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Trans-Indigenous: Methodologies for Global Native Literary Studies by Chadwick Allen (review)

From: College Literature
Volume 41, Number 1, Winter 2014
pp. 195-198 | 10.1353/lit.2014.0001

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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 “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 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...

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