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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 6 Choctalking: The Realities of Fiction in LeAnne Howe’s Shell Shaker


Every map is a political map and tells a story—that we are alive every- where across this nation.1 — Jaune Quick-to-See-Smith It seems entirely fitting that Jaune Quick-to-See-Smith’s collage War shirt 1992 should adorn the cover of LeAnne Howe’s Shell Shaker (2002). Presented on canvas, Smith’s mixed media collage consists of “cut and pasted newspaper headlines and archival material, over which she splashes paint and marks the raw outline of American Indian images and icons.”2 The piece represents a complex meeting point in which a number of elements come into contact: the ocular and the narratological, the historical and the contemporary, the tribally specific (the image of the war shirt) and pop-culture pastiche (advertisements for “Chief Sleepy Eye Brand” and so on). The various constitutive pieces that the collage consists of could be said to be intertwined or imbricated, an aesthetic that, in the eyes of some commentators, could be taken as a sign of hybridization or syncretism. Yet, one could argue, just as easily, that the piece creates a disjunction or disconnection between the image of a culturally significant, sacred garment on one hand, and putative, stereotypical representations of indigenous identity and presence on the other. Thus, in collating a compendium of 1 Jaune Quick-to-See-Smith, Postmodern Messenger, Exhibition Catalogue (2004). 2 Benjamin Genocchio, “Art Review: A Horse Trader’s Daughter, With Visions of Injustice,” New York Times (November 12 2006). 218 Chapter 6 diverse, entangled, and knotted cultural artifacts, stories, and historical resonances, War shirt 1992 presents the viewer...

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