieth century (4). Among recently published texts by what Allen calls "third wave" American Indian authors, Sherman Alexie's Ten Little Indians (2003) stands out as worthy of special attention. With a cast of characters that are endearing, fallible, sincere, loveable, and of course, funny, this collection of stories depicts life as an Indian in the city of Seattle, a place of blurry cultural boundaries where one can eat at restaurants like "Good Food, a postcolonial wonder house that serve[s] Japanese teriyaki, Polish sausage sandwiches, Italian American pizza, and Mexican and Creole rice and beans" (69). Throughout this set of stories, Alexie implicitly theorizes the ways in which Spokane and other Indian identities are negotiated in this multicultural city.
      I deliberately use this descriptor in reference to Seattle so as to draw attention to the ways in which even a relatively progressive city replicates some of the problems associated with multiculturalism. In his cogent critique, Vijay Prashad charges multiculturalism with reifying notions of cultural and racial purity and authenticity, reinforcing hegemonic power dynamics and precluding truthful discussions about historic and present-day injustices. The idea that "people come in cultural boxes that are hermetically sealed, that their culture is a thing that is immutable and pure," exacerbates these problems ("Interview"). Prashad claims that we are in the midst of a two-way struggle between a "top-down" multiculturalism and a more promising polyculturalism -- a way of understanding identity that works "from the bottom up" to debunk the myth of authenticity and form alliances across lines of perceived racial difference ("Interview"). Specifically, Prashad defines polyculturalism as "a provisional concept grounded in antiracism rather than in diversity" -- a concept that, "unlike multiculturalism, assumes that people live coherent lives that are made up of a host of lineages" (Everybody xi-xii).3
      Seen through this framework, Ten Little Indians might be described as a text that illuminates the problems with multicultural-{38}ism while simultaneously imagining a polycultural world. The Alexie who, ten years earlier, wrote that "sharing dark skin doesn't necessarily make two men brothers" seems to have evolved into an author with considerable hope for human compassion that crosses racial, ethnic, tribal, geographic, and socioeconomic boundaries (The Lone Ranger 178). Alexie's Seattle, with its incessant motion, fleeting interactions, and excessive individualism, can be alienating and cold; it can render its inhabitants invisible or subject them to merciless stereotypes. More often, though, the city is a space in which empathetic boundary crossing and community building take place. Full of compelling characters who "have loved and failed each other," these stories suggest that looking for compassion in urban spaces can be a daunting, but surprisingly rewarding, process (Ten 149).
      With its relative optimism, Ten Little Indians not only participates in a geographical shift in Alexie's literary career -- away from reservation life and into the urban sphere -- but also marks an ideological shift, a turning point in Alexie's own beliefs concerning tribalism. These stories celebrate what Fixico identifies as an emergent worldview in which urban Indians have come "to view themselves more as 'Indians' and less as 'tribalists'" (Urban Indian 3). Alexie has described a similar shift in his own worldview following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, which he has called "the end game of tribalism" (Williams). He has since rethought his own "fundamentalism" and has consequently moved away from dealing strictly with tribal issues.4
      Scholars and critics have noted this shift as well. In her preface to an interview with Alexie published in MELUS in 2005, Åse Nygren notes that in Alexie's later writing (including Ten Little Indians) the reservation is transformed from "a geographical space of borders and confinement" to "a mental and emotional territory." At the same time, his texts have changed in emphasis "from angry protests to evocations of love and empathy" (150-51). David L. Moore makes a similar point in the recent Cambridge Companion to Native American Literature when he suggests that Alexie's characters are "looking for islands of human connection," and they often find them (304). Joseph Coulombe credits Alexie's use of humor with {39} enabling "all readers -- Indian and non-Indian -- to recognize the possibility of [a] common space, to understand and appreciate their shared humanity" (110). Extending these conversations, I would like to suggest that in Ten Little Indians it is not only humor but also the city of Seattle that provides a common space for shared humanity to materialize.
      What I wish to explore further is how Alexie's turn to urban space corresponds to his move toward "love and empathy." Is it merely a matter of being off the reservation that frees Alexie to make this move? Is there something about the city that encourages an acknowledgment of our shared humanity? This essay analyzes several of the stories in Ten Little Indians in order to consider how urban space shapes contemporary Indian life and how Indians, in return, construct their own personal and cultural identities within the city environment. Specifically, Alexie's text reveals how Seattle's multiculturalism obscures and even perpetuates social injustice. Homelessness, alcoholism, and poverty continue to be problems for urban Indian populations; gentrified neighborhoods (which are often anything but diverse) displace the poor and the homeless; and racism continues to determine how people are able to occupy urban space. Even as Alexie combats any automatic acceptance of a romanticized multicultural community in Seattle, though, he also provides models for building polycultural alliances that offer hope for justice through generosity, empathy, community, and a recognition of our shared humanity.
      Critics of Alexie -- including other American Indians -- have condemned his work for failing to represent healthy communities and for perpetuating damaging stereotypes about Indian life. Louis Owens has argued that Alexie "shows Indian communities in dysfunctional disarray, fragmented and turned inward in a frenzy of alcoholism and mutual self-destruction -- whether the community be Pine Ridge or a Spokane reservation -- [that] is both entertaining and comfortable to the non-Native reader" (76). Owens also references Gloria Bird's well-known critique of Alexie's Reservation Blues for "omit[ting] the core of native community" (75). These accusations, which were made of Alexie's earlier writing but continue to {40} inform scholarly conversations, focus largely on reservation life and do little to help theorize the urban experiences of Indians.5 My reading of Ten Little Indians reevaluates these critiques in light of the ways in which communities are created in Seattle, even as individual Indians struggle to negotiate complex identity categories in a sometimes hostile, sometimes welcoming environment.
      Whether and how the city might be considered home by Indigenous peoples continues to be problematic given the unique "stresses of Westernized urbanization" (Miller 35). In her brief discussion of Ten Little Indians, Ewelina Banka reminds us that while many urban Indians feel they "can make, or have made a home in the city," others continue to "feel insecure and unwelcome, even though at home" (38). She also makes the point that Indians perceive and experience the city differently depending on their economic and social status, and she proposes that the "novel theme" in Alexie's recent work is "the city as a space separating Indian people depending on their social position" (37). Alexie does create a range of Indian characters in various socioeconomic situations; some are homeless, some are decidedly middle class, some claim to have become downwardly mobile. While Banka's point is an important one, I would like to suggest that the stories also trace how these diverse characters bridge their differences and develop new communities in spite of them. The city can be a space of separation, but it is also, maybe even primarily, a space of connection.

Alexie opens the collection with a vision quest of sorts in the story "The Search Engine," an instructional tale that teaches readers how to approach the rest of the book by setting up key issues for us to track. In this ironic bootstraps story, Corliss Joseph is introduced as a "rugged individual," a "poor kid, and a middle-class Indian" from the Spokane Indian Reservation who creates "an original aboriginal life" by studying poetry at Washington State University (5). Complicating his own American Dream rhetoric, Alexie goes on to describe Corliss as "a resourceful thief, a narcissistic Robin Hood who stole a rich education from white people and kept it," reminding readers that Indians still struggle for compensation after centu-{41}ries of oppression and violence and suggesting that Indians must do whatever it takes to succeed in the ongoing colonial situation within the contemporary United States (5).
      Ethnic identity is, from this early story, subject to many variables -- Corliss can be simultaneously a "poor kid" and a "middleclass Indian" -- and is immediately cast as something contingent, impure, and negotiable. A bright student and a savvy young woman, Corliss learns how to "benefit from positive ethnic stereotypes and not feel any guilt about it" (11). Perhaps in part because of this ability to use an awareness of stereotypes to her advantage, she exhibits confusion about her identity, particularly her relationship to her tribe. When she discovers a book of poems by Spokane Indian Harlan Atwater at her school's library (aptly titled In The Reservation of My Mind), she embarks on a modern-day vision quest to find Atwater and, hopefully, some resolution. Alexie describes her quest as follows:

Long ago, as part of the passage into adulthood, young Indians used to wander into the wilderness in search of a vision, in search of meaning and definition. Who am I? Who am I supposed to be? Ancient questions answered by ancient ceremonies. Maybe Corliss couldn't climb a mountain and starve herself into self-revealing hallucinations. Maybe she'd never find her spirit animal, her ethereal guide through the material world. Maybe she was only a confused indigenous woman negotiating her way through a colonial maze, but she was one Indian who had good credit and knew how to use her Visa card. (27)

Though the means for undertaking this kind of quest may have changed, the search for identity -- her own identity as an individual, her tribal identity as a Spokane Indian, and even a collective, human identity -- is still at its core. Dispelling stereotypes about mystic journeys in pristine natural environments, Corliss's quest is updated to speak to contemporary Indians' experiences. Her journey begins with an Internet search engine, her "wilderness" is a city, and her travels are propelled by the "good credit" required for mobility in a capitalist economy.
      Rather than climbing a mountain, Corliss boards a Greyhound and finds herself in downtown Seattle, "star[ing] up at the skyscrapers" (27).6 She is struck not only by the sheer size of these monumental buildings but also by what these architectural guardians of the city signify to her about urban space: it is "exciting and dangerous," a place where "great things" can happen, where "superheroes" like Jimi Hendrix and Bruce Lee haunt the alleys. As she walks the streets thinking of Homer's Odyssey and "marvel[ing] at the architecture, at the depth and breadth and width of the city," the sight of a homeless man who is begging for change catches her attention (28). She feels a connection with him because of her own "approximate" homelessness, and she stops to ask him for directions (29).
      As an Indigenous person, "displaced by colonial rule," Corliss is both always and never at home in the United States (29). Although she feels a bit out of place in the city at first, Corliss brings with her a particular definition of the urban, which informs her encounters there. Carol Miller, citing William Bevis, suggests that the non-Native idea of the "urban," which describes a "dense complex of human variety" and a confluence of "complex, unpredictable and various relationships," is closer to what Native peoples understand by "natural" (Miller 34). In other words, since "human and natural worlds are united rather than divided" in the epistemologies of most Indigenous people, the urban-natural distinction does not apply -- indeed, it might seem "pathological." Where non-Native cultures see a divide, Native peoples find instead an "exemplary idea of indigenous urbanness grounded in the matrices of communality, tradition, and homeland" (Miller 33-35). Even though the transference of this idea into urban space is complicated by "a materialist environment of sustained racism, poverty, and cultural denigration," Corliss "reassert[s] a particularly Native American idea of urbanness that expresses positive change and cultural vitality" through forming communities (Miller 36, 30).
      This idea of urbanness plays out in the interactions between Corliss and the homeless man. As she befriends him and buys him a meal at a nearby McDonald's, Alexie introduces us to the thematic threads of community building and shared humanity that weave through all {43} of these stories. Of course, Alexie's inversion of the hegemonic white-Indigenous relationship here is important to note; he puts Corliss, a young Indian woman, in a position to assist a white man, thus revising any paternalism in white-Indian relations and reinserting Indians as more "at home" in the United States than whites. But charity is out of the question in any case since the two agree that Corliss will buy lunch "out of the goodness of [her] heart" and the man will give her directions for the same reason (29). As they share lunch -- which the man deems a "safe and sane human interaction" -- the nameless homeless man thanks her for her "acknowledgement of [his] humanity" and permits Corliss to ask him "a human question" as opposed to a "personal" one (30). She inquires about how he became homeless, hears his tale, and thinks "he might be lying to her about everything" (31-32). Whether he is telling the truth or not, readers are struck along with Corliss by the insistent language of humanity he speaks and the rules of humanity he embraces, which he defines primarily by the need for respect (30-31).
      In forming this "unpredictable" relationship, Corliss transforms the vast, alien city into a home of sorts, in which encountering difference provokes compassionate human connections. When Corliss finally meets Harlan Atwater, their encounter is framed by her conversation with the homeless man. Atwater, it turns out, is not "an indigenous version of Harrison Ford," as Corliss had hoped (33). Rather, he is a Spokane Indian who was raised by a white couple in Seattle and admits to "faking" an Indian identity to achieve success as a poet. As with the homeless man, Corliss has trouble separating Atwater's "truth from his lies and his exaggerations from his omissions" (52). And after hearing him out, she concludes: "I don't have any idea how you feel" (52). Her observation is not a hopeless one but rather a human one; that is, it acknowledges Atwater's complex emotions and their common struggle to determine their identities. Corliss concedes that while she may know her tribe, her clan, and both her "public" and "secret" Indian names, "everything else she knew about Indians was ambiguous and transitory" (52). When she asks Atwater for his "real name," then, it is appropriate that he answers her only with a smile. Having embarked on a search {44} for authenticity and found instead that identity grows out of "a host of lineages," Corliss returns to school fulfilled (Prashad xi).
      The vastness of the city allows space for such a conception of identity to thrive. Seattle is a place where people can carve out unique identities or simply disappear and elude the pressures of being "a certain kind of Indian" (42). Atwater may not have "disappeared into the wilds" in a conventional sense, but the city's wildness has enabled him to "stay . . . in one place and slowly become invisible" and thus achieve his desire for anonymity (32). What Corliss discovers in the rich social space of Seattle is that Indians "continually negotiate between their Indian identity, their 'American' identity (whatever that is), and other identities based on, for example, sexuality, class, and generation" (Nygren 166). In this sense, Alexie's urban Indian identity is like all identity: performative, cobbled together from a web of lineages, and at once self-generated and constructed by and within fraught social forces. Because of the way identity becomes increasingly blurry as diverse people come into contact in urban space, cross-cultural empathy is given more space to emerge and thrive. Corliss's journey frames the rest of the collection with this insight and posits compassion and respect as better bases for polycultural human connections than a reliance on truthful personal narratives or strictly defined identity categories.

