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Sovereign Stories

Aesthetics, Autonomy and Contemporary Native American Writing


Padraig Kirwan

Sovereign Stories examines contemporary Native American writers’ engagement with various forms of cultural, political, and artistic sovereignty. The author considers literature’s ability to initiate vital discussions about tribal autonomy in modern America and suggests that innovative literary styles are a compelling articulation of the connection between aesthetic and political concerns. In so doing, he concentrates on fictional and poetic forms, the structure and imagery of which comment on indigenous autonomy, selfdetermination, and artistic activism. Offering original selective analysis of the fiction and poetry of Elizabeth Cook-Lynn, Sherman Alexie, David Treuer, LeAnne Howe, Louise Erdrich, Greg Sarris, and Craig Womack, this book explores these tribal authors’ concern with intellectual and creative sovereignty and deftly links those interests to the broader cultural and political issues faced by Native American communities today.


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Chapter 2 Who’s Afraid of Elizabeth Cook-Lynn? Nationalism and Voice in Aurelia


“[I]f I am not going to nation build / I don’t need to write”1 — Elizabeth Cook-Lynn Midway through Elizabeth Cook-Lynn’s Aurelia: A Crow Creek Trilogy (1999)2 the omniscient narrator provides an account of contemporary Dakotah history. In doing so, the teller recounts how, in the not so dis- tant past, the tribe “put down their weapons and relinquished their war ponies” before setting “about making new lives in a reconstructed, yet familiar world.”3 This striking image of “a reconstructed, yet familiar world” is fundamental not only to an understanding of Aurelia, but is, in fact, something of a leitmotif within Cook-Lynn’s writing in general. Indeed, her scholarly essays and fiction are greatly informed by this con- cept of continuance, and the Crow Creek writer has reiterated, time and again, her straightforward conviction that Native American fiction must be concerned with the creation of a “nation-specific creativity and politi- cal unification.” That “unification” will, in turn, “guide the development, continuation and defense of a coherent national mythos” she argues.4 It is 1 Notebooks of Elizabeth Cook-Lynn, 7. 2 Elizabeth Cook-Lynn, Aurelia: A Crow Creek Trilogy (Boulder: University of Colorado Press, 1999). 3 Aurelia, 157. 4 Elizabeth Cook-Lynn, Anti-Indianism in Modern America: A Voice from Tatekeya’s Earth (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2007), 35. 40 Chapter 2 hardly surprising then, that the central protagonist of Cook-Lynn’s three novel cycle, Aurelia, should be described as “a Dakota Sioux female char- acter, a storyteller and a witness”—a woman who...

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