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Reviewed by:
  • When Did Indians Become Straight?: Kinship, the History of Sexuality, and Native Sovereignty
  • Lisa Tatonetti
Mark Rifkin , When Did Indians Become Straight?: Kinship, the History of Sexuality, and Native Sovereignty New York: Oxford University Press, 2011, 436 pp.

Mark Rifkin's second book is part of a rise of recent texts marking Queer Native studies' arrival as a full-fledged field. Though Rifkin's title—When Did Indians Become [End Page 339] Straight?—might suggest this is an anthropological text, his subtitle—Kinship, the History of Sexuality, and Native Sovereignty—better reflects his focus, which is "how native peoples are subjected to the demand that they signify citizenship (whether to the United States or tribal nations) in terms of a heteronormative standard" (276). To illustrate such demands, Rifkin interrogates the heteronormative expectations found in white-authored fiction and public policy along with the ways a number of Native authored texts enact or resist what he calls "the bribe of straightness," a strategy in which non-dominant groups/authors "play aspects or normalcy against each other as part of a counterhegemonic claim to legitimacy, distinguishing themselves from other, more stigmatized modes of deviance" (22-23).

Rifkin's theoretical introduction aligns with the work of Jaspir Puar, Andrea Smith, and Scott Morgensen in its recognition of the heteronormative underpinnings of settler colonialism. With a clear nod to Foucault, Rifkin traces how non-dominant configurations of "home, family, and political collectivity are presented as endangering the state" (5). Like Andrea Smith in the award-winning GLQ special issue Rifkin edited with Daniel Heath Justice and Bethany Schneider, Rifkin asks what happens when Indigenous people are centered rather than pushed to the periphery of a U.S.-focused history of sexuality. He answers this question in three sets of paired chapters.

Rifkin's first two chapters, "Reproducing the Indian: Racial Birth and Native Geopolitics in Narrative of the Life of Mrs. Mary Jemison and Last of the Mohicans" and "Adoption Nation: Catharine Maria Sedgwick, Hendrick Aupaumut, and the Boundaries of Familial Feeling" focus primarily on non-Native texts from the 1920s to expose the way conjugal coupling and the nuclear family function as lynchpins for a racialized national imaginary in the U.S. Rifkin juxtaposes this institutionalized model of "heterocouplehood" with an Indigenous understanding of kinship that instead centers collectivities. At stake, Rifkin argues, is "the consolidation of a familial norm that elides native kinship structures which challenged the jurisdictional imaginary of the incipient settler state" (48). Rifkin's analysis of Jemison's as-told-to narrative is particularly insightful: he demonstrates that the common reading of Jemison as white privileges a racialized biology over Native adoption and kinship networks. Such readings, Rifkin shows, ignore Jemison's position as clan mother and her subsequent relation to Seneca sovereignty thereby "render[ing] subaltern Seneca modes of political self-representation . . . [and] displacing them as a legally meaningful way of conceptualizing jurisdiction and land claims" (61). Rifkin next reads Sedgwick's Hope Leslie as a challenge to the "emergent heteronormativity" mapped in his first chapter. He shows that Sedgwick rejects conjugal couplehood and the privatized space of the marital home in favor of an affective web of associations she terms "the natural," in which Native kinship systems serve as the model for a productive collectivity based in emotional connection [End Page 340] rather than biology. Rifkin concludes his chapter by examining a Mahican narrative from 1792, Hendrick Aupaumut's account of his time as a U.S. envoy, as an example of a text that employs Indigenous kinship networks as contextualized geopolitical reality rather than detribalized rhetorical strategy.

Rifkin's next paired chapters—"Romancing Kinship: Indian Education, the Allotment Program, and Zitkala-Ša's American Indian Stories" and "Allotment Subjectivities and the Administration of 'Culture': Ella Deloria, Pine Ridge, and the Indian Reorganization Act"—look at the work of these two Dakota authors in light of the major Indian policies of their eras: U.S. government boarding schools, the 1887 General Allotment Act (or Dawes Act), and the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act (IRA). Rifkin uses these texts and policies as examples of how, by the late nineteenth century, U.S. Indian policy had been instantiated...


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pp. 339-342
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