Later stories continue to theorize how to negotiate Indian identity in urban space and how to form communities when the notion of an authentic identity is moot. In "What You Pawn I Will Redeem," readers meet a homeless Indian named Jackson Jackson. He refuses to tell us the details of how he became homeless, but he does not spare us the insight that "homeless Indians are everywhere in Seattle" -- even if most people "walk right on by [them,] with maybe a look of anger or disgust or even sadness at the terrible fate of the noble savage" (170). This comment brings with it an implicit antiracist agenda that challenges readers to open their eyes to the historical roots and racial dimensions of ongoing injustices like homelessness and poverty. Alexie continues to explore the ways in which ethnic identity and geography are intertwined in this and other stories.
      Alexie reinforces the determined presence of urban Indians with a nod to Simon Ortiz's story, "The San Francisco Indians," reminding us again, later in the story, that "Indians are everywhere" (193). Despite their numbers, however, these Indians' identities are unstable, blurry, even fabricated. Jackson Jackson knows exactly who he is and where he comes from, but he chooses not to tell readers and instead describes himself as perpetually "disappearing" (170). Rather than play into the all-too-familiar American myth of the disappearing Indian, though, Jackson Jackson's story suggests that a loosely formulated concept of Indianness and a shift away from tribalism enable pan-Indian and polycultural communities to form. When Jackson Jackson tries to pinpoint a fellow homeless Indian's identity, this "Plains Indian hobo" responds with a poignant question that resonates in this story and throughout the collection: "Do any of us know exactly what we are?" (170).
      Indeed, the question of what we are depends greatly on where we are. This fluid conception of identity is well suited to its urban setting. In Alexie's Seattle, Indians decide what they are according to how they occupy the city -- the neighborhoods they live in, the places they spend time, the jobs they hold -- and how they interact with its inhabitants. The city itself is a dynamic space, which provides unique opportunities for communities to form. As anthropologist Susan Lobo explains, "An urban Indian community is not situated in an immutable, bounded territory as a reservation is, but rather exists within a fluidly defined region with niches of resources and boundaries that respond to needs and activities, perhaps reflecting a reality closer to that of Native homelands prior to the imposition of reservation borders" (76). While not all Indians can decide "what they are" with equal agency, a "fluidly defined" community can emerge to combat alienation and provide emotional and material support. Lobo notes that since urban Indians are free from some of the government bureaucracy and formalized documentation that track reservation life -- which creates a situation where "every moment of an Indian's life is put down in triplicate on government forms, collated, and filed" (Alexie, Ten 20) -- they can achieve a greater measure of self-determination, especially in terms of forming pan-Indian com-{46}munities (Lobo 81). Of course, this lack of surveillance has a potential downside: invisibility can mean neglect at the national level, in the form of government support for Indian populations, and avoidance at the individual level, in the ways Alexie illustrates.
      Exploring the tension between individual self-determination and systemic oppression, Jackson Jackson's story contains community formation and empathy, as well as community dissipation and invisibility. Jackson Jackson is on a quest to raise one thousand dollars in twenty-four hours -- enough money to buy back his grandmother's regalia, which he discovers in a pawnshop. He maps his journey in terms of time and space, keeping track of the hours as he wanders the streets of Seattle looking for opportunities to raise the cash. His joy in impromptu communities and his generous heart make it difficult for him to keep money in his pocket. During this daylong quest, Jackson Jackson buys a round of drinks for everyone at an "all-Indian bar" downtown, bonds with a white policeman who picks him up (drunk) from the railroad tracks and gives him twenty dollars, buys breakfast for three homeless Aleut Indians, and tells a Korean store clerk that she is "family" as he shares his lottery winnings with her (181). He returns to the pawn shop (which, in its own shifty, urban way, is "located in a space [he] swore it hadn't been filling up a few minutes before") with five dollars -- the same amount he started with (193).
      Since Jackson Jackson does not have the "good credit" that Corliss, an educated, middle-class Indian, has, he must rely on networks of good people instead. That he finds these good people -- the sympathetic police officer, the friendly store clerk, and ultimately, the generous pawnshop owner -- indicates that urban space is not entirely conditioned by capitalism. Rather, pockets of community that operate according to different, "human," rules persist. When the pawnshop owner sells him the regalia for five dollars instead of a thousand, it is hard not to share Jackson Jackson's joy and optimism, as he remarks: "Do you know how many good men live in this world? Too many to count!" (194). Following this declaration, he immediately goes outside, where he performs a ceremony for the city to witness: "Outside, I wrapped myself in my grandmother's {47} regalia and breathed her in. I stepped off the sidewalk and into the intersection. Pedestrians stopped. Cars stopped. The city stopped. They all watched me dance with my grandmother. I was my grandmother, dancing" (194). Here, the city provides a tolerant setting for identity to quite literally be performed. Although Indian identity, like the urban setting that envelopes it, is constantly in flux, in this case the city's movement has to cease in order for the performance to be seen. These moments, when the city stops long enough for people to be confronted with difference, allow for compassion, beauty, and community building to occur. That Jackson Jackson forms connections with white men, a Korean woman, and a slew of Indians from various tribes suggests the polyculturalism that Prashad envisions, which eschews multiculturalism in favor of real acts of alliance "across perceived lines of racial difference." Despite the fact that most of his "family" has disappeared by the story's end, Jackson Jackson's story feels like a success.
      Other stories explore Indian identity and urban life in equally nuanced terms that accentuate the compromises required for other kinds of success. "Flight Patterns," a tale that chronicles the challenges of an emergent American Indian middle class, depicts the alienation that can come from economic success in the city. The protagonist, William Loman, whose name is clearly meant to invoke Arthur Miller's famous salesman, is a professional businessman living in Seattle's gentrifying Central District. As Banka notes, William and his family are "isolated from any urban or reservation Indian community" (38). Banka understands this isolation as a choice for William when she asserts "that for some Indian people the comfort of privacy and individuality, as well as the prospect of economic advancement in the city are more important than being a member of and participating in an urban Indian community" (38). While it is true that William considers himself a member of various "tribes" -- like the "notebook-computer tribe," the "security-checkpoint tribe," and the "cell-phone-roaming-charge tribe" -- I would argue that this story is about his dissatisfaction with his isolated life as a "capitalistic foot soldier" and his quest (similar to Corliss's) for a more fulfilling existence, in which he connects with other people at a more "human" level (Alexie, Ten 109).
      On his way to the airport for one of his frequent business trips, William forms a short-lived but intense bond with his taxi driver, Fekadu, an Ethiopian refugee whom William initially profiles as "a black man with a violent history" (114). Significantly, their bond develops while in motion, driving south along I-5, where, "on both sides of the freeway, blue-collared men and women drove trucks and forklifts, unloaded trains, trucks, and ships, built computers, televisions, and airplanes" (116). Witnessing these various kinds of labor from the perspective of a moving cab allows William not only to contemplate the "breathtaking privilege" of the choices in his "comfortable and safe" professional life but also to develop a sympathetic connection to Fekadu, a member of a different socioeconomic class (116).
      Perhaps because both men are "ambiguously ethnic," they are able to talk honestly with each other, comparing notes on their respective treatment in the United States after 9/11 and sharing their personal histories (114). As with the rest of the stories in this collection, the authenticity of identity is not important. William doubts the truthfulness of Fekadu's experiences; however, he longs to "hear more of this man's stories and learn from them, whether they were true or not" (121). The effectiveness of stories is not contingent on their veracity. In this case, "if Fekadu wasn't describing his own true pain and loneliness, then he might have been accidentally describing the pain of a real and lonely man" (121). His tale invites a compassionate connection that reaches beyond the men's personal encounter and gestures toward broader human issues of suffering and alienation.
      By the time the cab ride is over, William seems to have realized that his own "flight patterns" must change if he is to alleviate his loneliness and form more fulfilling relationships with others, starting with his own family. When he arrives at the airport, he frantically calls his wife and declares: "I'm here" (123). This last line references both an emotional availability and the important physical dimensions of human relationships -- face-to-face interpersonal connections, genuine listening, and hands-on comforting. As William's words locate him spatially, they also remind us that simply talking about tolerance or diversity cannot substitute for making real connections with real people. William has progressed from thinking of {49} "our ceremonies" as primarily "personal narratives" to considering ceremony as something that must be created with others, as a process that builds community between human beings (112).
      In "What Ever Happened to Frank Snake Church," Frank learns similar lessons as he forms polycultural alliances with other people. After his father's death, Frank embarks on a combination self-improvement and mourning endeavor, driven by what he describes as the need "to keep moving, get stronger, build, and connect" (206). He works with a personal trainer, Russell, a "thin and muscular black man" who also happens to be gay, and they form an intimate friendship as Frank returns to a healthier, more youthful physical condition (206). A former basketball star in college, Frank enjoys the pain of his training -- "Make me hurt," he says to Russell at the start of each session -- and describes his quest as a "ceremony" designed to allow him "to disappear into the ritual, to methodically change into something new and better, into someone stronger" (210). Frank also returns to the basketball court, where he plays against men and women of various colors, professions, and athletic abilities (211-12).
      Amidst his rigorous physical life, Frank revisits memories of his parents and mourns the death of his beloved dad while receiving support from Russell, from a team of African American basketball players, and eventually, from the employees at a local community college. During a game of "Horse" with a black basketball player known as "Preacher," Frank begins to realize the self-centeredness of his mourning ceremony. Preacher begins by reminding Frank of his age -- and by extension, his mortality -- but ends by lecturing him on the selfishness of his invented ceremony. Frank claims to be playing basketball "to remember [his] mom and dad"; however, Preacher mocks Frank's assertion that "honoring" his deceased parents in this way is "an Indian thing," dismissing this idea as "racist crap." Calling Frank out on what he sees as a self-gratifying attempt at reliving his glory days on the basketball court, Preacher charges: "You're playing to remember yourself " (228). When Frank blows out his knee while trying out for the local community-college team, his ceremony officially comes to an end. His enrollment at the college ends the story on an optimistic note. Frank's experience at the admissions office {50} is a humbling, touching, and emotional one, during which he receives a literal hand-holding from Lynn, then breaks down in tears and is comforted by Stephanie, both kind office employees.
      Ultimately, becoming "someone stronger" transcends physical fitness, and Frank discovers not only that he must not only take advice, comfort, and assistance from others but also that he must reach beyond himself -- and beyond his ideas about what "an Indian thing" is -- to form healthy relationships with others. As in the brief friendships between William and Fekadu and Corliss and the homeless man, common humanity supersedes but does not elide the race or class distinctions between Frank and the other characters. As a result, they see each other as individuals and are able to learn compassion, respect, and even self-knowledge from one another. Corliss, William, and Frank Snake Church learn to develop ceremonies that incorporate family and community, that are not self-serving. Though the success of these new ceremonies is only hinted at, these stories end on definitively optimistic notes. Pan-Indian and polycultural communities help combat the excessive individualism encouraged by urban professional life as well as the alienation and homelessness experienced by many urban Indians.
      Of course, some of the communities formed in Ten Little Indians are far less utopian. Alexie has not turned a blind eye toward existing problems with his newfound optimism; an antiracist agenda remains powerful in his work. In the story "The Life and Times of Estelle Walks-Above," the main character, Estelle, befriends a group of liberal white women who romanticize her according to new-age stereotypes of Indianness. Like Corliss -- who exploits the fact that "white folks assumed she was serene and spiritual and wise simply because she was an Indian" -- Estelle's identity is framed by associations of Indianness with spirituality (Alexie, Ten 11). Even in the city, this sort of "goofy sentimentalism" persists (11). Stereotypes are not bound by geography; they are mobile and portable, easily transferred from the reservation to urban space. The characters are still haunted by a reservation that, to recall Nygren's observation, has become "a mental and emotional territory" that retains its colonizing powers. Just as liberal whites feel entitled to "steal [Indian] land {51} as long as [they] plant organic peas and carrots in the kidnapped soil," persistent stereotypes are emblematic of the "colonial contradictions" that hold Estelle and her son hostage (Alexie, Ten 141).
      Thus, Alexie exposes the limits to human compassion, even among the most well intentioned. When Estelle's son, the narrator, sees a beautiful woman in a white dress walking down the street and realizes she has a dark red stain of menstrual blood on her dress, he cannot believe no one has stopped her to let her know. He wonders whether she has "left her evidence all over the city" and "how could she walk through a city with so much blood staining her white dress and not be stopped by another human being? Would she lose her faith in people, in God, in goodness?" (149). The narrator and his mother find themselves paralyzed in her presence; they hesitate, unable to take action, and exchange desperate words ("Mom! Mom," he yells; she replies, "I know! I know!"). Finally, another woman comes to the rescue, "explod[ing] out of her car with a coat in her hands, wrapp[ing] it around the waist of the woman in the white dress" and hastily leaving the scene. Unlike Jackson Jackson's performance in the intersection, in this case the city has not stopped to bear witness; to the contrary, as Estelle and her son embrace each other, crying, he notices that "the city moved all around us, while one woman led another woman to safety" (149). Even as small acts of kindness give us hope, much suffering still goes unnoticed. Alexie's characters may have left their evidence all over the city, but not everyone sees that evidence.7
      When Richard, a half-Indian, half-African American character in the story "Lawyer's League," ends his story by posing a (human) question -- "Do you understand I have a limited range of motion?" (68) -- readers might very well answer "yes." This question works on several levels. Literally, Richard is referring to his hand, which he injures when he punches a lawyer during a heated basketball game after the lawyer makes racist comments; the hand still pains him. Symbolically, the question could reference Richard's hopes of becoming president of the United States. Earlier in the story he curtails a potential love affair with Theresa (a white liberal whom he meets at a "bipartisan" cocktail party) because of the still-pervasive fear of miscegenation in the United States and the effect this could {52} have on his eventual candidacy. This poignant last line invokes not just physical movement, then, but also ideological "movement" across race and class lines, including upward mobility. Just as Corliss's and William's stories reveal the ways in which race and class continue to shape options for mobility in cities, Richard's story reminds us that spatial, political, and interpersonal mobility are limited by persistent racism, economic disadvantages, and lingering stereotypes about Indianness and other identity categories.8
      Merely giving lip service to diversity -- such as Estelle's friends do when they purport to respect but in effect romanticize her -- is insufficient without an antiracist motivation to accompany it. Richard admits that "it felt good and true" to punch the racist lawyer in the face. Taking his observation beyond the personal to the national level, he adds, "This country would be a better place if every U.S. president had punched racists in the face" (68). With characteristic humor and insight, Alexie recommends that even if we feel "small and powerless against the collected history" of racism and ongoing social injustice, we might all take steps to do what is "good and true" in our encounters with other people (122).

Contrary to stereotypes about authentic, pure Indianness, usually associated with natural environments, Alexie's stories suggest that being Indian in Seattle involves walking a line between tradition and adaptation, a process of transformation that Paula Gunn Allen calls liminality (11-12). Traditions and ceremonies do remain -- as does a conception of Indianness, however inventive and impure -- even as they continue to evolve. Frank Snake Church's ignorance of traditional Indian singing and drumming does not prevent him from "wail[ing] tribal vocals" when his father dies (203). Corliss's vision quest to and through Seattle is no less authentic because she rides a Greyhound instead of a horse or because it culminates at a McDonald's rather than an isolated mountaintop. Like Jackson Jackson's ceremony, precariously performed in "the intersection" outside the pawnshop, Alexie's characters' improvisational ceremonies are shaped by complex social spaces and their diverse inhabitants.
      Certainly different characters have different degrees of agency in constructing their own ceremonies, depending on their socioeconomic status and their perceived racial identity, and Alexie does not shy away from that fact. For instance, William's braids -- the "indigenous businessman's tonsorial special" -- work to his advantage in a way that Jackson Jackson's visible markers of his Indianness do not (104). Given these discrepancies, Alexie does suggest that relatively privileged Indians risk inventing ceremonies that are routinized or self-centered; as in Frank's and William's cases, such ceremonies need to be rethought. Alexie implicitly asks: How might individual or cultural ceremonies evolve to become human ceremonies, ceremonies that address our shared humanity and raise "human questions"? Alexie's stories remind us that, despite the particularities of racism, the injustices of history, and the stereotypes and systemic oppressions that still function, some experiences still cross cultures. Specifically, human suffering, and the compassion generated by acknowledging other people's pain, should bring us together. Alexie has stated that "pain is relative. . . . I mean, if I'd throw a rock randomly right now, I'd hit someone whose life is worse than mine ever was . . . Everybody's pain is important" (qtd. in Nygren 156). This sentiment is echoed when Preacher challenges Frank with the question: "What makes you think your pain is so special, so different from anyone else's pain?" (Alexie, Ten 228). The words of Alexie's poet-character Harlan Atwater might serve as an appropriate motto for the book. Atwater says: "I believe in the essential goodness of human beings, and if that's being radical, then I guess I'm a radical" (23). Regardless of whether Alexie himself believes in humanity's "essential goodness," his stories suggest a radical hopefulness that is undeniable.
      While careful not to simply elide difference or cover over social ills, these stories offer hope in the formation of new communities and in the compassion people have for one another that crosses racial, economic, and other social and geographic boundaries. On one hand, Alexie "affirms a sense of subjective will and humanity in his characters that helps set them free in their colonial context" (Moore 299). On the other hand, he acknowledges that while "an {54} Indian identity persists, urbanization has rapidly undermined the legacy of native traditionalism" (Fixico, Urban Indian 6). In what Fixico calls a "sociocultural transition from communalism to a foreign individualism," Indians in cities "continue to experience difficulties in substituting traditional values for white American materialism and competition in the modern world" (3, 25). Yet Alexie's characters hint that this transition is always incomplete, since they often experience the triumph of community over individualism in their everyday lives. Given the constant reinventions of cultural traditions and the challenges and compromises faced by city-dwelling Indians, the need to theorize American Indian identity as it is formed within urban space is a pressing one. Specifically, the idea of an "Indigenous urbanness" warrants further exploration within ethnic studies conversations.
      As Alexie's characters navigate this multicultural city, they expose historical and continuing injustices and reframe our understandings of how Indian cultural identity is shaped in and by urban space. Ultimately, the imagination of Indian identity in this story collection helps us see that multiculturalism is still a dominant myth in liberal American cities like Seattle -- a myth that needs to be debunked if a more polycultural world is to develop. While the stories' gestures toward a transcendent humanism might threaten to replicate the discourse of multiculturalism and its ahistorical avowals of authenticity and purity, Alexie does recognize the complicated ways that cultural and racial distinctions continue to perform influential work in American society. His characters fight against these imposed distinctions and live in "culturally dynamic worlds" that are contradictory, complex, and far from homogenous (Prashad xii). Alexie's stories reach across these contradictions to address humanity's common needs for respect, compassion, and a sense of community, in addition to more basic material needs. In doing so, they exemplify narrative's power to, in Elizabeth Cook-Lynn's words, "stir the human community to a moral view which would encompass all of humanity, not just selected parts of it" (64). Conceiving of a shared humanity, where individuals navigate complex identity categories like race, culture, gender, or sexuality, instead of occupy-{55}ing them fully or consistently, might provide the possibility for such human community to develop.


