Imagining Sovereignty: Self-Determination in American Indian Law and Literature
“Sovereignty” is perhaps the most ubiquitous term in American Indian writing today—but its meaning and function are anything but universally understood. This is as it should be, David J. Carlson suggests, for a concept frequently at the center of various—and often competing—claims to authority. In Imagining Sovereignty, Carlson explores sovereignty as a discursive middle ground between tribal communities and the United States as a settler-colonial power. His work reveals the complementary ways in which legal and literary texts have generated politically significant representations of the world, which in turn have produced particular effects on readers and advanced the cause of tribal self-determination.
Drawing on western legal historical sources and American Indian texts, Carlson traces a dual genealogy of sovereignty. Imagining Sovereignty identifies the concept as a marker, one that allows both the colonizing power of the United States and the resisting powers of various American Indian nations to organize themselves and their various claims to authority. In the process, sovereignty also functions as a point of exchange where these claims compete with and complicate one another. To this end, Carlson analyzes how several contemporary American Indian writers and critics have sought to fuse literary practices and legal structures into fully formed discourses of self-determination. After charting the development of the concept of sovereignty in natural law and its permutations in federal Indian policy, Carlson maps out the nature and function of sovereignty discourses in the work of contemporary Native scholars such as Russel Barsh, Gerald Taiaiake Alfred, D’Arcy McNickle, and Vine Deloria, and in the work of more expressly literary American Indian writers such as Craig Womack, Elizabeth Cook-Lynn, Gerald Vizenor, and Francisco Patencio.
Often read in opposition, the writings of these indigenous authors emerge in Imagining Sovereignty as a coherent literary and political tradition—one whose varied discourse of sovereignty aptly reflects American Indian people’s diverse political contexts.
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American Indian approach argues assert authority begin California calls central chapter claims clear clearly colonial communities concept consider Constitution contemporary context continue CookLynn course create Creek critical cultural Dakotah decolonization defined definition Deloria dialectical discourse discourse of sovereignty discussion effect emergence employed engagement example experience fact federal fiction formulation function groups idea identity imagic important indigenous individual interpretation involves issues kind land language literary literature living meaning move narrative nationalist Native American natural notes novel offers particular political subjectivity position potential practices present problem readers reading recognition recognize refers relationship represents respect selfdetermination sense significant sovereign sovereignty specific story structures struggle studies suggest term territory thinking tradition transformation treaty tribal tribal sovereignty tribes understanding United University Vizenor Warrior Western White Earth Womack writing