- Thomas E. Moore's Sour Sofkee in the Tradition of Muskogee Dialect Writers
A discussion in the field of Native literary studies concerns the degree to which contemporary Native fiction is politically oriented, especially in relation to Native writings of the nineteenth century, which were largely nonfiction and more obviously related to particular claims either in the writing itself or the author's involvement with activism (Samson Occom's critique of racism in the missionary field, William Apess's collective work with the Mashpees to control lumber resources and elect their own select men, George Copway's ill-conceived pleas for relocating Ojibways to the Dakotas, and Sara Winnemucca's arguments to allow her people to return to the Malheur Reservation, e.g.). When not directly confronting a particular land or jurisdiction issue these writers often addressed the broader human rights of their people as well as the problematic ways Americans imagined them.
The prevalence of nonfiction in the nineteenth century, the dearth of creative works of the imagination, and the idea of a fiction that would arise in a later generation with questionable political credentials is complicated by those who see a hidden politics between the lines in the more recent fictional work, others a more direct engagement, and the occasional critic who discerns a complete avoidance of politics altogether. The dialect letters that began appearing in Indian Territory newspapers in the late 1880s challenge virtually all these assumptions. The letters are notable as both works of fiction as well as a forum for particular political issues. In the best-known instance, that is, Alexander Posey's Fus Fixico letters, fiction writing [End Page 1] functions as editorials for Posey's political work and advocate for the state of Sequoyah that would continue southeastern tribal nations' jurisdiction over their territories after the rest of Oklahoma was admitted as a state.
Perhaps these letters are left out of the search for Native intellectual traditions because they are situated between the time periods commonly referenced in relation to Native literary eras: the nineteenth and early twentieth century and the contemporary outpouring of literature after the late 1960s. They do not fit comfortably into a particular period given their publication in opening years of the twentieth century.
These epistolary works of fictional storytelling, however, should be considered before claims are made that early nonfiction writing comprised a more direct or authentic link to Indian experience, political affairs, or the most obvious way of understanding a foundational link in Native theory or criticism. They at least add something to the creation story of Native intellectual practice that is worth consideration, and they pose important questions about whether one kind of literature (nonfiction) can be a more direct pipeline to a pure source of experience or politics than another (fiction). We do not suggest a postmodern turn in which literature is merely a proving ground for demonstrating that there is really no difference between nonfiction and fiction but a historical one in which the differences between the two forms of expression are contextualized in relation to the Indian and non-Indian worlds that surround them.
Hence Posey, concerned for his son's future education, forbade young Alex to speak the Muskogee Creek language when he turned the age of fourteen.1 One of the ways of looking at the Fus Fixico letters is to view them as a personal revolution when Alexander Posey in his adult years defied his father's sanction and insisted on "talking Indian" again and having that speech validated as significant literary expression. Here we are purposefully suggesting the possibility that Posey's proclamation of a literary language he characterized as "Este Charte" (pronounced "stijaati" in Creek) involved an understanding that English could function as a Muskogee Creek language, a radical thesis then as now. In his correspondence with his contemporary [End Page 2] fellow Este Charte writer Charles Gibson, Posey's major criticism of cheap imitators, publishing simulations in newspapers that borrowed from his own work and other Indian writers, was that the briefest time inside the territory would prove the inaccuracy of their depictions of the language.2...