      1. See Fixico's foreword to American Indians and the Urban Experience for statistics on urban Indian populations.
      2. Following Fixico and others, I will use the phrase urban Indian to describe those Native Americans who have assimilated, to varying degrees, into urban life, often following the federal relocation programs begun in the 1950s (Fixico, Urban Indian 29). I also use Native American and American Indian interchangeably, to reflect the fact that there is no generally agreed upon way of speaking about Indigenous peoples. When writing about Alexie's text, I defer to "Indian" to honor his preferred choice.
      3. Although Prashad's text focuses on historical interactions between African and Asian Americans, his concept of polyculturalism seems pertinent to my discussion of American Indians living in cities where diversity and multiculturalism are touted as progressive ideologies.
      4. Alexie echoes these sentiments in his interview with Maya Jaggi, explaining that September 11 exposed the lethal "end game of tribalism -- when you become so identified with only one thing, one tribe, that other people are just metaphors to you." Alexie makes similar comments in the short film Half of Anything.
      5. Critics might well find fault with Alexie's more recent work -- specifically Flight and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian -- for perpetuating the idea that Indian success is contingent upon leaving the reservation. While this discussion lies outside the scope of this essay, I find it worth mentioning that Alexie defends himself against such charges by explaining that "there's a lot of Indian people who have had similar life trajectories as the character in my book -- who left the reservation for a better life and felt judged negatively because of it. . . . This book validates their decision to leave" (Dameron).
      6. Corliss explains that because she is an Indian her daily life is perpetually "dangerous and random," full of the "mystic panic" sought by mountain climbers and other "landed white men"; thus, she does not seek out such excitement for recreation. Indeed, Alexie writes, simply going to college is "an extreme sport for an Indian woman" (29).
      7. Another instance of invisibility is the Aleut Indian trio that haunts "What You Pawn I Will Redeem," who eventually disappear without a trace. {56} Jackson Jackson cannot be sure of their fate, since conflicting stories say they "waded into the saltwater near Dock 47," they "walked on the water and headed north," or they just simply "drown" (192-93).
      8. Even characters who appear to have successfully navigated these obstacles admit to making compromises in order to do so. Educated and relatively wealthy, Sharon and David of "Do You Know Where I Am?" are in some ways "Native American royalty"; however, they are also "thoroughly defeated by white culture" and "conquered and assimilated National Merit Scholars in St. Junior's English honors department" (151).


Alexie, Sherman. The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven. New York: Harper Perennial, 1993. Print.

------ . Ten Little Indians. New York: Grove Press, 2003. Print.

Allen, Paula Gunn. Introduction. Song of the Turtle: American Indian Literature 1974-1994. New York: One World/Ballantine, 1996. 3-17. Print.

Banka, Ewelina. "'Homing' in the City: Sherman Alexie's Perspectives on Urban Indian Country." European Review of Native American Studies

20.1 (2006): 35-38. Print. Cook-Lynn, Elizabeth. Why I Can't Read Wallace Stegner and Other Essays. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1996. Print.

Coulombe, Joseph. "The Approximate Size of His Favorite Humor: Sherman Alexie's Comic Connections and Disconnections in The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven." American Indian Quarterly 26.1 (2002): 94-115. Print.

Dameron, Eva. "From Rez Kid to Respected Author." New Mexico Daily Lobo. October 23, 2007. paper344/news/2007/10/23/Culture/From-Rez.Kid.To.Respected.Author -3050257.shtml. Web.

Fixico, Donald L. Foreword. American Indians and the Urban Experience. Ed. Susan Lobo and Kurt Peters. New York: Altamira Press, 2001. ix-x. Print.

------ . The Urban Indian Experience in America. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2000. Print. Half of Anything. Dir. Jonathon S. Tomhave. University of Washington: Native Voices, 2006. DVD. "Interview with Vijay Prashad." Front List Books. November 2001. http:// Web.

Jaggi, Maya. "All Rage and Heart." The Guardian. May 3, 2008. http://www Web.

Lobo, Susan. "Is Urban a Person or a Place? Characteristics of Urban Indian Country." American Indians and the Urban Experience. Ed. Susan Lobo and Kurt Peters. New York: Altamira Press, 2001. 73-84. Print.

Miller, Carol. "Telling the Indian Urban: Representations in American Indian Fiction." American Indians and the Urban Experience. Ed. Susan Lobo and Kurt Peters. New York: Altamira Press, 2001. 29-45. Print.

Moore, David L. "Sherman Alexie: Irony, Intimacy and Agency." The Cambridge Companion to Native American Literature. Ed. Joy Porter and Kenneth M. Roemer. Cambridge, England: Cambridge UP, 2005. 297-310.

Nygren, Åse. "A World of Story-Smoke: A Conversation with Sherman Alexie." MELUS 30:4 (2005): 149-69. Print.

Ortiz, Simon. "The San Francisco Indians." The Man to Send Rain Clouds. Ed. Kenneth Rosen. New York: Penguin, 1974. 9-13. Print.

Owens, Louis. Mixedblood Messages: Literature, Film, Family, Place. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1998. Print. American Indian Literature and Critical Studies Ser. 26.

Prashad, Vijay. Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting: Afro-Asian Connections and the Myth of Cultural Purity. Boston: Beacon Press, 2001. Print. Williams, Sarah T. "Man of Many Tribes." Star Tribune. December 31, 2007. Web.



A Response to Sam McKegney's
"Strategies for Ethical Engagement:
An Open Letter Concerning Non-Native
Scholars of Native Literatures"


You fight me, you fight the Mission!
      Common Anishnaabe/Ojibwa battle cry in Thunder Bay, Ontario

First off, I would like to thank both the editors of SAIL and literary critic Sam McKegney for asking questions about ethical engagement with Aboriginal literature that are both profoundly and historically vital. That said, my response to Sam's diagnosis of the malaise currently afflicting non-Aboriginal critics of this literature is an attempt to consider the "cure" Sam offers (albeit provisionally) for this malaise in relation to the symptoms he diagnoses. But I will put aside my medical metaphors for now and take up the more exciting -- and apt, I think -- "sporting" metaphorical register that Sam uses. My gloves are on, and I hear the bell!
      In both his articulate identification of what prevents non-Aboriginal critics from engaging robustly and ethically with Aboriginal literary texts and his suggestion as to why these critics might migrate to other texts, Sam contrasts the internally or externally directed non-Aboriginal critics with Aboriginal critics who advocate a communally responsible literary criticism. While the current trends in Aboriginal literary/cultural studies are not the focus of Sam's discussion, I do think it is important to spell out certain premises that are currently being buttressed or challenged by Aboriginal critics {59} in order to give context to my own concerns as a non-Aboriginal critic. I will borrow and adapt Sam's sporting analogy here and push it, if that is okay. When one considers the current state of the field of North American Indigenous literary criticism, many colorful euphemisms spring to mind. Dance marathon, king-of-the-mountain push-fest, arm wrestling. Knife fight. But one would be hard pressed to apply a descriptor that did not carry with it a sense of combat, a squaring off of opponents determined to hold fast to an interpretative turf and thus establish this turf as a recognized higher ground. The two camps currently in melee in the United States (as many readers of SAIL will know, of course) have been called the "nationalist," "tribalist," "nativist," or "separatist" critics on one side and the "cosmopolitanist" or "hybridist" critics on the other. This conflict, while still evolving and fought on several fronts at once, can be summarized broadly as the struggle to establish Indigenous literature's relation to what both camps have variously (and differently) described as the "real world." For critics like the late Paula Gunn Allen, Elizabeth Cook-Lynn, Jace Weaver, Robert Warrior, Craig Womack, and Daniel Heath Justice, literary criticism of Native American writers must first and foremost concern itself, as Womack has succinctly put it, "with the ethics of the relationship between a text and the community it claims to represent" (149). By emphasizing the authored text as a record of lived Indigenous experience, however imaginative and idiosyncratic, these critics assert the necessity of reading these texts as responses to and reflections of particular tribal histories and struggles for political and intellectual sovereignty (for example, Creek sovereignty in the case of Womack, or Cherokee sovereignty in the case of Justice). The critics I have mentioned can and do disagree with each other about how tribal-centered reading practices can and should be developed and critiqued. But these critics share a commitment to expose and counter what they see to be the Euroamerican three-pronged strategy of co-opting these texts as part of the metropolitan canon, effacing the ethical imperative of these texts as communal documents of struggle, and diluting this ethical imperative as a generally postcolonial or pan-tribal call for justice that is nonlocatable and therefore enervating as a resistance strategy.
      In the other scrum, ready to scrap, are the so-called cosmopolitan or hybridist critics. These critics include non-Native scholars such as Arnold Krupat and Elvira Pulitano and Indigenous scholars such as Gerald Vizenor and the late critic Louis Owens. Like their opponents, they make up a highly diverse and multivocal group, but they do take a particularly concerted aim at the separatist impulse that underwrites the nationalist critic's call to ethics. All four critics see the premise that literary activity can be framed as uniquely and independently Indigenous as, at worst, an exercise in bad faith or, at best, willful ignorance. They argue that to deny the interdependence of Indigenous and colonial history, a shared trajectory, is to deny the reality of intercultural exchange and to fetishize a highly romantic reification of Indigenous stereotype that has always served as a necessary angel of colonialism. Like the nationalist critics, the cosmopolitan critics claim to be led by the literature they are interpreting, but they emphasize the hybrid nature of the texts and of the identities that these texts articulate. For these critics, Indigenous identity formation, as it can be understood to be reflected in literary texts, necessarily involves the experience of hybridity as an unavoidably contemporary way of knowing the "real world" of influence and experience, a globalized marketplace of stories and their ethical legacies.
      While many critics on both sides of the question have made some attempt to ameliorate the conflict between the two warring interpretative camps, the polarization of opinion has continued apace.1 The point of preambling my discussion of what defines ethical literary criticism of Aboriginal texts with this backdrop of conflict is not simply to enjoy a courtside seat, to marvel or offer a tisk at the height of invective hurled -- high moral grounding! and higher dudgeon! Rather, I would suggest that the struggle to establish an ethical reading practice for Indigenous North American literature, either as tribal or hybrid texts, is fundamentally the struggle to marshal the imagination of the Indigenous writer (as it is invested in the texts she or he writes) in the service of an immanent, recognizable, and knowable teleological project of ethical/ethnic self-fashioning.
      But now, let's get back to Sam's argument. I want to bring for-{61}ward Craig Womack's pithy statement about "the ethics of the relationship between a text and the community it claims to represent" (149), since I would think Sam would agree with Womack on the importance of this relationship. The problem I have here is with the fuzzy definition of "community" as a self-evident construction in this statement. What is the "community" for an Aboriginal writer? For the "tribalist" team, the community is necessarily signaled by the Aboriginal language/culture/biological inheritance of the writer. For example, Thomas King's community is Cherokee, in this definition. For the "cosmopolitan" team, it is equally clear that the writer's community is unstably hybrid, both local and global in its strategic deployment of identity as a political trope. For this team, Thomas King's community is variously Blackfeet/Blackfoot (since these are the communities he most often writes about in his fiction), Canadian Aboriginal (since King addresses Indigenous issues apart from Blackfoot or Cherokee ones in his critical writing), and international (since his main readership is not tied to specific communities in Canada). What does bother me in this melee is the common drive to draft the Aboriginal writer in the service of particular (and increasingly divisive) projects of political agency. Whether the project is the creation of the intellectually sovereign tribal citizen or of the interculturally fluid cosmopolitan hybrid, the literary text is supplied as evidence of the author's commitment to making identity accessible to, and useful for, the "right" reader. If the non-Aboriginal critic rejects the "parochial" nationalist interpretative strategy in favor of the more "worldly" cosmopolitan strategy, one exchanges one kind of "certainty" for another.2
      What I see as the end result of this division is that younger scholars who are now seeking to explore critical methodologies for understanding Indigenous literature are caught in the epistemic trap that the call to ethics in the field has already set, a trap the postcolonial critic Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak identified (early on), where, "two senses of representation are being run together: representation as 'speaking for,' as in politics, and representation as 're-presentation,' as in art and philosophy" (275). These conflated senses of representation elide the discontinuity between them, where aesthetic {62} versions of identity are misrecognized as both politically transparent and concretely metonymic "vox populi" of the "people" under representation.
      Thus, several non-Aboriginal graduate students I have worked with in the last few years have evoked the term "community" in an almost talismanic fashion to justify their political readings of Aboriginal authors without offering justification for the material connection between aesthetic re-presentation in fiction and the political representation the author is assumed to be advocating in aesthetic terms. "Community," in these cases, becomes less a way into a flexible and responsible critical analysis than a justification for presumptively shoe-horning authors into political models of agency or resistance with which they may in fact have little interest or sympathy. In this context, I do disagree with Sam that the problem in our field stems from non-Aboriginal critical disengagement from Aboriginal communitarian values.3 Rather, it is what Spivak tags (again, early on) as the reintroduction of the undivided subject -- the writer-ascommunity -- into the discourse of power in the name, as she significantly points out, of desire (274). And I would also suspect that, in addition to the reasons Sam identifies quite rightly, another of the reasons why non-Aboriginal scholars might move away from studying Aboriginal literature is that the problematizing of representation as re-presentation that is so much a part of postcolonial and cultural studies criticism seems to have less purchase in a field where Aboriginal literary texts are seen primarily as "a front line to Native empowerment and agency," as Sam asserts (65).
      To shift things a little, there is another community here, of course: the community of authors. As a critic of Aboriginal literature, I have spent more time in this community, since many of its members are writers that I consider my friends. My experience in their company has taught me that many contemporary Aboriginal writers are engaged with aesthetic issues that often lead them to "follow the story" beyond or against either category of ethical/ ethnic communal "voice" championed by the two battling critical camps. And to be even more blunt -- my apologies for the simplification here -- what I have heard from these writers, in various places and contexts, {63} is that they want to be paid well. They want to be read widely. And they want to be taken seriously as artists, not conditionally, but categorically. Sam argues throughout his call that non-Aboriginal critics should consider themselves allies of Indigenous communities and promote the work of "Native writers, critics . . . and activists" in their textual analyses (64). I would ask: are these three communities (writers, critics, and activists) necessarily coextensive, and are their goals necessarily the same? And can one ally oneself (in terms of critical engagement) to a notion of community that elides the instability of identification that makes these communities exciting and contumacious in the first place? So, I welcome and support Sam's exhortation to non-Aboriginal critics to commit to Aboriginal literary criticism passionately and ethically. But, to reformulate (with apologies to Sam) Sam's sporting refrain in his essay, does the call to ethics for the non-Aboriginal critic have to become, "Don't shadow box. Don't box each other. Box the text. But remember that the text is the community. And the community is watching you"? I am not convinced that this is a more attractive invitation to strap on the gloves.


      Epigraph. "The Mission" refers to The Mission of the Immaculate Conception (1849), later a reserve in the Fort William Anishnaabe First Nation territory.

      1. See especially Craig Womack, Daniel Heath Justice, and Chris Teuton's Reasoning Together: The Native Critics Collective for nationalist re-formulations of intellectual sovereignty.
      Lots of invective to go around here. The nationalist perspective has been called (with an unavoidably patronizing implication) a rhetorical rather than logical argument (Krupat 8), "naïve at best" (Owens 52) and even "fascistic" (Carson 24). Predictably, the cosmopolitan approach to criticism has been damningly linked by nationalist critics to "Whiteness" (Justice 212) and exploitative careerism (Weaver, "Splitting" 12), and cosmopolitanists' rejection of tribal-centered criticism as being naïve has been characterized as "misguided," "pernicious to indigenous agency" (Weaver, "Splitting" 19), and an "exercise intrinsically linked to the intellectual, political, and economic colonization of the Americas" (Justice 213).
      2. The general gist of the cosmopolitan argument is that nationalist critics have artificially "shor[n] up the borders of Native American discourse" (Carson 11) and deposited the contemporary Aboriginal writer within these borders and that a hybrid interpretative practice celebrates the uncontainable freedom of ingress and egress that the contemporary Aboriginal writer already enjoys as an ethnic border crosser and postcolonial subversive. However, I would argue that the hybridity model of discourse is in some ways equally instrumental in its expectation that the writer will make a globalized world a more legible, and if "we" are lucky, more livable place. Gerald Vizenor's charge that "the indian must sacrifice the uncertainties of individual experience" in favor of a simulation to be read as having "real presence" (39) can be read equally as an indictment of the celebratory mode of much cosmopolitan criticism, where, as Paul Rabinow defines "critical cosmopolitanism," one is "suspicious of sovereign powers, universal truths, overly relativized preciousness, local authenticity, moralisms high and low" (258).
      3. For an extended discussion of "communitarian" or "communitism," see Jace Weaver's That The People Might Live.


