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Reviewed by
Hsinya Huang
National Sun Yat-sen University
Allen, Chadwick. 2012. Trans-Indigenous: Methodologies for Global Native Literary Studies. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012. $75.00 hc. $25.00 sc.pp.

In Trans-Indigenous: Methodologies for Global Native Literary Studies, Chadwick Allen develops methodologies for global Indigenous literary studies by challenging us to think beyond the national borders of contemporary (settler) nation-states and to focus on Indigenous-to-Indigenous relationships instead. He reorients understandings of transnationality and indigeneity through juxtaposition of diverse Indigenous texts and, in so doing, provides significant impulses, especially in the fields of Native American and comparative Indigenous studies, ethnic studies, and global cultural studies, which affect the practice and transformation of intellectual work in global/transnational American studies as well as Indigenous studies. In an earlier article, titled “A Transnational Native American Studies? Why Not Studies That Are Trans-Indigenous?,” which he rewrote as the introduction to Trans-Indigenous, Allen reminds us that conventional theories of the transnational operate on a “vertical binary” (2012a, 3) that subordinates Indigenous peoples. As we work toward a new model that Allen calls “trans-Indigenous,” we need “to see [Indigenous texts] on their own complex and evolving terms” (3). In this full-length monograph, Allen prioritizes [End Page 195] “the global Indigenous” (2012b, xvii) by juxtaposing Indigenous texts from Native North America, Aotearoa New Zealand, Hawai‘i, and Australia. The point is to engage these texts into close conversations and to “acknowledge the mobility and multiple interactions of Indigenous peoples, cultures, histories, and texts” (xiv): Allen investigates Indigenous roots in terms of global routes.

Trans-Indigenous configures different channels of crossing. It crosses over different fields of inquiries and offers impressive multiperspectivism, which it terms “scholarship across” (xix). It transcends the grids of genre, form, and media and highlights distinct Indigenous aesthetics that mix poetry, photography, sculpture, carving, textile, and live performance, etc.—“making across” (xxii). The language employed transgresses English-centered ideology, for English and Indigenous languages are engaged on equal terms—“reading across” (xxvi). The authors investigated display complex and diverse identities and connections that are not only tribal, intertribal, and transnational, but also “significantly and increasingly trans-Indigenous” (xxxiii)—“identities cross” (xxxi). And, finally, there are complex and innovative patterns of design, thinking, knowledge systems, theories, and intersections, which are marvelously woven to contribute to the trans-Indigenous scholarship—“patterning across” (xxxiii).

In addition to the introduction, there are five chapters organized into two parts. The two chapters in part 1, “Recovery/Interpretation,” focus on Indigenous methodologies in order to light new avenues toward a comprehensive understanding of comparative Indigenous studies. They demonstrate how recovering and reclaiming Indigenous texts that have been consigned to oblivion would necessarily reorient and redirect methods of Indigenous literary interpretation. Allen reflects from the vantage point of his intellectual commitment to American Indian literatures, cultures, and scholarship. He sets out to re-vision “The Indian Today,” the Fall 1965 special issue of Midcontinent American Studies, within contemporary international perspectives. The aim is to interrogate how the settler colonialism practiced within the US may be related to US imperialism at large and to “various manifestations of colonialism” (xxxiii) around the globe, thereby setting up the ground for comparative studies of settlers’ dominance and Indigenous struggles in the transnational context. Part 2, “Interpretation/Recovery,” enacts multiple modes of trans-Indigenous juxtaposition across tribes and beyond nations. Allen is keen on revealing the dynamic power of various texts and, by providing careful and thoughtful close readings of Indigenous literature, art, and technology, he reclaims aspects of the Indigenous archives from North America, Hawai‘i, Australia, and New Zealand and engages them into productive conversations. He begins with three readings of N. Scott Momaday’s brief poem “Carnegie, Oklahoma, 1919,” and associates it with Plains Indian pictographic discourses, and retrieves multimedia events of Native American storytelling. In so doing, he aims to intertwine Indigenous poetics and aesthetics for the interpretation of contemporary Indigenous texts. Using Momaday’s poem as an entry point, in the next chapter he stages multiple juxtapositions of diverse Indigenous texts across historical and geographical [End Page 196] boundaries and across genres and media—“Sad Joke on a Marae” by Māori poet Apirana Taylor, “Tangata Whenua” by Māori hip-hop group Upper Hutt Posse, “Blood Quantum” by Native Hawaiian poet Naomi Losch, and “When I of Fish Eat” by Māori poet Rowley Habib, with illustrations by Māori artist Ralph Hotere. By exploring bilingual (English and Māori) representations of Native American and Māori experiences and realities, Allen traffics two cultural systems and features himself not only as a literary critic but as a translator, mediator, and weaver of Indigenous cultures and traditions in the transnational context. Finally, by drawing a comparison between American Indian poet Allison Hedge Coke’s Blood Run and Māori poet Robert Sullivan’s Star Waka, Allen goes beyond trans-Indigenous poetics and aesthetics to celebrate the complex patterning of Indigenous technologies in Native American earthworks and Polynesian waka (canoes). Allen’s comparative emphasis on trans-Indigenous significance gives visibility to the call for Indigenous literary, artistic, and intellectual sovereignty.

