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Tribal Theory in Native American Literature

Dakota and Haudenosaunee Writing and Indigenous Worldviews

Penelope Myrtle Kelsey

Publication Year: 2008

Scholars and readers continue to wrestle with how best to understand and appreciate the wealth of oral and written literatures created by the Native communities of North America. Are critical frameworks developed by non-Natives applicable across cultures, or do they reinforce colonialist power and perspectives? Is it appropriate and useful to downplay tribal differences and instead generalize about Native writing and storytelling as a whole?
Focusing on Dakota writers and storytellers, Seneca critic Penelope Myrtle Kelsey offers a penetrating assessment of theory and interpretation in indigenous literary criticism in the twenty-first century. Tribal Theory in Native American Literature delineates a method for formulating a Native-centered theory or, more specifically, a use of tribal languages and their concomitant knowledges to derive a worldview or an equivalent to Western theory that is emic to indigenous worldviews. These theoretical frameworks can then be deployed to create insightful readings of Native American texts. Kelsey demonstrates this approach with a fresh look at early Dakota writers, including Marie McLaughlin, Charles Eastman, and Zitkala-Ša and later storytellers such as Elizabeth Cook-Lynn, Ella Deloria, and Philip Red Eagle.
This book raises the provocative issue of how Native languages and knowledges were historically excluded from the study of Native American literature and how their encoding in early Native American texts destabilized colonial processes. Cogently argued and well researched, Tribal Theory in Native American Literature sets an agenda for indigenous literary criticism and invites scholars to confront the worlds behind the literatures that they analyze.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press

Title Page, Copyright

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Contents [Includes List of Illustrations and Tables]

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pp. ix

Author’s Note

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pp. xi

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Introduction: Indigenous Knowledge as Tribal Theory

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pp. 2-20

Language lies at the core of the study of all literatures, and Indigenous languages—whether visibly present or no—influence the composition and worldviews of all tribal texts. Historian Angela Cavender Wilson observes that “our language and the stories perpetuated within that language...

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1. Pictographs and Politics in Marie McLaughlin's Myths and Legends of the Sioux: A Dakota Storyteller in the Ozan Tradition

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pp. 21-42

Born December 8, 1842, in Wabasha, Minnesota, Marie McLaughlin (Anpetu Waste Win), was the child of a Mdewakantun Dakota-Scotch mother, Mary Graham, and a French father, Joseph Buisson. She would spend the first fourteen years of her life in Dakota territory before attending...

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2. Charles Eastman’s Role in Native American Resistance Literature: A "Real Indian" to the Boy Scouts

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pp. 43-61

Recent revisionist efforts in American Indian literary criticism have sought to reframe our understanding of such early Native American authors as Alice Callahan (1868–94) and George Copway (1818–63) as ambivalent spokespersons for their tribes. As participants in turbulent eras...

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3. Zitkala Sa, Sentiment, and Tiospaye: Reading Dakota Rhetorics of Nation and Gender

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pp. 62-75

The use of boarding schools constituted a major episode in the larger era of forced assimilation and acculturation of American Indians. Colonial efforts to educate and convert Native Americans are found as early as the seventeenth century, but by the mid-nineteenth century administrators...

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4. Ella Deloria’s Decolonizing Role as Camp Historian in Waterlily: Sisters, Brothers, and the Hakata Relationship

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pp. 76-92

Ella Cara Deloria, who shares the name Anpetu Waste Win with Marie McLaughlin, was born in 1889 in Dakota Territory in the village of White Swan, South Dakota. Her father, Philip Deloria, was the second Dakota to be ordained as an Episcopal minister, but she also enjoyed a strong...

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5. A Gendered Future: Wi and Hanwi in Contemporary Dakota Writing

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pp. 93-111

Concepts of masculine and feminine principles are emic to numerous Indigenous oral traditions from the Haudenosaunee Sky Woman and Holder of the Heavens to Grandmother Moon and Grandfather Sun in Aztec tradition. These principles inform many traditional and contemporary...

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6. Tribal Theory Travels: Kanien'kehaka Poet Maurice Kenny and the Gantowisas

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pp. 112-129

By examining in this study a body of Dakota texts from different times and places across the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, I have tried to establish a relationship of internal coherence between each author and the Dakota intellectual tradition as she or he understands it. ...


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pp. 131-145


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pp. 147-158


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pp. 159-175

E-ISBN-13: 9780803218543
E-ISBN-10: 0803218540

Page Count: 284
Illustrations: 7 photos, 1 table
Publication Year: 2008