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  • The Third Space of Sovereignty: The Postcolonial Politics of U.S.-Indigenous Relations
  • Julie A. Pelletier (bio)
Kevin Bruyneel . The Third Space of Sovereignty: The Postcolonial Politics of U.S.-Indigenous Relations. Indigenous Americans Ser.Robert Warrior and Jace Weaver, ser. eds. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2007. ISBN: 978-0-8166-4988-4. 313 pp.

I read Kevin Bruyneel's book from the perspective of an anthropologist who works in the multidisciplinary world of American Indian and Indigenous studies; I was understandably interested in evaluating the political scientist's self-described multidisciplinary approach while exploring what he means by "the third space of sovereignty." Bruyneel succeeds in drawing from historical, political, cultural, and literary analyses to set out and argue for what he sees as "a precise concept as well as a vocabulary that can pin down the alternatives represented in this 'postcolonial arrangement' and/ or 'rethinking of the sovereign state'" (218). This "precise concept" and vocabulary is represented by the third space of sovereignty, a concept he has "derived [. . .] from the work of Homi Bhabha, who defined and seeks out the 'third space of enunciation'" (xviii). Bruyneel defines the third space of sovereignty:

[I]ndigenous political actors work across American spatial and temporal boundaries, demanding rights and resources from the liberal democratic settler-state while also challenging the imposition of colonial rule on their lives. This resistance engenders what I call a "third space of sovereignty" that resides neither simply inside nor outside the American political system but rather exists on these very boundaries, exposing both the practices and the contingencies of American colonial rule.

(xvii) [End Page 111]

Bruyneel's multidisciplinary approach is ambitious but necessary for an innovative and powerful approach to understanding and talking about sovereignty.

In addition to Bhabha, Bruyneel draws from postcolonial theorists Gayatri Spivak, Gayan Prakash, and Bill Ashcroft. Other influences include Vine Deloria Jr.—he does a close reading of Deloria's Custer Died For Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto in the chapter titled "Between Civil Rights and Decolonization: The Claim for Postcolonial Nationhood." According to Bruyneel, Deloria saw tribal self-determination as "sovereignty without the mechanisms of statehood" (152); Deloria's argument for recolonization was "an inherently postcolonial claim [. . .] which would require reclaiming boundaries as active sites of indigenous political agency and autonomy and undermining the presumptive American national claim to belonging in political time and political space" (160).

Bruyneel's attention to boundaries and borders as sites of resistance and maneuvering—as liminal spaces that allow for appropriation and challenges by Indigenous actors—reveals these as third spaces of sovereignty. His analysis of temporal and spatial placement reveals the imperial binary (Bill Ashcroft's term)—domestic versus foreign, in versus out, sovereign versus dependent—contained in U.S. Indian policy and exposes the nonbinaristic responses and strategies of Indigenous groups and individuals who recognize the imperial binary as a "false choice" (Julie Cassidy qtd. in Bruyneel 218). The author reveals the "colonial ambivalence" of the United States as a settler-state, an ambivalence that can trap Indians in a paradox. For example, Bruyneel describes how Indian tribes are imagined and described before the recent gaming economic success of some tribes. They were "out of time"—situated in a mythical past, inexorably damaged by colonization and their own savagery—and therefore they were too weak to govern themselves and so they must be governed by the settler-state for their own good. More recently, successful gaming tribes are also seen as "out of time"—they have stepped too far from their Noble Savage essence—and therefore they are too strong and must be governed and controlled for their own good. The nation-building project in [End Page 112] which the United States is still engaged surfaces as a critical factor in Indigenous relations, as the United States acts to define itself and its borders and citizens, while "putting indigenous sovereignty and political life in a seemingly impossible colonial bind that has positioned indigenous tribes as 'domestic to the United States in a foreign sense'" (220).

Bruyneel has arranged the chapters chronologically, as a historian might, an approach that may seem conventional but is innovative in that the reader...


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