Allen’s research should be credited for its celebration of the networking and coalition of Indigenous peoples, which is crucial to contemporary transnational and Indigenous studies scholarship. It retrieves and recovers Indigenous specificities, experiences, and realities to supplement or challenge the lack of Indigeneity in transnational approaches to imperialism, diaspora, post-coloniality, and globalization. Despite the wide ranges of texts covered, his work nevertheless predominantly centers on Native American and Māori literary and cultural production. Allen touches on Indigeneity across waters but he does this by diverging from the land/continent frame as the organizing principle of trans-Indigenous encounters. Native American and other Pacific Indigenous peoples, ideas, cultures, histories, and economic-political conditions seldom emerge as sites of differences and contestation. There would be more differences than affinities between the oceanic perspectives put forth by Pacific Islanders and American Indian continental ways of thinking about indigeneity and transnationality. For instance, N. Scott Momaday’s sense of place pivots around “the immense landscape of the continental interior [lying] like memory in [the] blood” (2001, 7). By contrast, for Tongan writer Epeli Hau’ofa, “Oceania” refers to “a world of people connected to each other” through narratives of Oceanic connection, contiguity, and affiliation: “The sea is our pathway to each other and to everyone else, the sea is our endless saga, the sea is our most powerful metaphor, the ocean is in us” (2008, 50, 58). Furthermore, it would be more productive if we could turn ourselves away from the obsession with Native literature in English to compare Robert Sullivan Star Waka to such works of Oceanic significance as those by Syaman Rapongan of Taiwan’s aboriginal Tau (written in Sinophone script and Tau tribal language). Both authors illustrate how stories of the survival and revival of traditional seafaring practices can provide an indigenously-ordered, anticolonial praxis; both depict stories and images from traditional ocean voyaging to map and remap the uncharted spaces of the Pacific Islands; both feature Pacific indigeneity, which circulates through geographical, cultural, political, and historical flows of people(s), things, knowledge, and power [End Page 197] in the Pacific. The land-based discourse of indigeneity has long been dominant in contemporary Native studies and should be challenged and re-oriented. It would supplement Allen’s critical reading to look at works by other trans-Indigenous critics such as Vicente M. Diaz, who has put together impressive scholarship on contemporary Pacific Islanders.

My critique, however, is to be regarded as a subtle cry for more work to be done in the field, not as dissatisfaction with such a brilliant volume that does more than it promises. Trans-Indigenous develops responsive and responsible scholarship by working across tribes and nations. Allen’s challenging and insightful work deserves much praise and will undoubtedly please a large readership.

Works Cited

Allen, Chadwick. 2012a. “A Transnational Native American Studies? Why Not Studies That Are Trans-Indigenous?” Journal of Transnational American Studies 4.1: 1–22. http://www.escholarship.org/uc/item/82m5j3f5.
———. 2012b. Trans-Indigenous: Methodologies for Global Native Literary Studies. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Hau’ofa, Epeli. 2008. We Are the Ocean: Selected Works. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press.
Momaday, N. Scott. 2001. The Way to Rainy Mountain. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. [End Page 198]

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  • American literature -- Indian authors -- History and criticism
  • Allen, Chadwick. -- Trans-indigenous: methodologies for Global Native Literary Studies. -- 328972
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