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Studies in American Indian Literatures 19.4 (2007) 143-170

The Emergence and Importance of Queer American Indian Literatures; Or, "Help and Stories" in Thirty Years of SAIL
Lisa Tatonetti

Scene One. Spring 2002. The newly green leaves glint silver in the evening light as I walk with a friend beside the lake that bounds one end of our Wisconsin town. She recruits, retains, and provides invaluable academic and emotional support for the Native students who leave their home communities to attend our state school, which is an hour away from the closest reservation in our state and at least six or seven hours away from the farthest. A member of one of these communities and a graduate of the state university system, my friend knows what it means to be far from home, to be encountering an entirely new discourse while surrounded by a sea of white faces. Needless to say she strongly supports the inclusion of American Indian studies within the curriculum. As we walk she updates me on how various students are doing—who is new or returning, who has gone home, who might sign up for one of the introductory or advanced American Indian literatures classes. In the course of this conversation, she asks me about my fall Native Lit II. I tell her it will be a course on GLBTQ/Two-Spirit American Indian literatures. Silence falls. Then she asks for the first time, but not the last: Why?

* * *

Scene Two. December 2006. Several years later, at another midwestern state university, I sit in a straight-backed, institutional chair talking to the department head about my pretenure review. She is supportive and encouraging as she reads anonymous comments from the tenured faculty about my research, teaching, and service. Most are positive, and [End Page 143] this last meeting of the fall term is, as I anticipated, uneventful, until one comment in particular takes me aback. The writer questions my work, my personal ideology, the merit of my field, and especially, my "ill-advised" research agenda, which focuses on GLBTQ/Two-Spirit American Indian literatures. The attack is vehement, suggesting that research on the "margins of the margin" is eminently unimportant, and worse, that it will lead me to send our English majors out into the field unversed in the literary canon. Implicit in the comment is the assumption that such work is not a part of that canon. Frustrated, I leave the meeting with the scathing comments repeating in my head, asking for the first time, but not the last: Why?

* * *

Why? The question frames this essay. Why pay critical attention to GLBTQ/Two-Spirit American Indian literatures? Why teach them? Such questions continue to haunt me, however much I would like to simply and easily dismiss them. These vignettes and the innumerable scenes like them that I've experienced since I began teaching queer American Indian literature in graduate school at Ohio State in the mid-1990s suggest that dismissing the question is not the answer.1 Instead these stories and this question set the stage for the charge this essay will address: what is the importance of GLBTQ/Two-Spirit American Indian literatures? This question, albeit in different forms and from vastly different perspectives, is at the heart of exchanges such as those above. This question, too, I argue, must be addressed in this retrospective issue of Studies in American Indian Literatures (SAIL), which asks us to examine both where the field has come from in that last thirty years and where the field will go as we move further into the twenty-first century. In an attempt to answer this charge, I first provide an overview of the history of queer American Indian literatures and literary criticism in SAIL before offering an analysis of Craig Womack's novel Drowning in Fire (2001) as a means by which to demonstrate why GLBTQ/Two-Spirit American Indian literatures have a larger significance within the field of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9590
Print ISSN
0730-3238
Pages
pp. 143-170
Launched on MUSE
2008-04-04
Open Access
No
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