- Blood Narrative: Indigenous Identity in American Indian and Maori Literary and Activist Texts
Blood Narrative is a comparative literary study of indigenous identity in post–World War II literary and activist texts by New Zealand Maori and American Indians—groups who share much in their response to European settler colonialism. The author, Chadwick Allen, has extensive experience working with both groups. In 1994 he held a Fulbright student fellowship at the University of Auckland, where he studied Maori language and culture while interacting with leading scholars of the "Maori renaissance" era. Allen is currently assistant professor [End Page 246] of English at Ohio State University and associate editor of the journal Studies in American Indian Literature.
The book's primary title is a variation on Kiowa author N. Scott Momaday's signature trope "memory in the blood" or "blood memory," which blurs the distinction between racial identity (blood) and narrative (memory). Echoing Momaday, the first American Indian to be awarded a Pulitzer Prize for literature, Allen examines the discursive practices employed by Maori and American Indians when they attempt to construct contemporary indigenous minority identities as literary and activist texts. He chose Maori and American Indians for comparison because both underwent a long colonial experience and both have writers and activists who mark their identities as distinctive from European-descended settlers. Following initial European contact, both peoples experienced devastating warfare, loss of their lands, and dramatic population declines from which they did not recover until the second half of the twentieth century. Those individuals born after the war came of age during the 1960s and 1970s and produced a "renaissance" that permanently altered the position of indigenous peoples both in North America and the Antipodes. The study's focus is limited to the early contemporary period (World War II through the 1970s), which the author describes as "an era of dramatic social transformations and unprecedented textual production" (p. 2).
In analyzing texts, Allen employs what he calls the "blood/land/ memory complex" to explain how indigenous writers create identity. These controversial terms are the primary and interrelated sites in the struggle over defining indigenous identity. He also argues that the discourse of treaties is used to define the relationship between native and settler societies. For Maori, the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi is seen as both a sacred covenant and treasured possession, which defines the relationship between Maori, the government, and the Pakeha (European) community. The treaty thus becomes allegory for contemporary Maori writers. By contrast, so many treaties were signed between the U.S. government and Indian tribes that no one treaty can be used to define Indian-white relationships. Indian writers are more likely to use treaty discourse as a metaphor or metonymy for promises made and often broken. However, indigenous writers and activists never accept treaty discourse as an enduring sign of Maori or Indian subjugation but rather "as an enduring sign of compromise between mutually respected sovereigns" (p. 21).
Allen considers the texts in two groups. The first emanate from the period from World War II through 1960, a time when both the Maori and American Indian search for identity was strongly influenced by [End Page 247] assimilationist forces. In Aotearoa/New Zealand, the Department of Maori Affairs sponsored the bilingual publication Te Ao Hou/The New World, which, for over twenty years, featured works by Maori authors as well as government officials. Appropriating the name of a traditional Maori oratory site in front of the meeting house, this publication was to be a "Marae on Paper," a place for exchanging ideas and negotiating consensus. Allen's analysis of writings in Te Ao Hou reveals that it opened the possibility for Maori writers to subvert the government's assimilationist goals. Likewise, American Indians resisted attempts to define them in such works as the government-sponsored Indians in the War (1945) and the article "Set the American Indian Free," which appeared in Reader's Digest. Reflecting the maneuvers of their Maori...