Indian fields: historicizing Native space and sovereignty in the era of removal

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Jason Scott Cooke (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
Mark Rifkin

Abstract: Familiar to most anyone with knowledge of U.S. history, antebellum Indian removal likely evokes a drama comprised of two roles: on one hand, Indian peoples as represented by elite Cherokee activists, and, on the other, their political antagonists in the nascent states' rights movement, among whom the infamous Andrew Jackson stands both as agent and symbol. What may be surprising, however, is that Americanist scholarship on Native removal similarly reduces it to an overarching Indian-Anglo binary. As against a two-worlds model that frames removal writ large in terms of a single political dualism, I argue that regionally specific forms of Native dispossession around the time of the Indian Removal Act (1830) yield different narrative assemblages of Indian identity. Further, these assemblages correspond with differences in the historical conditions of settler colonialism in different parts of the country, conditions irreducible to a single narrative premised on the territorial claims of the United States. Combining work in the field of Native studies by scholars such as Gerald Vizenor and Jodi Byrd with post-structuralist insights into the relationship between narrativity and historicism, this dissertation develops a geographic paradigm that emphasizes the ways in which both Native and settler actors use linear narratives of history to fashion claims to territory. Each chapter situates the work of an Indigenous activist of the period (the Cherokee spokesperson Elias Boudinot, the Pequot minister William Apess, and the Sauk warrior Black Hawk) in relation to non-Native political and literary texts that lay claim, whether implicitly or explicitly, to lands otherwise held by these activists' respective nations. Accordingly, the project argues for a change in the conceptualization of Indian identity. Rather than a vexed yet essentially referential signifier for Native peoples, Indianness as a narrative construct marks the point at which uneven and at times competing territorial claims by different settler actors gives way to a portrait of the historical necessity of a given claim. What is more, this narrativity becomes available to Native peoples themselves as these regional struggles unfold. Insofar as it renders a linear historicity in the service of land claims, narrating Indianness gives Native activists a means to represent place-based Indigenous sovereignty to audiences not inclined to make sense of this concept.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2017
American literature, Antebellum literature, Historicity, Indian History, Indian Removal, Settler colonialism
American literature $y 19th century $x History and criticism
Literature and society $z United States $x History $y 19th century
Indians, Treatment of $z United States $x History
Indians of North America $x Historiography
Indians of North America $x Ethnic identity
Indian Removal, 1813-1903
Indians in literature

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