- Queer Indigenous Studies: Critical Interventions in Theory, Politics, and Literature
A landmark study, this new collection consolidates a new wave of critical perspectives that interweave indigenous studies with queer theory. These recent voices build upon earlier work by Native American and First Nations authors and critics who engaged gay and lesbian studies approaches. These predecessors include the two-spirited Mohawk poet Maurice Kenny, who penned the groundbreaking essay “Tinselled Bucks: An Historical Study in Indian Homosexuality” in the mid-1970s, and Craig S. Womack, who published a seminal final chapter in Red on Red: Native American Literary Separatism on the closeted Cherokee playwright Lynn Riggs in 1999.
This new wave seeks to advance the critical discourse over and beyond that which was produced by non-Native anthropologists or other social scientists such as Walter L. Williams, author of the groundbreaking 1986 study The Spirit and the Flesh: Sexual Diversity in American Indian Culture. They take to task anthropological discourse, exposing the way in which discussions of Two-Spirit have been shaped by their utility to non-Native gays and lesbians without being grounded in conversations with indigenous intellectuals or being fully accountable to Native peoples. Moreover Queer Indigenous [End Page 99] Studies ushers the critical discourse past some of the concerns negotiated in the 1997 anthology Two-Spirit People: Native American Gender Identity, Sexuality, and Spirituality, edited by Sue-Ellen Jacobs, Wesley Thomas, and Sabine Lang. In twelve wide-ranging essays eleven contributors critique heteronormativity, “white colonial heteropatriarchy” (212), settler colonialism, and their deleterious influence on Natives’ internalized concepts of sexuality. They invite the reader to “imagine with us the future of queer Indigenous studies as a part of collective resistance” (24).
Published simultaneously with Queer Indigenous Studies is a companion volume of sorts, Sovereign Erotics: A Collection of Two-Spirit Literature. That intertwined collection shares a coeditor, the two-spirited Cherokee poet and critic Qwo-Li Driskill, who is joined by another queer Cherokee literary force, novelist and critic Daniel Heath Justice, author of Our Fire Survives the Storm: A Cherokee Literary History. Their Sovereign Erotics coeditor Lisa Tatonetti, who is doing crucial work on Maurice Kenny, analyzes in Queer Indigenous Studies D. H. Justice’s trilogy of fantasy novels collectively titled The Way of Thorn and Thunder and Driskill’s poetry collection Walking with Ghosts, uniting them as “outland Cherokees.” Qwo-li Driskill’s influential work and his term “Sovereign Erotic” are also elaborated upon in an incisive, historically grounded essay by Mark Rifkin. The author of the exciting recent study When Did Indians Become Straight? Kinship, the History of Sexuality, and Native Sovereignty, Rifkin here has produced a tightly crafted essay that engages theory productively and is perhaps the finest of the collection. Brian Joseph Gilley, author of Becoming Two-Spirit: Gay Identity and Social Acceptance in Indian Country, brings sexual desire back to the table in his article “Two-Spirit Men’s Sexual Survivance” and also happens to be Cherokee (and Chickasaw). While these essays are all strong, one might quibble that the emphasis on Cherokee literature and perspectives might have been better balanced with that of a wider range of tribes, albeit Driskill, Justice, and Gilley are widely influential on indigenous queer critical discourse.
While offering plenty of Cherokee-love, Queer Indigenous Studies expands its range past the national borders of the United States [End Page 100] into a broader indigenous studies approach. Aotearoa, or in colonial terms, New Zealand, is well represented with two essays, one by Michelle Erai analyzing colonial “queer castes” intermingling race and sexuality. A second essay by Clive Aspin explores Maori takatapui identity and community health. Indigenous Pacific Islanders are also the subject of Samoan artist and poet Dan Taulapapa McMullin’s meditation on Tagaloa, Jesus, and Nafanua (Samoa’s greatest warrior). These inclusions reflect the development of, and growing interest in, discourse on the indigenous people of the Pacific Islands. Closer to home, the Métis critic...