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wicazo sa review: A Journal of Native American Studies 15.2 (2000) 63-73

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The Ecological Politics of Leslie Silko's Almanac of the Dead

Bridget O'Meara

We are the garbage, the waste, we make it and dump it, to be separate from it a cancer causing delusion," he said, but with some tone of doubt in his voice. "We cannot separate ourselves, clean and perfect, from the trash we dump out back in the can. Clean is a vision of internal trash, not mere separation.

--Martin Bear Charme from Gerald Vizenor's Landfill Meditation

Here, as everywhere, the identity of nature and man appears in such a way that the restricted relation of men to nature determines their restricted relation to one another, and their restricted relation to one another determines men's restricted relation to nature.

--Marx and Engels in The German Ideology

There is nothing to suggest that, as the process of globalization intensifies at the onset of this millennium, we will soon usher in a [End Page 63] postindustrial, democratic, global village built on neoliberal, free-market ideals of equal access to goods, services, and information. While such an image of the world is enthusiastically proliferated by politicians and capitalists alike in overdeveloped countries, the material, social, and ecological lives of many Third and Fourth World communities is increasingly threatened. This is of course because globalization, following its own historical trajectory, has proceeded unevenly along the lines of race, gender, and class. Indeed, the history of globalization is inextricable from the histories of colonialism and attendant discourses of power and (sexualized, racialized, gendered) difference, which naturalize the violent exploitation and commodification of land, labor, and the body of the "Other." Subaltern communities of color, women and children in particular, in Puerto Rico, Bolivia, Zimbabwe, the Philippines, India, Mexico, Guatemala, New Zealand, Peru, the United States, and elsewhere, have been made to bear the burden of global consumerism as well as of local economic, social, and environmental disruption and devastation. The process has not gone uncontested, however. The protests against the World Trade Organization 1 in Seattle in the fall of 1999 were only the most recent manifestation of new political movements, which, operating simultaneously at grassroots and international levels, have emerged to challenge a capitalist logic of growth at any cost and its tropes of progress, development, modernization, and democratization.

It is thus within this context of both intensifying globalization and efforts to critique, resist, and mobilize against it that I will attempt to explicate and begin to theorize the connections between Native American literature and emergent international movement(s) for social and ecological justice. Cultural production, as activists as well as intellectuals have argued, is crucial in any political movement because it operates simultaneously on psychological, practical, and theoretical levels. Art in the form of stories, songs, paintings, and so forth can encourage individuals to feel the strength of the group, to empower individuals to feel their own strength, and to harmonize differences among diverse constituents. A movement can express its values, ideas, ideologies, and tactics; articulate ongoing concerns; and educate by narrating the history of struggle through forms that reach individuals both internal and external to the movement. A given work or cluster of works can open up space to critique the ideology of the movement itself and allow for the renegotiation and transformation of strategies and positions. 2 While the category of Native American literature cannot encompass the total of cultural production related to an international, multifaceted, and sometimes loosely allied movement against globalization, the issues foregrounded more often than not find counterparts in a broad cross section of constituent groups.

In this essay, I will focus primarily on Almanac of the Dead by Leslie [End Page 64] Marmon Silko. 3 The novel, written five hundred years after Columbus stumbled across an island in this hemisphere and nearly a decade before the WTO protests, is expansive in scope. It is both history and prophecy. It is a testimonial as well as a manifesto...


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