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W r it in g (a n d S p e a k in g ) in T o n g u e s : ZlTK A LA -S A ’S AMERICAN INDIAN STORIES J U L IA N N E N EW M A R K Language, by its very nature, has been used as a vehicle of domina­ tion to form policy and effect political, social, and religious change. One primary example is the Christian Bible. During the conquests of both Mexico and the United States (these names are ofcourse the “new” names), the written “Word,” as recorded in the pages of the Bible, was taken as the signifying marker of authority. Guided by this Word, European men ran­ sacked existing cultures and plundered their lands and people. As poignantly demonstrated in numerous accounts of the conquest of Mexico (Bernal Diaz’s and Bartolomé de las Casas’s, for instance), the conquistadors took to shouting out the requerimiento— originally a written legal document— to the Amerindians prior to violence against them. The requerimiento suggested that the natives abandon their “false” images and thereafter pay sole tribute, on both social and religious grounds, to the King of Spain and to the Christian God. Moreover, the requerimiento was usually shouted in Spanish, a language unknown to the Native Americans. According to Anthony Pagden, the requerimiento was created in 1513 as an attempt to “silence any protests” from native peoples in the Indies but also extended to dissenting Spanish voices as well (xxiv). The requerimiento, then, demonstrates the use of language as an authorizing agent of conquest and violence; written or spoken, it served to justify colonial behavior, however ghastly. These are the circumstances under which the Native American people’s mistrust of the White man’s written words began. Nearly four hundred years after the original drafting of the requeri­ miento, a Yankton Sioux woman named Zitkala-Sa (Gertrude Bonnin) con­ tested the authenticity and authority of the White man’s words by appro­ priating those very words herself. Zitkala-Sa’s American Indian Stories (1921) provides an intricate investigation of the ways in which Native Americans have been persistently misled and disenfranchised by the agency of words written on paper—promises made but never kept. Like the Indians of Mexico in the early sixteenth century, Zitkala-Sa’s fellow Sioux were dispossessed of their land and culture by words often no more familiar to them than those of the requerimiento were to the Amerindian peoples of centuries past. While Zitkala-Sa’s text is composed of English words held together by structured grammatical rules (a marker of “civi­ 3 3 6 WAL 3 7 .3 F a l l 2 0 0 2 lization”), she undercuts the assumed primacy and authenticity of this written language by using it to lodge a veiled attack. Therefore, she establishes herself as an empowered literary trickster. Her trickster-like literary behaviors serve as echoes of the mythic Iktomi of Sioux legend. Yet, unlike Iktomi’s schemes, many of Zitkala-Sa’s literary “tricks” are success­ ful. She ensures that she is rhetorically effective to foreground the urgency ofher own and her culture’s story. In producing autobiographical accounts, Zitkala-Sa hopes to serve as a regenerated voice for herself and for others who have suffered similar dispossession. American Indian Stories is part autobiography, part storytelling, bro­ ken up into ten chapters including “America’s Indian Problem.” However, even though the six chapters which conclude the text (exclud­ ing “America’s Indian Problem,” which reads as a motivated and linear political tract) do not seemingly adhere to the “established” tenets of tra­ ditional autobiography, American Indians Stories can serve as a coherent autobiographical piece when read as a unified whole. As Roumiana Velikova suggests, Zitkala-Sa indeed vacillates between political and autobiographical discourses, sometimes significantly blurring the divi­ sions between the two (51). The series of mytho-historical and culturally inflected stories that follow the four introductory chapters of autobiogra­ phy enhance Zitkala-Sa’s indictment of the “palefaces” who have attacked the integrity of her people and destabilized an entire culture. These stories introduce exemplary components of Sioux beliefs and tra­ ditions, thus explicating the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 335-358
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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