Carson, Ben. "The 'Cosmopolitan Consciousness' of Gerald Vizenor and Native American Literary Separatism." English Studies Forum 3.1 (Fall- Winter 2007). Web.

Justice, Daniel Heath. Our Fire Survives The Storm : A Cherokee Literary History. Minneapolis: U Minnesota P, 2006. Print.

Krupat, Arnold. Red Matters: Native American Studies. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 2002. Print.

McKegney, Sam. "Strategies for Ethical Engagement: An Open Letter Concerning Non-Native Scholars of Native Literatures." SAIL 20.4 (Winter 2008): 56-67. Print.

Owens, Louis. Mixedblood Messages: Literature, Film, Family, Place. Norman: U of Oklahoma P, 1998. Print.

Rabinow, Paul. "Representations Are Social Facts: Modernity and Post-Modernity in Anthropology." Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography. Ed. James Clifford and George E. Marcus. Berkeley: U of California P, 1986. 234-61. Print.

Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. "Can The Subaltern Speak?" Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture. Ed. Cary Nelson and Laurence Grossberg. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1988. 271-313. Print.

Vizenor, Gerald. Fugitive Poses: Native American Indian Scenes of Absence and Presence. Lincoln: U Nebraska P, 1999. Print.

Weaver, Jace. "Splitting the Earth: First Utterances and Plural Separatism." American Indian Literary Nationalism. Ed. Craig Womack, Jace Weaver, and Robert Warrior. Albuquerque: U of New Mexico P, 2006. 1-90. Print.

------ . That The People Might Live: Native American Literatures and Native American Community. New York: Oxford UP, 1997. Print.

Womack, Craig. Red on Red: Native American Literary Separatism. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1999. Print.

Womack, Craig, Daniel Heath Justice, and Chris Teuton, eds. Reasoning Together: The Native Critics Collective. Norman: U Oklahoma P, 2008. Print.


"The corn people have a song too.
It is very good"

On Beauty, Truth, and Goodness


Let me begin with a short piece, set down by the anthropologist Franz Boas in the 1920s and made widely available by Jerome Rothenberg as his opening selection in Shaking the Pumpkin: Traditional Poetry of the Indian North Americas. Here it is, in translation from the western Pueblo dialect of Keresan:

      long ago her mother
      had to sing this song and so
      she had to grind along with it
      the corn people have a song too
      it is very good
      I refuse to tell it (Rothenberg 3)

      Some years ago, a country singer by the name of David Allan Coe recorded "You Never Even Called Me By My Name," a song written by his friend Steve Goodman (who also wrote "City of New Orleans," for the folk musicians out there).1 Goodman told him that he thought it was the perfect country-and-western song. Coe replied that it was not the perfect country-and-western song, because he hadn't said anything about mama, or trains, or trucks, or prison, or getting drunk. So Goodman sat down and wrote another verse, which went like this:

      Well, I was drunk the day my mom got out of prison
      And I went to pick her up in the rain
      But before I could get to the station in my pickup truck
      She got run over by a damned old train.

That did the trick, Coe admitted; it now was the perfect country-and-western song.
      The purpose of this little bit of music history, other than a chuckle first thing in the morning, is to highlight our insatiable appetite for cultural stereotypes -- they are, after all, the way we organize the world, as well as its literatures; and accordingly, this Pueblo poem might be said to be the perfect Aboriginal performance, with the last line being the clincher, just like Goodman's last verse. "I refuse to tell it." Exactly what you'd expect of an Indian, full of mischief, mystery, and a well-developed siege mentality. There is a keeper of the keys, who is a trickster and perhaps also something of a thief, working an inside job by fashioning his own song out of someone else's (a tradition, in every sense, to us); there's an ancient heritage, wrapped around a storyteller's habit -- "long ago," he begins, conjuring up both time immemorial and "once upon a time"; and there are the compulsory rituals, echoing an artist's compulsions -- "had to" is repeated twice in six lines. The songs are rooted in the land and rise up from it, in a harvest of corn, and the people accept these gifts of grace in a good way, which is to say in song. The circularity is crucial, for songs here have both material and spiritual agency, bringing the corn people together into community as surely as a constitution or a covenant and placating the spirits of place without whom there can be no community. They offer much more than a textual code to be deciphered; like a genetic code, these songs determine destiny; and in them the Pueblo people realize themselves as chosen, bound into a covenant of words and ceremonies that fortify them in a world filled with conflict and confusion . . . as the world always is, even the Aboriginal world. "As it is written in the Psalms of David," says the Rastafarian elder Mortimo Planno, recalling biblical covenants, "to Every Song is a Sign and I always Sing the Songs of the Signs of the Time."2 The corn songs and their ceremonies are that kind of covenant for the Pueblo people, and like all such covenants -- and like all languages -- they both hold the people together even as they keep others apart. "I refuse to tell you." If you don't know the words -- and more importantly, if you don't believe the words -- you don't know anything. Knowledge and belief are two {68} sides of the same coin (once again, a tradition -- this time a hermeneutic tradition -- to us).
      Or maybe, like the Aztec creator god Quetzalcoatl depicted as an ouroboros, knowledge and belief are both beginning and end. The end of the Pueblo poem is indeed very like the beginning of many of the poems we credit in our literatures -- I'll keep with English for convenience here -- defying interpretation even as they demand belief. "I saw eternity the other night," says the seventeenth-century mystic Henry Vaughan, at the beginning of his poem "The World." Didn't you? "I like a look of agony," says Emily Dickinson. Don't you? "So much depends upon a red wheelbarrow," says William Carlos Williams, "glazed with rain water beside the white chickens." What exactly is it that depends on that red wheelbarrow, we ask? I refuse to tell you, replies -- or rather implies -- the poet, sending us both on to the end of the poem and back to the beginning.
      So this Pueblo poem follows a familiar model: it has the mischief of riddle and the magic of charm; its heritage is signaled symbolically, in precisely the sense that C. S. Lewis described in his book on medieval allegory when he said that the symbolist leaves the given to find that which is more real; it posits knowledge and presumes belief, both private (in thought and feeling) and public (in ceremony); and, in an archetypal literary contradiction, it claims clarity while creating mystery.
      Finally, at the end of the performance we never know whether the speaker knows what he means or means what he says. And we never know what happened or whether anything happened. "Garube," say the Indigenous Khoikhoi herders of southern Africa when they begin a story or a song. It means the happening that is not happening.3
      These are the tricks of the trade for singers and storytellers all over the world, including the poets and playwrights and prose writers we celebrate in our literary canons. We have developed a critical currency to account for this and to make it comfortable, but it is the uncomfortability, the strangeness, that is crucial; it is the defamiliarization, the alienation, the incompleteness, the indeterminacy, the ungrammaticality that remind us that the belief and the knowl-{69}edge that we embrace (or that embrace us) are always accompanied by doubt and that the literariness that we look for in a text is to be found in the strange ceremonies that certify beauty and truth and goodness.
      But there are really no such things as beauty and truth and certainly not goodness, we say, being twenty-first-century skeptics. But that Pueblo poet seemed to think there was -- "the corn people have a song / it is very good" -- and unless we think we know better, we'd better listen up.

