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The Journal of Speculative Philosophy 14.4 (2001) 268-285

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Cultural Cartographies: The Logic of Domination and Native Cultural Survival

Shari M. Huhndorf, Scott L. Pratt
University of Oregon

D'Arcy McNickle's novel Wind from an Enemy Sky (1978) begins: "The Indian named Bull and his grandson took a walk into the mountains to look at a dam built in a cleft of rock, and what began as a walk became a journey into the world" (1995, 1). 1 As with most journeys, and as distinct from wanderings and well-practiced travels to familiar places, the journey portrayed by McNickle depends upon maps of various kinds to chart and negotiate unknown territory. In the novel, McNickle describes "maps of the mind" that provide strategies for comprehending and negotiating the world, often in vastly different ways. Specifically, in Wind, these are conceptual maps shaped by cultural histories and experiences, and they determine the dynamics of intercultural encounters, the focus of the story. We will argue that even as McNickle presents a chronicle of contact and communication between Native American and European American people, he offers a theoretical assessment of the different kinds of mapping used at these points of contact and their consequences. McNickle's narrative centers on the issues of colonialism, Native American identity, self-determination, and cultural survival. Alternative ways of mapping the world both create and provide resolutions to these problems. Historically, maps have been essential resources in the process of colonialism; knowing indigenous people meant mapping them in locations relative to the colonizers. With maps came the possibility of exploitation, dispossession, and assimilation. McNickle's use of maps as metaphors evokes this violent history. But even as these contending colonial maps lead to tragedy, the story dramatically proposes [End Page 268] an anticolonial approach to mapping that is grounded in Native American thought and committed to cultural continuity rather than destruction.

McNickle presents at least three kinds of mapping in the course of the novel. The first attempts to provide a totalizing and static portrait of the world, subsuming all diversity into a single epistemological framework. The second more modestly tries to map Indian Country alone, in isolation from the colonizing European American culture, and it defines Nativeness solely in terms of its difference from European America. Both maps, however, are colonial because they assume the power to define Native people from outside, usually as unchanging and inferior to European Americans, and to govern them. These two maps, McNickle argues throughout the story, undermine the possibility of Native sovereignty and, thus, Native cultural survival despite the sometimes benevolent intentions of those who use them. A key to understanding both the structure and problems of these colonial maps is found in twentieth-century Anglo-American philosophy, specifically in Bertrand Russell's analysis of the limitations of logic and knowledge. Like McNickle, Russell challenges the possibility of totalizing maps and identities. Instead, he adopts a more modest alternative that parallels McNickle's second map, displaying both its strengths and its weaknesses. In the novel, McNickle shows the failures of this map as well and proposes a third alternative that is both functional and flexible, one aimed at finding means to specific ends rather than envisioning a comprehensive portrait of the world. This map rejects the colonial power to define and to govern from outside in favor of the ability to make and use nontotalizing maps within a local, changing context as a means of cultural survival and self-determination. McNickle's conception of maps and their purposes is critically important because of its implications both for philosophy and for anticolonial movements. Wind from an Enemy Sky, as we read it, thus presents an examination of these contending approaches to mapping--of ways of comprehending and negotiating the world--alive in twentieth-century philosophy. However, McNickle extends conventional philosophical analysis by showing the concrete and often colonial effects of particular ways of knowing the world. As a result, he points out, those who would successfully resist colonial domination must understand...


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pp. 268-285
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