- Armand Garnet Ruffo (Author)
(Ad)dressing Our Words: Aboriginal Perspectives on Aboriginal Literature. Theytus Books (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Elizabeth Cook-Lynn (Author)
Anti-Indianism in Modern America: A Voice from Tatekeya's Earth. University of Illinois Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Gretchen M. Bataille (Author)
Native American Representations: First Encounters, Distorted Images, and Literary Appropriations. University of Nebraska Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Deanna Reder
I’d recommend that you not read Elizabeth Cook-Lynn’s latest work, Anti-Indianism in Modern America, over a strong cup of coffee. There is enough heart-racing polemic in this book to keep you alert and awake without any additional stimulant. In fact, I made the mistake of reading Cook-Lynn’s discussion of the life and work (and subsequent suicide) of Michael Dorris while on an airplane and gasped audibly and often enough to be embarrassed as well as enthralled.
Certainly Cook-Lynn’s criticism of much of Dorris’s work is legitimate. But while it might be justifiable to repeat the accusations of child abuse made against Dorris before his death, Cook-Lynn includes unnecessary salacious detail about the unresolved case and his suicide. And her complaint that he belittled her while talking "off the record" to a radio host, dismissing her as "a very unhappy woman," is remarkably petty.
While Cook-Lynn ventures ill-advisedly if fearlessly into the personal, she makes her point that American Indian Studies has neglected the political aspirations of Native Americans and instead has focused on issues of identity and authenticity, issues that she contends should be regulated by Native communities. When the academy accepts individuals like Dorris, "described in the media as a foremost native scholar/writer," but who, she contends, has no documented ancestry in any specific indigenous community, the authority of Native American groups to nominate their own representatives is undermined. Cook- Lynn argues that Dorris, the former presi- dent of Dartmouth College (and the ex-husband of celebrated Native American author Louise Erdrich), built his career on intellectual dishonesty, pandering to the tastes of mainstream academia, and by doing so usurped the acclaim deserved by more worthy candidates. American Indian Studies, she suggests, should be more focused on the political goals of Native Americans, who are more concerned about treaty agreements than debates in literary criticism. She asserts that anti-Indianism is endemic in modern America, citing contemporary struggles that Native Americans face, including ongoing oppression and genocide, while scholars debate postcolonial or multicultural theory. The discipline needs scholars, she proposes, who think of themselves as "Native indigenous nationalists." As for discussions of representations of the Indian in mainstream popular culture, she asks, "Do we really need more Buffalo Bill stories?"
While I do not agree with many of Cook-Lynn’s arguments and am often horrified by her tone, I cannot dismiss her most salient points. When I picked up Native American Representations,edited by Gretchen Bataille, I could not help but ask whether or not we need any more discussions of the image of the Native in North American culture. This anthology brings together many eminent and prolific scholars in the published proceedings of a 1997 symposium in France. The discussion of "real-life, self-created Indian Jamake Highwater" in Kathryn Shanley’s "The Indians America Loves to Love and Read" is engaging. And John Purdy’s essay on the influence of Disney on baby-boomer artists (Native or not), New Age believers, and cultural consumers, "Tricksters of the Trade: ’Reimagining’ the Filmic Image of Native Americans," is insightful. But I could not help but wonder if the attention focused on the image of the Native reveals less about aboriginal and more about dominant culture. Still, for the graduate student compiling a bibliography on Native American Literature and Criticism, Bataille’s anthology is an excellent starting point. Most major authors and current debates that are significant in Native Indian studies are cited in this text.