Let me step back for a moment to talk about comparative literature in Canada and the relative absence of Aboriginal literatures in our discipline. I have ranted and raved about this before, and I'm not here to repeat myself or to make everyone feel badly. That's been part of the problem. Feeling badly is not a foundation for good literary criticism. Humility and respect, on the other hand, are indispensable; and along with humility in the presence of Aboriginal traditions, we must also have respect for our own and for what we bring to the texts -- as long as we bring it, as the Anishinabek leader Rodney Bobiwash used to say when he began one of his many acts of civil disobedience, in a good way. I am trying to make a few gestures toward that way.
      But we do have to face some facts. Canadian attitudes -- including many academic attitudes -- toward language reflect a circus of imperial, colonial, reactionary, and revolutionary ideals, none of which have served Aboriginal peoples very well. The relatively few languages spoken in settler societies have sustained a lingering suspicion that Aboriginal languages are not up to the task of dealing with complex thoughts and subtle feelings, and from time to time our agents have taken the matter in hand by deliberately suppressing or destroying them. Sometimes these attitudes and actions have been fostered by the hierarchy that equates writing with civilization. Sometimes by anxiety about how diversity of language -- and the different thoughts and feelings they determine -- create divisions. And sometimes by the assumption that Aboriginal languages are dying out, since we don't hear them very often.
      But there is a rich treasury of Aboriginal languages still spoken here, many as different from each other as Chinese is from German, and all of them -- like languages everywhere -- changing with everyday speech even as they are held fast in established ceremonies. There are about a dozen families of Aboriginal languages in Canada -- linguists continue to argue over classification -- and over fifty distinct languages within those families. Some of these are endangered, but many of them are still widely spoken, and all of them have a heritage of story and song, occasionally preserved in the Indigenous equivalent of medieval Latin or classical Arabic.
      Why then is it so rare for these Aboriginal languages and their forms of imaginative expression to find a place in comparative literature? Where are the literatures, oral and written, of the Native peoples of North America. They are here, I know, and some of us are working with them. But it is surely remarkable how few of us are doing so, especially when we are -- and, believe me, we are -- in Aboriginal territory as I speak.
      The problem is complex. My own graduate students have almost unanimously turned to the familiar literary traditions, ancient and modern, of settler societies in Europe, Asia, and the Americas, and occasionally Africa. There are good reasons for this -- getting a job is certainly one of them -- but given that I have supervised almost forty PhD students and have sat on over a hundred doctoral committees, many of them as cross-cultural and interdisciplinary as any in the academy, it is surely surprising that of the thirty or so languages in which students of mine have worked only one of those is a North American Aboriginal language; and that scholar (Keavy Martin), who is working in Inuktitut, is my last. The one before her (Ian MacRae), who defended in 2006, was planning to work with the Kogi in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of Colombia, but political conditions interfered, which is of course a perennial challenge, along with the closed character of some communities -- both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, I should add -- and the difficulty of obtaining oral and written texts. And the one before him (Levi Namaseb), who also finished in 2006, worked with a couple of the Indigenous languages of southern Africa, the Khoikhoi and the Khoisan -- from the {71} Hottentot and Bushman families -- one of which he spoke as his first language and the other he learned from the twenty or so speakers still alive. All of which raises several other questions, one being the scarcity of native speakers in the academy, a second the lack of written resources -- and therefore the need to spend time in the communities -- to learn them, and a third the precarious state of some of the languages. One thing we can and should do across the country is pool our scholarly resources; another is to make many more adjunct appointments of skilled native-speaking theorists and practitioners from the Aboriginal communities, in a model that our faculties of law and medicine have been following for over a century.
      So maybe there is a bit of momentum. But not enough. Postcolonialism has not been much help, though it has made some of us feel better. Unfortunately, its geography of centers and margins, and its geology of action and reaction, often reinforce the dominance it seeks to replace; and its fondness for European, Asian, and lately African theoretical models maintains an Old World gaze. Most of all, its pseudopolitical fascination with what is behind or beneath or bearing down on or uprising from texts turns them into documents of public and private conditions, rather than monuments to the human imagination and its capacity for belief. There's nothing wrong with that, of course -- it can provide admirable cultural history -- but it is not what we do. And it is certainly not the way to understand what the Pueblo poet meant when he said "the corn people have a song too / it is very good." For that, we need to get closer to what he means by "good," closer to the pleasures -- the actual experience -- of performance, closer to the wonder that is at the heart of Aboriginal expression and of the beauties and truths it reveals. Otherwise, we mediate the delight and muffle the dread, focusing on the gossip rather than the gospel, forgetting that a work of art is first and last an experience, not a statement about experience or an abstraction from experience, and running away from that experience -- with all its indeterminacies and incompletenesses, its surprises and strangenesses, and its anxieties of spiritual influence -- into our relentlessly secular theoretical garrisons.
      And yet, once again, we know better. We know that the seduc-{72}tions of song are always unnerving, like the nonsense of riddles. We know that if we lose them, we lose everything. We know that the traditions within which we work have often accommodated spiritual presences. And we know, deep in our hearts, that the humanity -- and the humanities -- that we share with Aboriginal peoples is founded upon these experiences.
      I used to think the problem had a lot to do with the differences between oral and written traditions, despite generations of scholarship on them. But Homer and Shakespeare, with their wonderful confusions of text and performance, are among our icons; and our courts, our churches, our parliaments, and our schools are arenas of highly formalized oral performance, so we must know something about this. And while I am the first to insist that we need to understand both oral and written traditions better (along with the cognitive and cultural dynamics of reading and listening, which is where I think we really need some new scholarship), I also think we need to close the gap that scholarship has opened up between them, and concentrate instead on the ways in which they both sustain core elements of human community and creativity.4 The literatures of the Native Americas offer an opportunity to do so.
      I am well aware that there are those who will quarrel with my use of the term literature to include the oral performances that represent a major form of imaginative expression in Aboriginal societies; but I know of no other word that catches the way in which language -- the medium of literature, after all -- figures largely in these traditions (I like John Miles Foley's maxim that "oral traditions work like language, only more so" [57]) and no other word (than literature) that respects the "writing without words" in woven and beaded fabric, in carved wood and stone, and in the intricate choreographies of dancing and drama, which are a central part of many performances.5
      So I think the word literature is appropriate, not in order to appropriate the character of these texts to Euroamerican models but to remind ourselves that these texts deserve an attention that acknowledges their aesthetic and intellectual character, their beauties and -- inseparably -- their truths, instead of reducing them to evidence in a cultural, historical, political, or psychological casebook. Also, there {73} is good precedent, none better than that of the exceptional Alaskan scholars Richard and Nora Marks Dauenhauer -- Richard trained in comparative literature, Nora in her native Tlingit knowledge and belief -- who use the word literature to describe the narrative and lyric and dramatic traditions that they include in their multivolume Classics of Tlingit Oral Literature.6 I am happy to follow their lead. My only suggestion would be to change the name of our discipline to comparative literatures.
      When it comes to comparative oral literatures, few people are more important than Marcel Jousse -- a name many might not recognize, though he has been a powerful influence on the major Western theorists of orality in the twentieth century.7 Jousse taught at the Sorbonne in the decades following Ferdinand de Saussure, but his interests were in the styles rather than the structures and norms of language. He used the word style in a nineteenth-century way, to refer to the essential qualities of a tradition, the elements that make it what it is -- as when we refer to a "renaissance style." Hexis, Aristotle would have said, a word which came into Latin as habitus; so in medieval times, when you learned a language it was said you had the habit of it (Frye 14). Jousse was convinced that the habits of reading gestures and of listening to words developed very early in human society, in something that he called "oral style." It is not a style of speaking, according to Jousse, but a performance in which the physical presence of the performer is crucial and where gesture and movement are fundamental; and it depends upon memorization. This is where Milman Parry, Albert Lord, and Walter Ong took up the tale, though much more narrowly than Jousse proposed. For him, the oral style both underlines the difference between the teller and the tale, or the letter and the spirit, and makes it impossible to distinguish between them.
      Though Jousse traced his interest in this back to his peasant roots in rural France and to his interest in biblical traditions of performance, he did not believe that oral style was either ancient or primitive. On the contrary, it was something we all share, if we don't destroy it in the benighted forms of education that he railed against. Oral style is common to humanity, according to Jousse, not cultur-{74}ally determined, though it is inevitably informed and inflected by language -- he spoke and wrote a half dozen himself, both ancient and modern, both dead and alive. Interestingly, at the same time Jousse was presenting these arguments in France, Edward Sapir and his student Benjamin Lee Whorf in the United States were reminding everyone how language shapes thought and feeling and behavior and how universals are to be found in the ceremony of language itself -- ceremonies like that which Jousse identified in a universal oral style and like others recognized in the reading practices that developed after printing became popular four or five hundred years ago, or, not to miss an opportunity for my favorite polemic, after hunting and tracking began forty or fifty thousand years ago.8
      Literary critics on both sides of the Atlantic and the Pacific were paying attention -- this is a good place, here by the Salish Sea (a.k.a. Georgia Strait, near Vancouver) where I am writing this, to remind everyone that the Atlantic is not the only ocean in the world! -- and were returning to what Hugh Kenner once called our central intellectual concern, language. Especially the notorious New Critics, who argued that aesthetic judgment and artistic creativity are informed by the same instincts and who advocated close attention to the autonomous text and to the ways in which beauty reveals rather than expresses truth and nourishes the spirit. When Wallace Stevens gave the speaker of his great dramatic monologue "The Idea of Order at Key West" the words "Whose spirit is this? we said, because we knew / It was the spirit that we sought and knew / That we should ask this often as she sang," he was marking the trail for the New Critics and (though he did not realize it) following in Native American footsteps, just as he was when he meditated on the impossibility of separating the singer, the song, and the subject.
      I know that talking about New Criticism is like telling a dirty joke in polite company. And I know that New Criticism eventually became a parody of itself and was rightly called to account. But I think it is worth revisiting its early advocates and considering the company they kept, to take stock of where comparative literature has come from and where it might go.
      Let's listen, for a start, to John Crowe Ransom, one of the critics {75} most closely associated with New Criticism and a member of the misremembered group (which included Sidney Hirsch and Allen Tate) who gathered together in Nashville at Vanderbilt University in the midst of the Great Depression, resisting what they referred to as "the high caste Brahmins of the old south" and vesting authority in the text, not in the critic.9 Their journal was called The Fugitive, and their ideal was wandering Ishmael. In a remarkable and remarkably difficult passage, Ransom identified a literary text -- a text worth the attention of reader and critic -- as one that reveals "the kind of knowledge by which we must know what we have arranged that we shall not know otherwise" (Ransom x). It is an academic version of "the corn people have a song too / it is very good / I refuse to tell it." It is Paul Ricoeur's hermeneutic circle, wherein there is no interpretation without belief and no belief without interpretation. It is George Steiner's fourth and final type of difficulty, which he calls ontological. And it is that old trickster Jacques Derrida, saying "il n'y a pas d'hors-texte" -- there is nothing outside the text (Of Grammatology 158).10 All we have is the text, which if it is good will reveal truth -- a.k.a. knowledge -- in a culturally conditioned beauty, certified by our pleasure, and sanctified by our belief.
      Ransom is often credited with the coining the term New Criticism, from the title of a book he published in 1941, but in fact "The New Criticism" was first announced thirty years earlier in a lecture with that title published in 1911. It was by Joel Elias Spingarn, at the time chair of comparative literature at Columbia University and cofounder (in 1903) of the first academic Journal of Comparative Literature in the English-speaking Americas.11
      Who was he, anyhow? Well, when a later -- and to most of us better known -- version of the journal Comparative Literature (founded in 1949 at the University of Oregon) reviewed M. H. Abrams's magisterial work on the history of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century ideas, The Mirror and the Lamp (1953), it was praised by Rene Wellek as "the most distinguished contribution of American scholarship in [the history of criticism] since the work of J. E. Spingarn" (178).
      So he was a somebody. In 1911, he was an unruly somebody, bless him, proposing a new criticism to replace the grab-bag of sociology, {76} psychology, dogmatic historicism, reactionary idealism, and decadent impressionism that passed for literary criticism in his day. H. L. Mencken called him "magnificently unprofessorial, fly[ing] violently in the face of the principles that distinguish the largest and most influential group of critics," whom Mencken went on to describe as grown-up sophomores who lack the intellectual resilience for taking in new ideas, and who exhibit alarm in the presence of anything not packaged and labeled by their predecessors (180). In their place, Spingarn called for critics of toleration, wide information, and genuine hospitality.
      But in 1911, the year his essay "The New Criticism" was published by Columbia University Press, he was fired. It doesn't seem like a very tolerant or hospitable response on the part of the administration, but in fact -- and I'm not sure whether you will be relieved or disappointed to hear this -- he was fired not for advocating the new criticism but for defending a colleague, one Harry Thurston Peck. Peck, it seems, had sent some candid love letters to a young lady, clearly hoping for something more than a correspondence; but in the wacky way of the world when things didn't work out she turned around and sued him for breach of promise. Peck was quickly deserted by his wife and his friends, and then by his university, which fired him; but he was not deserted by Spingarn, who hardly knew him but as a matter of principle moved a resolution in his favor at the faculty council. The president of the university suggested that Spingarn should follow Peck into the sunset, since he obviously didn't belong in their polite company. (Those were the days when clubbability was crucial in the academy. Sometimes I think it still is -- we've just changed the club rules.) Spingarn refused, forcing the president to fire him and sending the story to the front page of the New York Times.
      Fortunately, he went on to a distinguished career: he cofounded the publishing house of Harcourt Brace and Company; he used his not particularly clubbable ways to settle a longstanding dispute between the disciples of W. E. B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington, who had frustrated every other attempt; and then -- in an astonishing initiative for anyone at that time, much less a New York Jew -- he {77} helped establish the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Peoples, the NAACP, born in the grim shadow of lynchings but based on the inspiring idea of a unified black movement that might change American society. Spingarn was its second president, and he was the chairman of its board for twenty-seven years from its founding in 1913 right up until his death in 1939. He is still remembered for the Spingarn medal, awarded annually for outstanding achievement by an African American, with recipients that include DuBois himself; Marian Anderson and Paul Robeson; Langston Hughes and Richard Wright; Jackie Robinson and Hank Aaron; Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., and Jesse Jackson; and Alvin Ailey and Jacob Lawrence.
      Not an obvious New Critic, you might say. Well, yes and no. Spingarn, like those who followed him, was deeply anti-authoritarian and dedicated to respecting difference, while committed to the essential stability of texts through time and place. The New Critical unease over intention -- which has its roots in nineteenth-century ideals of impersonality and its most eloquent expression in an exchange of letters in the mid-1930s between C. S. Lewis and E. M. W. Tillyard -- embodies the resistance to an unstable individualism that claimed credit for the truths and beauties and goodnesses of works of art. For the New Critics, these were -- as T. S. Eliot pointed out -- the product of tradition as much as of individual talent.12 The Pueblo poet knew that too.
      Spingarn wrote elegant essays on writers from Dante to Milton and Bacon to Boccalini, and he edited the literary essays of Goethe. At the same time, he celebrated and supported the work of African American writers during the Harlem Renaissance, acknowledging their struggles in the same way he did those of the artists during the troubled times of the European Renaissance. He was acutely aware of the particular social, economic, and political conditions of the artists -- and especially the marginalized artists -- of his time; and in order to acknowledge their courage and creativity in a proper way -- a good way -- he insisted that the field of comparative literature needed to "wipe out" -- that was his phrase -- the old classical rules and the old European themes, which were narrowing the field {78} of imaginative force that texts offered. To analyze a work in relation to arbitrary rules that do not emerge from the text, he argued, erects a wall between the critic and the work and creates an illusion of universality that masks the genuine thing. Determinations of genre should be made only from within the tradition, not imposed on it; and false dichotomies of form and content, or style and subject -- always tempting when working across languages and cultures and when dealing with traditional performances -- only obscure meaning and obliterate value.
      Meaning and value. Though the basis of any theory of interpretation and evaluation, those words sound suspiciously -- and con tentiously -- old-fashioned, like beauty and truth and goodness. They may be -- though I'd prefer to call them retro, hoping for a revival -- but whatever we call them I'm wary about throwing them away. Old-fashioned is what Aboriginal traditions often are; and maybe, just maybe, we might find some common ground by using old-fashioned concepts that generate respectful and rigorous attention to texts and traditions, rather than patronizing concern about everything else. We might also avoid the mistake -- and it would be a very significant mistake -- of thinking that such concepts as beauty and truth and goodness, with different names but a similar hold on the imagination, have not been talked about and turned over among Aboriginal peoples for millennia; or that their response to them has not been as complex, and occasionally as contentious, as it has been in non-Aboriginal societies. We don't want to run the risk of behaving as though beauty is for Europeans and Asians and maybe some Africans, the way courts sometimes behave as though truth is something Aboriginal people don't tell.
      One of the problems facing us lies right there, with an unliterary attention to truth; and the result is that much of the work in understanding Aboriginal traditions of performance has focused on the documentary and evidentiary requirements of legal or historical discourse, and much less on beauty that fills us with dread as well as delight, and on the artist's need to put on a mask in order to tell the truth. Nobody puts on a mask more convincingly than Aboriginal artists in performance -- or more correctly, for doing it incorrectly {79} results in a blur of words and gestures rather than in the blend of beauty and truth that characterizes literature.
      During the DelgamUukw trial, a major Aboriginal rights case (named after the elder in whose inherited name the action was brought) seeking recognition of the traditional territory of the Gitksan and Wet'suwet'en peoples in northern British Columbia, one of the other elders -- Antgulilibix (Mary Johnson) -- was telling her ada'ox -- the cycle of stories and songs that were in her custody -- to the court. At a certain point, she said that she must sing a song. The judge (Allan McEachern) balked, for the request seemed to flaunt the protocols of his court. He tried to explain how uncomfortable he felt having someone sing in his court. He said that it was unlikely to get him any nearer the truth that he was seeking. He asked the lawyer for the Gitksan whether it might not be sufficient to have just the words written down and avoid the performance. Met with a dignified intransigence, he finally agreed to let Antgulilibix sing her song; but just as she was about to start, he fired his final salvo. "It's not going to do any good to sing it to me," he said. "I have a tin ear."
      Judge McEachern was roundly criticized for his comments, both by the wider community and by the Supreme Court of Canada, which later heard the case on appeal and reversed his decision in favor of the plaintiffs; and he became known locally as "old tin ears." It was a stupid thing for him to say, since he wasn't the least bit interested in the song or its music anyway, having decided -- perhaps reasonably -- to keep himself immune from charm, or song, and from beauty. He was after the truth.
      But in another sense it was also a smart thing to say; for he did have a tin ear, and he could not have heard the music of the song or appreciated its beauty, even if he were interested in doing so. Most of us go through life assuming that we could make music as well as meaning out of Mary Johnson's song. For the Antgulilibixes of the world, it is a sinister assumption. It is an assumption that understanding artistic performance comes naturally to the sympathetic eye and ear. It does not. It requires what Northrop Frye used to call an educated imagination. And like the judge, we often come to the text uneducated. Increasingly, we also come looking for truth and forgetting about beauty.13
      Mary Johnson's song was a thing of beauty. In it, the drumming of the wings of a ruffed grouse is transformed into a lament for the dead and the memory of a totem pole carved and raised in their honor. The music -- the drumming, the dissolving of the distinction between sound and sense, what Samuel Taylor Coleridge (referring to Plato) called "the dear gorgeous nonsense of imaginative figuration" (211) -- may be unfamiliar to many of us; but we can recognize its elegiac power. And if we remember our own ceremonies of belief, we can understand why Mary Johnson needed a moment of haunting beauty at the center of historical truth, not as a relief from that truth, but as an intensification of it -- and, within the tradition of literary performance to which it belongs, a verification of it. Beauty is truth, truth beauty. The judge couldn't acknowledge this, dedicated as he was to an unmediated truth. But we have no such excuse; and indeed our profession is committed to recognizing the inseparability of form and content, of beauty and truth. If we do our job properly, we may even be able to help trial judges with theirs. After listening as best he could to Antgulilibix, the judge said he believed her, but not her story. In a work of literature -- which is what that song signaled -- such a dichotomy is untenable.
      In the forty years I have spent working with Aboriginal communities in Canada, the United States, Australia, and southern Africa on the stories and songs that are used in the performance of land claims, I have heard more professional talk by elders and other wise men and women about beauty and truth and good ways, and about the accommodation of interpretation and belief, than I have in our contemporary humanities. Not that any of us, Aboriginal or otherwise, can define beauty and truth and goodness. But we know them, and we believe them, when we encounter them. And we do so most compellingly in our experience of a work of art.
      Standards of correctness are the custodians of that experience -- which is why Antgulilibix had to sing that song at that time, in that place, in the regalia she wore, to the people gathered there. And these standards are embodied in the idea of a canon, the last on my list of dirty words. But it, too, needs to be put in context. It was Charles Sprague Smith, probably also unknown to most of us, {81} who brought the concept into the academy in the Americas. Smith was a predecessor of Spingarn at Columbia University, and he was the founder of the Comparative Literature Society in 1895, which he began not in order to nourish academic careers but to foster understanding across the new linguistic and cultural communities in New York through the shared reading of books. Sprague's Comparative Literature Society was the forerunner of the People's Institute in New York, which through the 1920s sponsored lectures to complement the adult-education seminars put on by the public library system and which also organized discussions at the Cooper Union, the Manhattan Trade School, and across town at the Labor Temple, where the philosopher Will Durant taught. Their foundational texts came from a canonical list that constituted what were eventually referred to as "great books," the nineteenth- and twentieth-century version of the good songs that the Pueblo poet identified in the corn field, and the scholars and teachers who took them up were the ones whose work helped shape our discipline. They worked in the field, to pick up a term used by the anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowksi to refer to the need to move out into the community. Sometimes, it seems that for all of our much-vaunted social conscience, we have retreated to the verandah.
      The specific list of books that they started with came from the British Working Men's Associations (which included women from their beginnings in the middle of the nineteenth century) and the Mechanics' Institutes, old-fashioned reading and recreation clubs. Sir John Lubbock -- the founder of prehistoric archaeology who coined the terms Paleolithic and Neolithic and a naturalist whose work was acknowledged in The Origin of Species, as well as the most effective reform parliamentarian of Victorian England -- had edited a series of a hundred books for these readers, published during the 1890s by George Routledge not in fine leathers and elegant designs but in sturdy bindings, priced from one shilling to three and six. Nor were they by any means all of the same sort. Some were lighthearted, others much heavier going; and along with a wide range of classical and contemporary European literary, historical, philosophical, natural, and social scientific texts, they included a translation of {82} the Qur'an, the Shi King from the Chinese, the Shah Nameh of the Persian poet Firdausi, and the Indian drama Sakoontala. The books were selected by Lubbock, as he described in an essay titled "The Pleasures of Reading," because they were worth discussing, and disagreeing about, and delighting in. That was his "standard of correctness." All this was premised on the idea that the text was its own teacher, an idea that has never endeared itself to those who want to be superior to the text but that is useful to keep in mind.
      These principles were shared, more or less, with others at Columbia. Franz Boas himself -- who collected the Keresan text I began with -- had just been appointed chair of a new department of anthropology there (with the first PhD program in North America), bringing various disciplines together -- as comparative literature does now -- and requiring scholars to learn the languages of any cultures that were the object of their critical attention -- again, as comparative literature does now. Boas then insisted that cultural phenomena are worthy of being studied for their own sake -- not for our sake, but for their own sake, serving their own ends (which of course have to be discovered by the diligent scholar). This phrase -- for their own sake -- echoes the call of art for art's sake, as Boas and others tried to make the point that the arts of Aboriginal communities were no less autonomous and no more "functional" than the arts of so-called old-world societies. Making this point is as important now as it was then.
      Literary associations remained on the minds of Boas's students. When Ruth Benedict paid tribute to Boas in her presidential address to the American Anthropological Association in 1947, she reminded anthropologists of the importance of his approach by quoting a literary critic, the formidable Shakespeare scholar A. C. Bradley: "We watch what is, seeing that so it happened and must have happened" (Bradley 33).14
      Franz Boas has been blamed for many things, some of them justifiable. For those of us who live on the West Coast, there is his theft of a Nuh-chal-nuth whaling shrine for display at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. It was gathered up not in a demonstration of white superiority but as a celebration of what Boas considered truly great Indigenous art, from a tribal community that {83} he thought was on its last legs; and it was brokered by an Aboriginal person. But it should not have been taken. That said, Boas's influence was enormous, and without him we would not have the linguistic archeology of Edward Sapir; the scrupulous transcriptions of the Haida done by his student John Swanton, upon which Robert Bringhurst relied for his remarkable though inevitably controversial translations; or the inspirational fieldwork among the Sioux of Ella Deloria, another of Boas's students and the aunt of Vine Deloria Jr., perhaps the most influential -- and certainly the most contentious -- Native American scholar of his generation.15
      Which brings to mind a story that Vine Deloria Jr. told me in one of my many conversations with him during a winter I spent in Colorado in 1995. He had been asked to conduct a series of television programs with elders about traditional tribal practices. Deloria was widely respected by the Native community throughout the United States, but to get off to a good start they decided to begin with the Lakota Sioux, Deloria's own people, living on the banks of the upper Missouri River. Setting up the first interview, Vine talked with several elders, and one of them -- we'll call him Fred -- agreed, even suggesting some ceremonies they might like to talk about. The camera crew arrived, spent the morning preparing, and then one lovely spring afternoon, high on the banks of the river with a view that Vine said was straight out of one of those nineteenth-century photographs taken to record the vanishing Indian, Fred and Vine sat down to talk. Vine brought some tobacco, of course, and they smoked it. Vine opened the conversation. "Fred, I understand your people had some traditional ceremonies that took place right here, on the bluff. Can you tell me about them?"
      "Can't remember any, off hand," said Fred.
      "But . . . but . . . what about . . . " sputtered Vine.
      "Can't remember," said Fred. "Nice view from here though. Hope those boys get some good pictures."
      Vine tried every trick he knew -- and Vine knew a lots of tricks -- to get Fred to talk, including telling some stories himself. But nothing, nothing at all, from Fred . . . the silent Indian.
      By this time the sun was starting to go down, and the camera crew, by now completely exasperated, started packing up. Just {84} as they were almost finished, Fred turned and said, "Vine, did I ever tell you about the sacred grove of birch trees down there by the river?"
      "No", said Vine.
      "Well," continued Fred, warming to the topic, "we used to take the birch to build our canoes from that grove," and he went on to describe how they would make a cut twenty feet long and strip the bark from around the trunks of the massive trees, a single strip enough for one canoe. And how they did it only at a special time of year, signaled by the arrival of certain birds and the location of particular stars, with specific songs and sacred ceremonies -- all of which he described in detail.
      Meanwhile, the camera crew were falling over themselves trying to get set up again, and when they were nearly ready, with the light the lovely color of early evening, they signaled to Vine that he should get Fred to stop talking and start over. So they began once more, with the sitting down, the sharing of tobacco, and the opening invitation from Vine. "Fred, I understand your people had some traditional ceremonies that took place down there in the birch grove, by the river. Can you tell me about them?"
      "I just did," said Fred. "Weren't you listening?"
      Fred played them for three days, Vine told me, telling lots of tales about the Lakota traditions but not one on camera. They got nothing -- or at least nothing that they were looking for, nothing that suited their purposes.
      But Vine was no mean trickster himself, and thinking about it later I realized that there were two sides to his story, as there were to Fred's storytelling. The first was "I refuse to tell it." The second was "I just did. Weren't you listening?"

