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175 8 Giving Voice to History Diane Glancy (b. 1941) Because when grief set out on the road the people went and arrived and united new land and water to sow their word once again. — ​Pablo Neruda, “The Word” Beginning with her first published volume of prose, Traveling On, in the early 1980s, Cherokee poet and novelist Diane Glancy has emerged as a major Native American voice, a remarkably prolific and highly versatile writer who has published twenty volumes of fiction, as many collections of poetry, and nearly a dozen plays, as well as several books of essays. In addition to her impressive range in terms of genre, she has experimented boldly with form, using multiple narrators in historical fiction, for example, as well as intertextuality and hybridity when incorporating source documents . This chapter examines a pair of linked novels from an ecocritical perspective to illuminate the role of nature and place in the formation and perpetuation of indigenous language and cultural identity. Pushing the Bear: A Novel of the Trail of Tears (1996) is set immediately preceding and during the forced march from September 1838 to February 1839. The sequel, Pushing the Bear: After the Trail of Tears (2009), takes place following relocation from southeastern states, spanning Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee, as the tribe seeks to preserve its beliefs and reestablish traditional lifeways in the unfamiliar landscape of today’s Oklahoma, then known as Indian Territory. What would become of their customs, language, and traditions, these novels ask, having left their ancestral homelands, especially farms in the woodlands of North Carolina? 176 Native American Novelists Glancy has a personal stake in this history, describing her own Indian heritage geographically in relation to relocation: “My father was an undocumented Cherokee because his father was not in Indian Territory at the time of the Dawes Rolls.”1 Her forebears were presumably among those who eluded capture and escaped relocation by retreating to increasingly remote parts of the Southeast’s unsettled woodlands. Glancy herself is a genuine denizen of the Midwest, with an unmistakable attunement to place. Born in Kansas City, Missouri, she attended both the University of Missouri and University of Iowa before teaching at Macalester College in Minnesota, living subsequently in Kansas and Oklahoma. In fact, place figures directly in her creative process, especially to establish narrative voices. She explains that while preparing to write each of her four historical novels, she made journeys “in search of voice.”2 In the case of Pushing the Bear she took several trips to northeastern Oklahoma that resembled pilgrimages: “I drove to the place where the history took place.... I think that it was in passing over the land that I began to hear the voices of the people in my imagination,” she explains. “I am interested in giving voice to history.”3 Both volumes of The Trail of Tears sequence grapple with the loss of verdant homelands and the enormous loss of life when an estimated eleven thousand to thirteen thousand Cherokee were made to march nine hundred miles on foot in the dead of winter. The grueling journey would stretch across Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, and Arkansas before ending at Indian Territory. During months of snow squalls and rainstorms, as well as treacherous river crossings at the Ohio and Mississippi in midwinter, one in four perished. Glancy’s account does not spare us the raw misery, grisly hardships, and outright atrocities of the march, but portrays equally the psychological trauma. In fundamental ways, relocation was a profound affront to the Cherokees’ sense of cultural identity. Place-­ based cultural memory was jeopardized as soon as the column of refugees— ​initially ten miles long— ​ were marched westward toward in Tennessee in October 1838. Their ancient relationship to familiar forests was abruptly severed, utterly disrupting age-­old lifeways. The Cherokee were understandably apprehensive that rumors about land farther west might prove true: what if this new territory lacked the biological bounty the tribe had always been able to rely on in the past? Those who lived to see Indian Territory were stripped forever of many of the natural resources that had been essential for their survival . Indeed, their identification with the land of their ancestors— ​which is to say an amalgam of nature, place, and narrative— ​was at times so visceral as to seem corporeal. 177 Giving Voice to History: Diane Glancy As the first of the two Pushing the Bear novels commences, the Cherokee in North Carolina are caught up in the...


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