The late Native American scholar Louis Owens, who passed away prematurely in July of 2002, begins the anthology with his essay, "As If An Indian Were Really An Indian: Native American Voices and Postcolonial Theory." He decries "the absence of Native American voices in works by major cultural theorists and respected writers." For example, in The Location of Culture "nowhere, not even in a whispered aside, does [Homi Bhabha] note the existence of a resistance literature arising from indigenous, colonized inhabitants of the Americas." Citing Gerald Vizenor’s contention that "the ’Indian’ is a colonial invention," Owens argues that "in imagining the Indian, America imagines itself" while Native Americans remain unseen and unrecognized. Consequently, only aboriginal writers who learn to "write like the colonial center" receive recognition. Owens does not offer a solution but challenges those who employ postcolonial theory to "give voice to the silent," to recognize that "we unavoidably give voice to the forces that conspire to effect that silence." I’d also recommend Kathleen M. Sands’s essay "Cooperation and Resistance: Native American Collaborative Personal Narrative." She intentionally parodies herself as she sets out to establish credibility and authority as the Euro-American researcher and editor, revealing the tripwires for the white academic in collaborations with Native American storytellers. It is not particularly useful reading for the Native scholar, but at least Sands does not narrowly address a specifically white audience. Jarold Ramsey, in "Telling Stories for Readers: The Interplay of Orality and Literacy in Clara Pearson’s Nehalem Tillamook Tales," explicitly refers to these narratives as "radically different from our own" (emphasis mine) and compares the Tillamook cultural way with "our own way." It is pretty clear that he is addressing members of a homogeneous majority.
In the introduction, Bataille begins with the long-standing European and American fascination with Native America, suggesting that this anthology demonstrates the improved status of Native studies and the increased study of Native literature. I find it disheartening that only two of the eleven contributors to this volume are Native American, suggesting to me that not enough has changed. I’m not suggesting that all scholars in American Indian Studies must be aboriginal, but increased Native American representation is needed to subvert the tradition that continues to position the indigenous person as the subject of study.
This is precisely why I find (Ad)dressing Our Words:Aboriginal Perspectives on Aboriginal Literatures, a collection of essays by Canadian First Nations academics and writers, so encouraging. The contributors are not as conventionally accomplished as those in the Bataille anthology, as only two of the fourteen authors hold Ph.D.s, with several of the others currently in graduate school. But many of the essays, while not as polished as those written by more established academics, are ground-breaking.
For example, more than half of the essays in this anthology are unapologetically personal. Contributors like Neal McLeod and Janice Acoose grapple with the intersections of literary theory, Native texts, and the stories told them by their families. McLeod asserts that for the Native person living in a diaspora, it is possible to ’"come home’ through stories." Acoose concludes that rather than draw on postcolonial theory, she prefers to rely upon the cultural inheritance passed on to her through story- telling to approach Indigenous literatures and "chase away the Wintigos."
Other essays, too, discuss often ignored topics: Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm perceptively discusses the lack of Indigenous erotica; Greg Young-Ing argues for the need for culturally appropriate editorial guidelines; Jonathan Dewar energetically and earnestly considers the position of the aboriginal scholar. Whether it is Randy Lundy’s excellent discussion of misogyny in Dry Lips Oughta Move to Kapuskasing, Rauna Kuokkanen’s insistence on an Indigenous paradigm in her essay on Sami literature and identity, or many of the other works in this anthology, you are likely to read something you have never seen before.
- From Speech to Silence by Charles Barbour
Books reviewed: 'Pataphysics: The Poetics of Imaginary Science by Christian Bök and Faux Pas by Maurice Blanchot
- Queer Retrospectives by Moynan King
Books reviewed: Outspoken: A Canadian Collection of Lesbian Scenes and Monologues by Susan G. Cole, Queer Theatre in Canada by Rosalind Kerr, and This One's Going to Last Forever by Nairne Holtz
- How to Be Here by Allison Calder
Books reviewed: Goodlands: A Meditation and History on the Great Plains by Frances W. Kaye and Man Facing West by Don Gayton
- Speaking, Pausing for Breath, and Gardening by Erin Wunker
Books reviewed: what the auntys say by Sharon Proulx-Turner, breathing for breadth by Salimah Valiani, and Gardening in the Tropics by Olive Senior
- Imagined Geographies by Jacqueline Viswanathan
Books reviewed: Geo/graphies: Mapping the Imagination in French and Francophone Literature and Film by Freeman G. Henry
MLA: Reder, Deanna. Native Representation . canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 22 May 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #181 (Summer 2004), (Wiseman, Livesay, Sime, Connelly, Robinson). (pg. 116 - 118)
***Please note that the articles and reviews from the Canadian Literature website (www.canlit.ca) may not be the final versions as they are printed in the journal, as additional editing sometimes takes place between the two versions. If you are quoting from the website, please indicate the date accessed when citing the web version of reviews and articles.