According to the tenets of what he called New Criticism, John Crowe Ransom defined a poem as a loose logical structure with a good deal of local texture. Since my talk has probably come pretty close to that, I'll end with a real poem, returning to the Pueblo and my mischievous friend -- and for five wonderful years, my colleague at the University of Toronto -- Simon Ortiz. The poem is called "The Creation, According to Coyote," and it's about a trickster who takes story and song seriously.

      "First of all, it's all true."
      Coyote, he says this, this way,
      humble yourself, motioning and meaning
      what he says.

      You were born when you came
      from that body, the earth;
      your black head burst from granite,
      the ashes cooling,

      until it began to rain.
      It turned muddy then,
      and then green and brown things
      came without legs.

      They looked strange.
      Everything was strange.
      There was nothing to know then,

      until later, Coyote told me this,
      and he was b.s.-ing probably,
      two sons were born,
      Uyuyayeh and Masaweh.
      They were young then,
      and then later on they were older.

      And then the people were wondering
      what was above.
      They had heard rumors.

      But, you know, Coyote,
      he was mainly bragging
      when he said (I think),
      "My brothers, the Twins then said,
      'Let's lead these poor creatures
      and save them.'"

      And later on, they came to light
      after many exciting and colorful and tragic things of adventure;
      and this is the life, all these, all these.

      My uncle told me all this, that time.
      Coyote told me too, but you know
      how he is, always talking to the gods,
      the mountains, the stone all around.

      And you know, I believe him.16


This piece is the full text of Chamberlin's keynote address to the Canadian Comparative Literature Association, presented at the University of British Columbia on May 31, 2008, shortly before his retirement. Though specifically concerned with comparative literature's historical (and contemporary) underrepresentation and often overt exclusion of Indigenous voices and texts in its scholarly concerns, his comments offer both an interdisciplinary perspective and an important transnational challenge for scholars in Native literary studies.

      1. The song was apparently cowritten with John Prine, though he has never taken credit.
      2. From a history of Rastafari titled The Earth Most Strangest Man, transcribed from the handwritten original by Lambros Comitas, then with the Research Institute for the Study of Man in New York, and given back to Mortimo Planno, also known as Ras Kumi, in a ceremony at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica in 1997. I published excerpts (with Ras Kumi's permission) in a special issue of Index on Censorship titled "Tribes: Battles for Land and Language," which I coedited in 1996; the full text has circulated in the Rastafarian communities, but not far beyond.
      3. I am indebted to Levi Namaseb, whom I mention below and who now teaches at the University of Namibia, for this translation.
      4. David Olson has provided valuable new insight, and a sense of current international scholarship, with respect to reading in his book The World on Paper: The Conceptual and Cognitive Implications of Writing and Reading, and Jack Goody's extensive research in Africa has helped frame some of the key questions. The corresponding scholarship on listening is surprisingly limited.
      5. This phrase provides the title for a book edited by Elizabeth Hill and Walter D. Mignolo, Writing without Words: Alternative Literacies in Mesoamerica and the Andes. There is other important work being done on the {87} transmission of meaning and value in graphic and material form in Indigenous traditions around the world, in books such as C. M. Kreamer, M. N. Roberts, E. Harney, and A. Purpura's Inscribing Meaning and Ann Fienup-Riordan's exhibition catalogue Yuungnaqpiallerput, showing (in a quote from Fienup-Riordan's book) how "everything that is made -- all the implements and adornments of life -- causes us to remember" (Fienup-Riordan 3).
      6. The volumes published so far include Haa Shuká, Our Ancestors: Tlingit Oral Narratives (1987), Haa Tuwunáagu Yís, for Healing Our Spirit: Tlingit Oratory (1990), Haa Kusteeyí, Our Culture: Tlingit Life Stories (1994), and Anóoshi Lingít Aaní Ká / Russians in Tlingit America: The Battles of Sitka, 1802 and 1804 (2008).
      7. Jousse's Le style orale has been translated by Edgard Sienaert and Richard Whitaker; Sienaert, in collaboration with Joan Conolly, has also translated Jousse's magisterial L'anthropologie du geste as The Anthropology of Geste and Rhythm.
      8. See Chamberlin, "Hunting, Tracking and Reading."
      9. I am quoting from the editorial in the first issue of The Fugitive, published in April 1922.
      10. Derrida's categories are outlined in George Steiner's On Difficulty and Other Essays; Derrida's comment is from Of Grammatology.
      11. Spingarn's essay subsequently appeared as the title essay of The New Criticism: An Anthology of Modern Aesthetics and Literary Criticism, edited by E. G. Burgum and published in 1930.
      12. The Lewis and Tillyard correspondence originally appeared in Essays and Studies between 1934 and 1936, and was published as The Personal Heresy: A Controversy (1939), preceding W. K. Wimsatt and Monroe Beardsley's "The Intentional Fallacy" by a decade. Eliot's essay titled "Tradition and the Individual Talent" appeared in The Sacred Wood: Essays on Poetry and Criticism (1920).
      13. Judge McEachern's comments are recorded in the transcripts of the DelgamUukw trial (1987-1991), finally decided (in favor of the plaintiffs) by the Supreme Court of Canada on December 11, 1997. BC Studies devoted a special issue to the trial and judgment, and a book of excerpts, cartoons, and commentary from the trial, compiled by Don Monet and Skanu'u (Ardythe Wilson), was published in 1992. Leslie Pinder wrote a powerful monograph titled The Carriers of No: After the Land Claims Trial (1991), and Dara Culhane authored a scholarly study, The Pleasure of the Crown: Anthropology, Law and First Nations (1998). Richard Overstall and Susan Marsden played a key role during the trial (and afterward) in providing a context for these stories and songs.
      14. Bradley is referring to our experience of drama -- in particular tragedy -- and cautioning against bringing notions of morality or utility to bear on that experience.
      15. Robert Bringhurst's translations of Masterworks of the Classical Haida Storytellers appeared in three volumes: A Story as Sharp as a Knife: The Classical Haida Mythellers and Their World (1999); Nine Visits to the Mythworld: Ghandl of the Qayahl Llaanas (2001); Being in Being: The Collected Works of a Master Haida Mythteller, Skaay of the Qquuna Qiighawaay (2002).
      16. The text of this poem is taken from Simon Ortiz's Woven Stone.


Boas, Franz. Keresan Texts. New York: American Ethnological Society, 1925. Print.

Bradley, A. C. Shakespearean Tragedy. London: Macmillan, 1905.

Bringhurst, Robert, trans. Masterworks of the Classical Haida Storytellers. 3 vols. Vancouver, BC: Douglas and McIntyre, 1999-2002. Print.

Chamberlin, J. Edward. "Hunting, Tracking and Reading." Literacy, Narrative and Culture. Ed. Jens Brockmeier, David R. Olson, and Min Wang. Richmond, England: Curzon, 2001. 67-85. Print.

Coe, David Allan. "You Never Even Called Me By My Name." Once Upon a Rhyme. Columbia, 1975. CD.

Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. "Letter to John Thelwell, December 31, 1796." Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Ed. E. H. Coleridge. Vol. 1. London: Heinemann, 1895. 211. Print.

Culhane, Dara. The Pleasure of the Crown: Anthropology, Law and First Nations. Burnaby: Talonbooks, 1998. Print.

Dauenhauer, Richard, and Nora Marks Dauenhauer, eds. Classics of Tlingit Oral Literature. 4 vols. Seattle: U of Washington P, 1987-2008. Print.

Derrida, Jacques. Of Grammatology. Trans. Gayatri Spivak. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins UP, 1976. Print.

Fienup-Riordan, Ann. Yuungnaqpiallerput: The Way We Genuinely Live: Masterworks of Yup'ik Science and Survival. Seattle: U of Washington P, 2007. Print.

Foley, John Miles. "South Slavic Oral Epic and the Homeric Question." Acta Poetica 26.1-2 (2005): 51-68. Print.

Frye, Northrop. Some Reflections on Life and Habit. Lethbridge: U of Lethbridge P, 1988. Print. F. E. L. Priestley Lecture Ser.

Goody, Jack. The Interface between the Written and the Oral. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1987. Print.

Hill, Elizabeth, and Walter D. Mignolo. Writing Without Words: Alternative Literacies in Mesoamerica and the Andes. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 1994. Print.

Jousse, Marcel. The Anthropology of Geste and Rhythm. Trans. Edgard Sienaert and Joan Conolly. Durban: Montis, 1997. Print.

------ . Le style orale. 1925. Trans. Edgard Sienaert and Richard Whitaker. New York: Garland, 1990. Print.

Kreamer, C. M, M. N. Roberts, E. Harney and A. Purpura, eds. Inscribing Meaning: Writing and Graphic Systems in African Art. Washington, DC: Smithsonian, 2007. Print.

Lewis, C. S. The Allegory of Love: A Study in Medieval Tradition. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1958. Print.

Mencken, H. L. "Criticism of Criticism of Criticism." The American Scene: A Reader. Ed. Huntington Cairns. New York: Knopf, 1969. 180. Print.

Monet, Don, and Skanu'u (Ardythe Wilson). Colonialism on Trial: Indigenous Land Claims and the Gitksan and Wet'suwet'en Sovereignty Case. Gabriola Island: New Society Publishers, 1992. Print.

Olson, David. The World on Paper: The Conceptual and Cognitive Implications of Writing and Reading. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1994. Print.

Ortiz, Simon. "The Creation, According to Coyote." Woven Stone. Tucson: U of Arizona P, 1992. 41-42. Print.

Pinder, Leslie. The Carriers of No: After the Land Claims Trial. Vancouver, BC: Lazara Press, 1991. Print.

Ransom, John Crowe. The World's Body. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1938. Print.

Rothenberg, Jerome. Shaking the Pumpkin: Traditional Poetry of the Indian North Americas. Albuquerque: U of New Mexico P, 1991. Print.

Spingarn, Joel Elias. "The New Criticism." The New Criticism: An Anthology of Modern Aesthetics and Literary Criticism. Ed. E. B. Burgum. New York: Prentice-Hall, 1930. 3-26. Print.

Steiner, George. On Difficulty and Other Essays. New York: Oxford UP, 1978. Print.

Stevens, Wallace. "The Idea of Order at Key West." Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens. New York: Vintage, 1990. 128-30. Print.

Wellek, Rene. Rev. of The Mirror and the Lamp, by M. H. Abrams. Comparative Literature 6 (Spring 1954): 178-81. Print.



Winter in Lingit Aani Brings
Magpies and Ravens


My grandmother's name was Saawdu.oo. Ruth Willard Hayes. She chopped wood for the cookstove and washed clothes with a scrub-board. She rolled a scarf around her head, picked up a knife, and went to work sliming fish. After putting me to sleep, she bathed herself, and the next day she powdered her face while I watched. She drew eyebrows atop brilliant knowing eyes and reminded me from my first day: get ready. Be prepared. Don't let anything surprise you. You must be willing to face every threat.
      For the first few years of my life, I lived with Saawdu.oo while my mother was in the hospital for tuberculosis. During those years, my grandmother taught me how to see the world. She taught me to listen to the spiders in our house, for they knew the things that I needed to know.
      During summers, I sat on the hill behind our old house and waited for her to call me in for soup or send me on a chore. During fall, I tried not to go to school. Spring was not much different from winter. In winter, I listened for the Taku wind and hoped for a sled to ride down frozen Capitol Avenue. Inside the house, I stayed away from the snow that drifted under the door into the dark hall. I sat in the kitchen and with my grandmother waited for my grandfather to come home. We both wondered what mood he would bring with him through the door with the drifted snow. With the wind. With a wide smile carrying gifts or with a cold grip on a cheap bottle of something to help him forget.

Winter in Lingit Aani brings magpies and ravens. Eagles allow themselves to be more freely seen. We take measure of the wood, we sweep the stove, we unpack blankets from their summer store. We watch the mountains and the birds for marks of early snow. We wait.
      Unlike spring, winter does not bring more signs of spiders into the house. Like the bears, they must be holing up somewhere. Or dying. Or dead.
      My grandmother instructed me about spiders. Don't hurt them, she warned. Learn from them. Watch them. Learn.

Spiders hunt. Although we might consider them bashful around humans, they show no such timid spirit with their prey. Even the webspinners remain at the ready, testing their woven silk for the struggles of unwary victims. Though their size is small, their nature persuades us to boldness.
      Spiders greet the world early. They wake and get busy early in the day and early in the spring. While the more familiar admonition for those who would lead a correct life is to wake before the ravens, rising before the spiders behooves us even more. The industry of spiders exemplifies right living.
      In the garden, spiders occasionally mimic the colors of nearby blooms. Their sly lurking reminds us that boldness and industry will suffer from an absence of cunning.

When still a newly married young woman, my grandmother traveled to Klukwan to visit her dying sister and retrieve the youngest child, a fresh-born girl named Kaaxkwei. With the child, she and her new husband, Ernie, traveled back to Juneau. In two or three years, her first natural child was born. She eventually gave birth to three boys and two girls. One baby boy died. She and Ernie began to drink.

Spiders are persistent. One sleepy morning years after I had begun teaching my own grandchildren about spiders, as I waited for warm water from the faucet in the hand sink, I glimpsed a spider whirling down the drain. I washed my hands at another sink and told myself there was nothing I could have done. I promised myself and the spi-{92}der that from now on I would more carefully attend to the presence of other lives.
      Normally I trap spiders in a clean glass jar, blocking their escape with a stiff paper forced at the feet of their panic, and release them onto the wet ground outside the front door. I send them all away with my good wishes. Now I mourned my role in one spider's death. I imagined its headlong rush into the dark, churning void. But what could I have done? I asked myself in hopes of absolution. My grandmother's words held no room for pardon: I could have been precise. I could have watched. I could have been mindful.
      Hours later, I braved the hand basin again just in time to witness that spider summiting the drain's final climb. Without a moment for rest, she began again her labor to overcome the sink's smooth walls. While I retrieved a sparkled glass and picked through recent cardboard, I thanked her for the lesson. She had reminded me to persevere.

