- Blood Narrative: Indigenous Identity in American Indian and Maori Literary and Activist Texts
In Blood Narrative, Chadwick Allen of the Department of English, Ohio State University, departs from N. Scott Momaday's trope "memory in the blood" to analyze narrative strategies by which indigenous [End Page 128] writers and activists asserted indigenous identities from World War II through the 1970s. He uses comparative method, pairing Maori and American Indian texts for two periods: 1) World War II to the 1960s and 2) the 1960s and 1970s. One part of the book covers each period. Each part begins with an introduction outlining the relevant chronology of historical and literary events and providing an overview of the paired chapters that follow. Then a chapter discusses the period's developments in Maori literature, and a second chapter discusses developments in American Indian literature. After part two, a concluding chapter considers consequences of those developments, especially regarding the global indigenous rights activity that began in the 1970s. An appended chronology lists "national and international government actions, political actions, and publications relevant to American Indians, New Zealand Maoris, and other Fourth World peoples."
Allen's texts include works of fiction, activist texts, and other nonfiction, including both familiar and obscure works. Because indigenous writers tend to concern themselves with the well-being of their communities, much of their important work is practical and includes songs, plays, small periodicals, proclamations, and other forms that critics commonly overlook. Allen juxtaposes such works with the canonical.
He builds his analysis around "two sets of related narrative tactics for asserting indigeneity that largely have been unexplored in recent scholarship": the "blood/land/memory complex" and "treaty discourse" (14). The treaties are the approximately 371 treaties between American Indian nations and the United States and the Treaty of Waitangi, the single treaty between Maori and Aotearoa (New Zealand). Blood/land/memory is "a complex of interrelated tropes and emblematic figures that were developed by American Indian and New Zealand Maori writers and activists to counter and, potentially to subvert . . . dominating discourses" (220) of First World nations. "Blood" represents "an enduring indigenous identity" (220); and "Memory," "a specific indigenous history" (218) or "narratives of connection to specific lands" (220). Explanation is best left to Allen, [End Page 129] according to whom the complex is "an interdependent and essentially inseparable triad" that
has come to define minority indigeneity, its celebrated past, its contested present, and its imagined futures. In the Fourth World context of (post)colonial competition between "native" and "settler" forms of indigenous identity, the blood/land/memory complex asserts criteria for what ought to count as truth and truth's close cousin, authenticity: not in terms of the West's sense of an increasingly homogenized global order, but rather in terms of an indigenous minority sense of a persistently heterogeneous local ground.(220)
The argument involves historical narrative and theory. According to the narrative, the identity that indigenous writers and activists embrace today—as communities with reciprocal obligations to the land, the spirit world, the ancestors, and the progeny; authenticated by place and history; persistent and resistant to domination; and rightfully sovereign—was hardly in use until it was crafted in the global indigenous rights movement that began in the 1970s. It replaced an identity toxic to indigenous peoples—as racial minorities within nation-states, descendants of "once-proud" peoples who got in the way of Progress and who now are mired in social pathologies, dependent on First World custodians, and doomed to disappear as minorities and disperse into the culturally superior citizenries of nation-states. The latter identity, bestowed by people of the First World, reflects their First World interests. The more recent identity, devised by indigenous intellectuals, reflects the interests of indigenous people in a more appealing future.
Allen traces the development of indigenous discourse and identity, beginning after World War II as a generation of Maori and American Indian writers, such as Patricia Grace, Witi Ihimaera, Ella Cara Deloria, and D'Arcy McNickle, entered public discourse. Early...