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  • (Re)Mapping Indigenous Presence on the Land in Native Women's Literature
  • Mishuana Goeman (bio)

The physical is easier to achievea boundary drawn to separate peopleNavajos say no word existsestablishing form to the air we breathe.

—Esther Belin1

Stories are a narrative tool that must be part of Native feminisms; they serve as fertile grounds wherein the layers of geography are unfolded, explored, and expounded upon. Native identity, social relations, and politics are often conceived, represented, and determined as geographically and historically situated and bound to a particular community and era, even while the historical onslaught of legislation continues to rip that grounding out from under Native people and narratives of progress provide the underpinnings for Federal Indian policies. Conceiving of Native spaces that encourage the dismantling of boxed geographies and bodies defies Cartesian subject status.2 Engaging both historic attachments to particular geographies and imperial histories that undermine such attachments, Native conceptions of space defy a dominant, Cartesian model of imperial subjectivity in which consciousness emerges out of itself ("I think; therefore I am"), and in abstraction from the particularities of history and geography. Esther Belin does just that through her poetic deconstruction of the Federal Indian Policy of Termination and Relocation and its consequences for later generations. By understanding that space is produced and productive, which Belin makes clear in her writing, we unbury the roots of spatial colonization and lay bare its concealed systems.

Critical Native feminisms will reassess and assert spatial practices that address colonial mappings of bodies and land and remap our social and political lives according to cultural values and contemporary needs. I am deeply interested and invested in meanings of space, place, and territory that reside in the discourse of U.S./Canadian nationalism and Native nationalisms. Often such discourses are rooted in masculine notions of ownership, seen in the personification of land as a "she" and an analogy of woman to nation, but [End Page 295] largely it goes uninvestigated and unquestioned, even though it is a major force in how we organize our daily lives.

Colonial spatializing of our lands, bodies, and minds has occurred since contact; maps, travel logs, engravings, newspapers, almanacs, and many other forms of colonial writings formed a systematic practice of confining and defining Native spaces from land to bodies. With the term "colonial spatializing" I refer to nationalist discourses that ensconce a social and cultural sphere, stake a claim to people, and territorialize the physical landscape by manufacturing categories and separating land from people. Native women's literature, however, has at its roots a counter to colonial imaginings—particularly in its ability to not only oppose colonial narrations that naturalize space through power and language, but to (re)invent new stories and branch into the past, present, and future.

Rather than argue that Native women have separate spatial frameworks, I examine their methods of negotiating their gendered and racialized locations within the constraints of dominant discourses. Colonialism relied on sets of gendered spatial metaphors, such as the dichotomies between home/nation, public/private, frontier/cosmopolitan, women's space/men's space, and many more that inform our daily lives and form those discursive constraints that affect entire communities. Implementing Native feminist critiques and conceptions of space will help in several ways to mend the divisions that maps of "difference" have produced. It also will uproot colonial discourses. Effective Native feminist practices call into question and disorient colonial narrations of "authentic" Native places, bodies, and sets of relationships that sever ties between Native communities, families, and individuals. Native scholarship will put into practice cultural spatial narrations that mend rifts rather than exacerbate the colonial divides. A Native feminist spatial practice critically examines its own positioning and moves us toward destroying Western schemas that hold patriarchy in place.

In my work I raise the following questions: How have Native Nations' narrations of self and community been affected by colonial spatialization? How have people been divided by colonial conceptions of space, such as the reservation? How do people, particularly women, redefine these spaces and work past colonial spatializations to imagine an Indian space, such as the reservation, relocation cities, or Indian Country? How do people...