My grown son does not share my consideration of spiders. He smashes them if he knows I'm not looking. Otherwise he calls for me or my granddaughter to trap them. He hasn't the patience to listen for the stories they tell. Perhaps it's because he's a man.

My grandmother's oldest child, the baby girl she'd retrieved from Klukwan, grew into a good worker. She worked at the café and in the hospital. She got pregnant. She remained unmarried and gave birth to a baby girl. My grandmother disapproved. But the grown daughter did a lot of work around the house and paid a lot of the bills and bought a lot of groceries, so my grandmother could only yell, scold, and wait for my grandfather to come home either drunk or sober. The grown daughter got tuberculosis and was sent into the hospital. My grandmother fit the new baby into her life.

Spiders exhibit qualities to which I can only aspire. Patience. Determination. Common sense. I don't know what my grandmother must have meant for me to learn when she taught me not to disturb the spiders I discovered crawling along our walls or scurrying {93} into corners. I know now that by teaching me to respect this one small creature's life, she taught me reverence for every living thing. By cautioning me to listen to spiders, she taught me to listen to the world.
      I don't flatter myself that my own grandchildren pay any more attention to my admonitions than I did to my own grandmother's lectures. But I do believe that one day they will remember me as I remember her: teaching me in a voice of scolding grandmotherly love, ready to dance with me, ready to answer any question. Ready to watch with silent wisdom while I listen for the whispers of others.

After the oldest daughter came home from the hospital, after all the children were grown or dead, after everyone had finally moved out and my grandmother found herself alone in the old house, she and her new man rented an apartment closer to town and drank most of the time. He often raised his hand to her. She wrapped herself up in a knee-length coat and covered her face. When a young girl ran into the ground-floor apartment to visit her grandmother, her man held back his raised arm and turned away.

She shapes her web. She drops herself with utmost faith into the abyss. She and her sisters hang themselves from the ceiling here and there. They focus themselves against the light. I sweep the hint of their shadows from my cheek. I come across them on the walls and find them crawling in slippery circles in the tub, unmindful of the coming flood. I retrieve a sparkled, empty glass and pick through recent papers for stiff board. She senses me and tries to flee, but where can we run when we're trapped by porcelain walls?
      When her oldest daughter -- the one she had retrieved from Klukwan, the one who didn't know she wasn't her mother's natural child until one thoughtless moment when the knowledge was thrown at her across a room, across a fracture, across a broken life -- left the state vowing never to return, my grandmother carried on with the rest of her life. Until one cold day in the midst of a Taku wind, when she walked south on South Franklin Street instead of in the northern direction that would have led her quickly home. Two {94} weeks later, her oldest daughter forced her eyes to read the unwanted words in the unwelcome letter from a younger sister telling her of her mother's lonely death. Found on the ground in the cold winter. Found wrapped in a knee-length coat. Found alone.

She shapes her web, spinning one line, drops herself into the unknown, is swept unmindfully from unseeing faces, finds the smooth destination, slips repeatedly from smooth unforgiving walls, is flooded into the dark, clinging by desperation alone against the circle's side, when at last the flood ends she climbs toward the light, only to be caught beneath the transparent glass and forced upon the cardboard, is carried into the cold, is dropped without ceremony onto the pebbles, the clover, the dirt. She overcomes every danger. She allows nothing to surprise her. As my grandmother always knew, we must be like the spider from our first day to the last. We must be willing to face every threat.


Book Reviews

N. Scott Momaday. Three Plays: The Indolent Boys, Children of the Sun, The Moon in Two Windows. Norman: U of Oklahoma P, 2007. ISBN: 978-0-8061-3828-2. 177 pp.
      Jane Haladay, University of North Carolina, Pembroke

N. Scott Momaday's book Three Plays honors American Indian cultural memory, events, and people, some of whose stories have been known and some of whose, as Momaday writes, "have now become visible in the long lens of history" (6). The first play in the collection, The Indolent Boys, focuses on an event Momaday describes as "deeply and ever more dimly embedded in Kiowa oral tradition" (5), the death in 1891 of three Kiowa boys who ran away from the Kiowa Boarding School and froze to death in a fierce snowstorm. The boys had fled because the oldest, fifteen-year-old Seta, had been whipped by Barton Wherritt, the teacher and disciplinarian of the school. When the Kiowa people learned of the deaths of their beloved children, who were returning to their people's camps ("They are homesick, / they are going to the camps, / they are camping," the old Kiowa storyteller Mother Goodeye tells us in the play's prologue [10]), the Kiowa descended upon the school in outrage and sorrow and attacked G. P. Gregory, the school superintendent. They were actually seeking Wherritt, who cowardly hid in the school rafters to escape their wrath.
      Each of these historical figures, as well as the fictional white teacher, Carrie, and the Kiowa student John Pai -- whom the school {96} officials hold up as the paragon of their successful efforts to "civilize" Indians -- become characters in The Indolent Boys. Each tells a version of her or his relationship to the "civilizing" process of boarding-school education for Kiowa children, using the deaths of the three boys as the occasion through which the white characters attempt to justify their faux-philanthropic and patently racist visions for Indian assimilation or to clarify why, through the voices of Mother Goodeye and John Pai, this education will never transform Indian people into whites.
      John Pai is imagined by the school authorities to be the counterpoint to the runaway Seta, whom Wherritt blames for the death of the three boys to deflect blame for having inflicted the whipping that led to Seta's flight. Seta is guilty because, as Wherritt tells Carrie, "Let's be honest, he is an Indian, a savage" (47). Carrie is more sympathetic and human than the white male characters in this play, yet she nevertheless subscribes to the fundamental belief that boarding-school education will be the salvation of Native peoples. She makes this clear when she tells John Pai that, "You're our entry, John, and our offering, our dearest sacrifice. You are what we've got to show for all the disappointment and frustration of this place" (29). Yet in an earlier soliloquy to a painting of President Lincoln, Pai articulates his understanding that "School here, Mr. Lincoln, is a camp where the memory is killed. . . . Here at the Kiowa Boarding School at Anadarko, Oklahoma, on the banks of the Washita River, I am taught not to remember but to dismember myself " (24). Pai ultimately subverts his teachers' dreams to become their "civilized" showpiece by returning to his people's camps in place of "the frozen boys" (69), allowing Momaday to fulfill his wish to commemorate through this play the three boys and the spirit of the Kiowa people who fought for them.
      Children of the Sun is a one-act play for children in twelve scenes that dramatize "an ancient Kiowa narrative . . . about the twin heroes" (77). Readers of The Way to Rainy Mountain will recognize reconfigurations of several Kiowa stories in that text, from The Sun's visit to his future wife in the form of the redbird (83) to a version of the arrow maker's story in which the arrow maker is one of the hero {97} twins speaking to Grandmother Spider and to the stranger outside the tepee: "If you are a Kiowa, you will understand what I am saying, and you will speak your name" (101). Indeed, to read Children of the Sun in conversation with The Way to Rainy Mountain highlights the diverse ways in which Momaday remains dedicated to certain major themes, stories, and moments in Kiowa cultural memory, particularly relating to languages and oral tradition. Following the story of The Indolent Boys, Children of the Sun further underscores Momaday's contention that "in the world of the American Indian, . . . children are considered sacred beings" (77).
      Momaday extends the theme of Native children's sacredness in the third play and only screenplay of this collection, The Moon in Two Windows. Like The Indolent Boys, The Moon in Two Windows concerns itself with the late-nineteenth-century project of federal boarding-school education for Indians. "Always, we Indian people have loved our children above all else," the narrator of the play, Luther Standing Bear, announces in the second scene. "I did not know it then, but I know now, that it was the most hurtful thing, the worst thing imaginable, the giving up of the children" (120).
      The ambitious historical scope of this play braids together an enormous range of significant events and figures in Native-colonial relations, looping through time from the locker-room pep talk by Coach Glen "Pop" Warner to the famous Carlisle Indian football team, whose members included Jim Thorpe, before the historic 1912 game at West Point, to a train ride with the frightened Lakota children Colonel Richard Henry Pratt has conscripted to attend Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania in 1879. Luther Standing Bear is an effective narrator to connect and contextualize the play's details, which span the approximately forty-five years between the arrival to Carlisle in 1879 of that first group of Lakota students, including Standing Bear, to some time after Pratt's death in 1924.
      In both The Moon in Two Windows and The Indolent Boys, Momaday's dramatic interpretations of Native students' subversion and creative resistance within the genocidal regimes of federal boarding-school education close with a focus on hope for the future. Yet it is a troubled hope, which succeeding generations of Native {98} children have struggled with painfully as a result of their ancestors being stolen from their homelands as children. "[F]or every single child," Standing Bear reflects at the close of The Moon in Two Windows, "it was a passage into darkness. It was a kind of quest, not a quest for glory, but a quest for survival. They were all brave. They did a brave thing" (176).

Robert Dale Parker, ed. The Sound the Stars Make Rushing Through the Sky: The Writings of Jane Johnston Schoolcraft. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 2007. ISBN: 978-0-8122-1969-2. 292 pp.
      Patrick Russell LeBeau, Michigan State University

In this edited volume of the writings of Jane Johnston Schoolcraft, Robert Dale Parker provides us with an invaluable gift. I say "gift" not only because Parker brings to all of us a collection of writings that have been heretofore unknown to most of us but also because he makes every effort to present Schoolcraft's writings in their original forms. He includes multiple versions and variations along with detailed annotations that identify the original text or texts of each entry, comment on the use of words and phrases, and, in some cases, identify words deleted or changed. These annotations, at times, are mini-essays unto themselves. In this way, Parker leaves a deeply embedded set of tracks that even the novice hunter can follow to fruitful gain. In addition, he writes an informative and carefully crafted five-part contextual essay. At the end of the book are five appendixes; the most important are the first, "Sources and Editorial Procedures," and the fourth, "Misattributions and Potential Misattributions," which press those tracks, those imprints, even further into the pliable mud of the game trail. I do not find this often, but I found the table of contents and index very useful and complete. In these many ways, Parker has given the reader an honest and open transcription of Schoolcraft's writings while placing his own scholarly essays and comments clearly on the side, refreshingly absent of appropriation and negation of the Indian source. This is clearly shown on the front cover when you see two versions of the author's {99} name, "The Sound the Stars Make Rushing through the Sky," her Ojibwa name translated into English, and her Christian name, "Jane Johnston Schoolcraft," while "Robert Dale Parker" appears only once and with "edited by" preceding it, making clear who wrote this book.
      With this in mind, when I first held the book in my hand, I jumped over Parker's introduction and sought out Schoolcraft's writings, and I immediately fell in love with her poetry. After a second reading and with help from Parker's contextual essay and annotations, I marveled at Schoolcraft's skill and expertise in Euroamerican literary forms and at how she used these forms to preserve and transmit Ojibwa cultural and personal knowledge. (To be clear, I read the whole book in this order: "Writings," "Introduction," "Writings" with the "Annotations," and finally "Appendixes.") On an emotional level, as I read Schoolcraft's writings and Parker's contextual history and his sensitive and thoughtful interpretations, a joy of creation and spiritual fulfillment emerged from the writings, and a profound sense of artistic freedom -- free from the pressures of publication and careerism, a freedom to experiment with personal, familial, and cultural subject matters without scrutiny and criticism -- revealed itself on the written page.
      As the first-known Indian literary writer (and poet) and all those other "firsts" listed on page 2 of Parker's introduction, Schoolcraft takes command of the English language for her own purposes. Rather than looking at how Western civilization influences Indians, Schoolcraft's writings show how Indians influence Euroamericans, for Henry Wadsworth Longfellow could not have found some of his sources of inspiration without reading what Schoolcraft wrote. What becomes clear is that new literary tools were and are available to Western-educated Indian people, and many could use these tools to find a new life for story, song, and tradition. In one way of interpretation, the power of the Indian story finds a way of surviving to teach and impress readers and listeners in future contexts and places, never losing the thread and kernel of the original but nevertheless transformed by the personal and by carefully crafted literary forms.
      For me, because of the many familiar images and references, the power of the Indian story and the connection to land is best illustrated by Schoolcraft's poetry. In particular, her first entry, "To the Pine," struck a chord thanks not only to its rhythmic and repetitive qualities but also, more importantly, to my memory of stories told to me by my own mother, a Turtle Mountain Ojibwa. She told stories to us children that she said were "pretend stories"; maybe, in reflection, she called them "pretend" because they were different from the Mother Goose or Dr. Seuss stories that she would read and then share and comment on the vivid illustrations, which were drawn on the page, bright and loud. Many of the "pretend stories" were about a place my mother called the "Circle Pines," a place where these stories would begin, where they would end, and where all the illustrations appeared in our heads, bright and loud. So when I read

     The pine! The pine! I eager cried
      The pine, my father! See it stand,
      As first that cherished tree I spied,
      Returning to my native land.
      The pine! The pine! Oh lovely scene!
      The pine, that is forever green.

I was taken back to the "Circle Pine Pretend Stories" of my youth, a collection of vivid mind images I have not thought of for many years. Nor were they images I thought of as connected to my mother's Ojibwa heritage until I began reading the writings of Schoolcraft.
      This also reminded me of the role of Christian Indian women like my mother, who is a devout Catholic and a boarding-school survivor, in retaining, preserving, and transmitting considerable cultural knowledge despite Christianity. I know that in the 1970s, when I was a teenager, more than half of all my relatives were Christians, and in 2009 I would say closer to 65 percent are. When you heard Chippewa or Lakota stories, you most often heard them from Christians and, most often, Christian Indian women. Furthermore, most of the "traditionalists" I know are former Christians or those Indian people who somehow combine traditional practices with Christianity. Christian Indians are often glossed over and set aside in many con-{101}temporary Indian literary histories, disregarded as not important and oftentimes as victims of evil influences. This is not to diminish the negative impact Christianity had on Indian communities but to celebrate those who, perhaps, used Christianity as a way of not only surviving but also preserving cultural knowledge. Refreshingly, in Jane Schoolcraft's writings and Robert Dale Parker's commentaries, Christianity is given its place in American Indian literary studies, which also makes for a strong matriarchal presence.
      I also have to speak to the pensive, melancholy, and lonely presence in Schoolcraft's writings, which I find to be important historical data. Often we search for the source of a writer's stories and forget about the writer. A "pensive, melancholy, and lonely" presence is most revealing of the condition of Schoolcraft and her situation. These moods, though dark, tell her story, which then tells the story of Indian people and communities and then links itself to a timeless past of Indian oral traditions: a song or a pretend story becomes a poem or a written story. One of these, which I cannot think of except in political terms, is the "Song of Okogis." On its surface, "Song of Okogis" is the lament of a frog, but the poem uses the image of falling white snow, an image, like the inexplicable Yellow Dog, that is found in numerous contemporary works of Indian fiction and poetry, a reference and image, which must have come from stories heard in Indian families and communities:

      See how the white spirit presses us, --
      Presses us, -- presses us, heavy and long;
      Presses us down to the frost-bitten earth.

      Alas! You are heavy, ye spirits so white,
      Alas! You are cold -- you are cold -- you are cold.
      Ah! Cease, shining spirits that fell from the skies,
      Ah! Cease so to crush us, and keep us in dread;
      Ah! When will ye vanish, and Seegwun return?

Brewster E. Fitz. Silko, Writing Storyteller and Medicine Woman. Norman: U of Oklahoma P, 2004. ISBN: 0-8061-3725-8. ix + 288 pp.
      Annette Van Dyke, University of Illinois-Springfield

Silko, Writing Storyteller and Medicine Woman is a very erudite discussion of Leslie Marmon Silko's journey to becoming a writing medicine woman who is developing the perfect language. Central to Brewster Fitz's theory is that Silko has a "conflicted desire for both orality and literacy" that "becomes a yearning for a written orality . . . different from Anglo-European literature" (x). She has, according to Fitz, "a writerly dream of grounding the oral tradition and her texts in an ontologically privileged kind of universal language in which writing and orality are organically one, life-affirming, all embracing, and motherly" (7).
      To support his theory, Fitz traces Silko's development as a mixed-blood writer needing to "heal" cultural wounds that seem to stem from her knowing very little Keresan. He discusses her development from her legacy from Aunt Susie, a writing storyteller, and her experience of seeing a giant bear on the hillside on a deer hunt. For Fitz, these indicate Silko's first steps toward becoming the writing medicine woman. In chapter 1, Fitz examines bear power as figured in several of Silko's stories and Ceremony and elaborates upon her coming into her writing power.
      In subsequent chapters, Fitz discusses Silko's short stories such as "Lullaby," "Storyteller," and "Tony's Story" as illustrating that "Silko vacillates between a distrust of writing that is informed by a logic of exclusion and the realization that writing can both wound and heal, a position informed by a paradoxical logic of inclusion, a messianic logic of syncretic interpretation in which writing heals a lost or unknown tongue by glossing it" (234). I quote this passage to give some idea of the challenges that await the reader of this text. It is, of course, a critical work on the concept of writing itself, so one can expect a certain amount of abstraction. However, at one point, Fitz critiques Helen Jaskoski's reading of "Lullaby," claiming that her "interpretation, though astute, becomes a figure for literary interpretation that is informed by Western literary concepts" (82). {103} He traces her use of the terms tragedy and pathos back to Aristotle and, therefore, sees them as inappropriate. As I do not have the background to do likewise with some of Fitz's concepts, I nevertheless wish he had been a bit less free with terms such as gloss; tolle, lege; glossolalia; and patristic exegesis.
      Fitz also examines what he sees as Silko's "warm, matronizing, and equalizing" use of humor and irony in "Coyote Holds a Full House in His Hand" (147). He sees the coyote-like main character as being akin to Silko, as his "talents come into him like an outside force or narrative spirit" (236). He points out that Silko believes that this power or outside force(s) took over the writing of Almanac of the Dead. In chapter 6, he argues that Silko is doing a "gloss and translation" of the Mayan writings in Almanac and that the negativity in the book points to the love that is found in the next book, Gardens in the Dunes (189).
      In chapter 7, Fitz claims that Silko is attempting to reclaim/create a perfect language that would balance the oral tradition with the written, the Pueblo heritage with the future, based upon a female spiritual principle particularly expressed in Gardens in the Dunes. As I have been working on the female spiritual principle in Native American literature for some time, I was particularly interested in this chapter. I was disappointed that Fitz did not seem to know about the thread of literary criticism begun by Paula Gunn Allen and compiled in her 1986 book Sacred Hoop: Recovering the Feminine in American Indian Traditions. Allen maintains that Silko's use of a female spiritual principle arises from its centrality to Pueblo culture, perhaps a relevant idea to Fitz's thesis. However, his explication of how Silko is using "a confusion of points of view" in Gardens to express the different worldviews was especially masterful (219).
      Part of the difficulty with this book seems to stem from how it came together. In the preface, Fitz notes that his areas of interest are literary theory, French medieval narrative, and the short story. He was a graduate student during the "rise of deconstruction." He admits that he did not take up American Indian literature until 1992 with the reading of Silko's Storyteller. The book grew out of his teaching of a southwestern literature course. One can imagine {104} his chapters as expanded lectures in his course, drawing upon his knowledge of the French medieval narrative and deconstruction, and only subsequently coming together as a book. This might allow one to overlook his lack of reference to the work done by critics such as Allen. In fact, if one peruses his works cited pages, he has very little reliance on published literary criticism having to do with Silko. One can look at this in two ways: his work is so unique that no one else has expounded these particular ideas, or so much has been published that he found it an overwhelming task to get through it to find more of the works that were relevant. Certainly, no one has published a book-length work that covers Silko's work with exactly this approach. This seems to be both its strength and its weakness.

LeAnne Howe. The Miko Kings: An Indian Baseball Story. San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books, 2007. ISBN: 978-1-8799-6078-7. 221 pp.
      Michael Wilson, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

In LeAnne Howe's second novel, Miko Kings: An Indian Baseball Story, a young female spirit named Ezol Day returns to Ada, Oklahoma, after one hundred years to talk about the early days of Indian baseball with Lena Coulter, a contemporary Choctaw journalist. Even within the long tradition of literary Indian spiritual helpers, Ezol is an unusual figure. She has the uncanny ability make high-level mental calculations and talks about the possibility of time travel with the use of her iti nishkin, or "eye tree." At twenty-one, she was reading French at the Good Land Orphanage and displayed what one administrator terms "genius symptoms" (142). At the same time, Ezol Day wishes desperately to live a normal life, to find acceptance and love. She internally rejoices, for instance, when she manages to show some level of social competence by acting similarly to those around her. And one of her fervent hopes is to one day "speak in complicated thoughts to Blip" (163), her team's player/manager whom she loves.
      It is unclear whether Lena somehow calls for the return of Ezol Day or whether Ezol returns for some purpose of her own. Fol-{105}lowing the guidance of an inexplicable voice telling her to return to Oklahoma, Lena begins rebuilding her Grandmother Cora's house (and her own family history), when she finds a leather mail bag hidden in the walls that contains information from and about Ezol. Soon after, Ezol appears and begins telling her the story about the pressures and politics of the Miko Kings baseball team. At first, Lena sees this as the kind of investigation that appeals to her as a researcher and journalist who worked in New York and later in the Middle East. But as she learns more about the history of Indian baseball, she also learns that the past becomes quite personal, forcing her to confront her feelings of abandonment by her mother and to confront the complex tragedies in her own family's past.
      In Howe's novel, baseball is both recreation and re-creation. As Ezol says, "Choctaws and Chickasaws are renounced for their ability to rebuild. . . . We seem to manifest nature itself, as re-creators" (34). In the days of the Miko Kings baseball teams, there was perhaps never a more difficult time for the Choctaw people of Oklahoma to re-create themselves yet again: the U.S. government fragmented their communal land base into small, individually owned plots; the promise of tribal freedom in Indian Territory was soon to be completely extinguished by the creation of the state of Oklahoma; and general lawlessness pervaded the area. For the Choctaws, and particularly for the owner of the Miko Kings, Henri Day (Ezol's uncle), baseball provides the perfect vehicle for promoting tribal identity and solidarity. For one thing, baseball, according Ezol Day, was invented by Indigenous people in North America, where versions of the game appeared among many different tribes. Furthermore, the proceeds from the team went to the Four Mother's Society, an organization that worked to prevent the allotment of tribal lands. Finally, Henri Day bases the organization on the Four Women's Society: he refuses to sell shares of the team to gamblers while at the same time buying shares himself so that regular people could purchase them and have ownership in the team and in the idea, even though this approach risked the viability of the team.
      Howe's novel repeatedly returns to aesthetic, creative response to the difficulties for Indians in Oklahoma in the early twentieth {106} century: fragmentation, changing cultural borders, and lawlessness. At the same time, the novel shows a well-founded skepticism about stories that try to do too much -- that deny the complexity of human experience in the heady mist of the unbroken narrative. Justina Maurepas, for example, who lives among the Choctaws for one year, falls in love with the Miko Kings' star pitcher, Hope Little Leader. But years before, she was known in New Orleans as Black Juice, a black nationalist who confronted inhumanity and inequality in New Orleans with terrorism and violence. Still later, she marries a prominent citizen in New Orleans and becomes a kind of fixture within the bounds of cultural norms and structural power. Algernon Pinchot, an academic from Morehouse College, visits her on several occasions when she is quite old, wishing to write her life more or less exclusively as a narrative of revolt when she was known as Black Juice. Justina, however, wishes to re-create her life within the narrative of her love affair with Hope Little Leader, not the more consumable narrative of the terrorist bomber. Eventually, after becoming her son-in-law, Pinchot drops the project altogether.
      The Miko Kings likewise disassembles the obviously constructed narrative of the invention of baseball in the person of Abner Doubleday. Of course, the creation and re-creation of baseball (like so many other "inventions") is a lengthy, transnational, and ongoing process rather than a discrete point of time in a particular person's history. Howe's novel reflects this process-oriented point of view by providing information from a variety of narrative angles, including letters, a diary, photographs, and drawings. In a moment of particular metafictional daring, the novel even offers a re-creation of the novel's re-creation in the waning moments of Hope Little Leader's life. For this reason, Howe's novel responds to the current discussions in the field of Indigenous literatures about whether metafictional or postmodernist texts are able to reflect an authentic Indigenous point of view. The Miko Kings suggests that our experiences are far too complicated to be reduced to the simple calculus of authenticity or the unified narrative of modernist fiction, even though these conventions have for some reason become the signs of Indigenous authenticity for many Indigenous writers and critics. On a more fac-{107}tual level, some readers may quibble with the historic authenticity of the novel -- for example, the use of relief pitchers or maple bats. My own feeling is that the book should be longer, offering more expansive, even sprawling renditions of the lives of these characters in the novel, like Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow, Leslie Marmon Silko's Almanac of the Dead, or David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest. But then again, it is just as possible that, as with any wonderful work of fiction, I just did not want it to end.


News and Announcements

The Association for the Study of American Indian Literatures announces the ASAIL Emerging Scholars Professional Development Fellowship, which provides travel assistance honoraria of $300 (U.S.) for graduate students and advanced undergraduates to attend and present at professional conferences. Applications will be accepted on an ongoing basis. Applicants must provide a cover letter, CV, and letter confirming acceptance to present at a professional conference on a topic relating to the study of Indigenous literatures or languages. Awards will be distributed at the discretion of the ASAIL president and treasurer based on funding availability. Send applications and queries to the current ASAIL President, Patrice Hollrah, at patrice.hollrah


Contributor Biographies

ROB APPLEFORD is an associate professor in the English and Film Studies Department at the University of Alberta, Canada. He teaches and researches in the areas of Canadian Aboriginal/First Nations literatures and Native American literatures, with an emphasis on contemporary and emergent writing and critical theory. His published articles have appeared in the American Indian Culture and Research Journal, Canadian Theatre Review, Modern Drama, Theatre Research in Canada/Récherches Théâtrales au Canada, Canadian Literature, and Social Text (forthcoming), as well as in the book collections Native America: Portrait of the Peoples, Siting the Other: Marginal Identities in Australian and Canadian Drama, Crucible of Cultures: Anglophone Drama at the Dawn of a New Millennium, and Canadian Author Series: Drew Hayden Taylor and Daniel David Moses (forthcoming). He has edited a collection of essays on Canadian Aboriginal drama and theatre for Playwrights Canada Press (2005).

J. EDWARD CHAMBERLIN was born in Vancouver and educated at the universities of British Columbia, Oxford, and Toronto. Since 1970, he has been on the faculty of the University of Toronto, where he is University Professor Emeritus of English and Comparative Literature. His interest in stories and songs has taken him around the world, to the hunters of the Kalahari and the herders of Mongolia as well as the aboriginal peoples of North America and the England of Queen Victoria. He worked on the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry and the Alaska Native Claims Commission, was senior research associate with the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, and has worked extensively on native land claims in Canada, the United States, Africa, and Australia. He was poetry editor of Saturday Night magazine, and he has lectured widely on literary, historical and cultural issues. His books {110} include The Harrowing of Eden: White Attitudes Towards Native Americans (1975), Ripe Was the Drowsy Hour: The Age of Oscar Wilde (1977), Come Back To Me My Language: Poetry and the West Indies (1993), If This Is Your Land, Where Are Your Stories? Finding Common Ground (2003), and Horse: How the Horse Has Shaped Civilizations (2006).

JANE HALADAY is an assistant professor of American Indian studies at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke. She holds a PhD in Native American studies with an emphasis in feminist theory and research from the University of California, Davis, and an MA from the University of Arizona's American Indian Studies Program. Dr. Haladay's scholarship and teaching focus on literary and pedagogical decolonization strategies, with emphases on violence against Native women, ecological literacy, social justice, and human rights.

ERNESTINE HAYES is a member of the Wolf House of the Kaagwaantaan clan of the Tlingit of southeast Alaska. She is the author of Blonde Indian, an Alaska Native Memoir, which won an American Book Award and an Honoring Alaska Indigenous Literature (HAIL) Award and which was a finalist for the Kiriyama Prize and PEN Nonfiction Award. Her published work also includes poetry and fiction. She is an assistant professor of English at the University of Alaska Southeast and is the grandmother of four.

JENNIFER K. LADINO is currently a Fulbright lecturer at the University of Bergen, Norway. Her research and teaching interests include twentieth- and twenty-first-century American literature, American Indian literatures, and green cultural studies. She is currently at work on a book project that traces a genealogy of nostalgia for nature in American literature and culture since 1890.

PATRICK RUSSELL LEBEAU is professor of writing, rhetoric, and American cultures and former director of American Indian studies at Michigan State University. He has published three books: Stands Alone, Faces and Other Poems (1999), Rethinking Michigan Indian History (2005), and Term Paper Resource Guide to American Indian History (2009). He is an enrolled member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe of South Dakota (his father's home). His mother is a member of the Turtle Mountain Chippewa Tribe of North Dakota.

TEREZA M. SZEGHI is an assistant professor of comparative literature and social justice at the University of Dayton. Her teaching and research centers on American Indian, Latina/o, and environmental literatures.

ANNETTE VAN DYKE is a professor of interdisciplinary studies and English at the University of Illinois at Springfield, where she teaches Native American women's literature and culture, among other things. Her latest essay, "A Hope for Miracles: Shifting Perspectives in Louise Erdrich's The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse," appears in Studies in the Literary Achievement of Louise Erdrich, Native American Writer: Fifteen Critical Essays, edited by Brajesh Sawheny. The book was awarded the Adele Mellen Prize for Distinguished Contribution to Scholarship.

MICHAEL WILSON is an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. A member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, he received his BA in English from Oklahoma State University and an MA and PhD in English language and literature from Cornell University. His research interests include representations of Indigenous people in literary and popular culture, postcolonial theory, and the history of struggles for freedom and independence by Indigenous nations. He is the author of Writing Home: Indigenous Narratives of Resistance, published by the Michigan State University Press in 2008.


Major Tribal Nations and Bands

This list is provided as a service to those readers interested in further communications with the tribal communities and governments of American Indian and Native nations. Inclusion of a government in this list does not imply endorsement of or by SAIL in any regard, nor does it imply the enrollment or citizenship status of any writer mentioned. Some communities have alternative governments and leadership that are not affiliated with the United States, Canada, or Mexico, while others are not currently recognized by colonial governments. We have limited the list to those most relevant to the essays published in this issue; thus, not all bands, towns, or communities of a particular nation are listed.
      We make every effort to provide the most accurate and up-to-date tribal contact information available, a task that is sometimes quite complicated. Please send any corrections or suggestions to SAIL Editorial Assistant, Studies in American Indian Literatures, Department of English, 1 University Station, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX 78712, or send an e-mail to

Anishinabek Nation
PO Box 711
North Bay, ON
Canada P1B 8J8

Phone: 877-702-5200
Web site:

Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Tribes of Alaska (CCTHITA)
Tribal Operations
9097 Glacier Highway
Juneau, AK 99801

Phone: 907-463-7104
Fax: 907-463-7316
Web site:

Cherokee Nation
PO Box 948
Tahlequah, OK 74465
Phone: 918-453-5000
Web site:

Chickasaw Nation PO
Box 1548

Ada, OK 74821

Phone: 580-436-2603 / 580-436-7259
Fax: 580-436-7297
Web site:

Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma
PO Drawer 1210
Durant, OK 74702-1210
Phone: 800-522-6170
Web site:

Gitxsan Nation
PO Box 229
Hazleton, BC Canada V0J 1Y0

Phone: 250-842-6780
Web site:

Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma
PO Box 369
Carnegie, OK 73015-0369
Phone: 580-654-2300
Web site:

Muskogee/Creek Nation
PO Box 580
Okmulgee, OK 74447
Phone: 918-732-7700
Web site:

Pueblo of Laguna
PO Box 194
Laguna, NM 87026
Phone: 505-552-6654
Web site:

Seminole Nation
PO Box 1498
Wewoka, OK 74884

Phone: 405-257-7292
Web site:

Spokane Tribe of Indians
PO Box 100 Wellpinit, WA 99040
Phone: 509-458-6500
Fax: 509-458-6597
Web site:

Wet'suwet'en Nation
205 Beaver Road, Suite 1
Smithers, BC Canada V0J 2N0
Phone: 250-847-3630
Fax: 250-847-5381
Web site:

Contact: Robert Nelson
This page was last modified on: 02/14/10