- Mark My Words: Native Women Mapping Our Nations by Mishuana Goeman
A whole range of critical and anti-colonial cartographic metaphors are brought to bear upon several works of fiction and poetry by North American Native women authors in Mishuana Goeman’s Mark My Words: Native Women Mapping Our Nations. Initially, the metaphors seemed over-extended, as though anything and everything in a written work could be seen as a kind of map. The breadth of theoretical geographical reference upon which Goeman draws is immediately apparent, as Denis Cosgrove, J.B. Harley, Edward Soja, Doreen Massey, Robert Sack, and others appear in the notes to the Introduction. Later chapters draw on these thinkers and more: Matthew Sparke, Mark Warhus, Derek Gregory, Gillian Rose, and many others appear in subsequent chapter notes. Each major geographical text cited is used in a necessary way; in other words, Goeman is not simply cherry-picking from the tree of geographical thought: the argument she is making in Mark My Words demands theory worthy of its complexity.
Goeman’s argument, in short, is that Native women in North America have been subject, through a range of policies, laws, and practices, to spatial marginalization and constriction over hundreds of years since first contact with Europeans. Each chapter “maps” out a different trajectory by which colonial powers have implemented such effects, and in each case the “map” is a representation produced by a Native woman author. The lives of these authors – including E. Pauline Johnson, Esther Belin, Joy Harjo, Leslie Marmon Silko, and Heid E. Erdrich – collectively span almost exactly 150 years, but the range of subject matter included in their total creative output goes far beyond a simple block of time. Prosody, image, and character come to bear upon the subjects of the colonization of individual and collective bodies of knowledge and, of course, literally “bodies.” Indeed, Judith Butler makes a late appearance in the text (almost unnecessarily, it would seem) after Goeman asserts, in a discussion of Leslie Marmon Silko’s Almanac of the Dead, that “the body of the state is similar to the bodies it produces in that it is comprised, not by one unilateral subject but in a myriad of valences that produce power” (p. 194).
The power of the state to produce such bodies is the current underwriting much, if not most, of the impressive scholarly work included in Mark My Words. From the starting point of an excellent and theoretically very sophisticated introduction covering, with admirable precision and brevity, almost the whole of critical cartographic thought, chapter 1 takes off with an empirical corroboration of the assertions just made. This chapter examines the role of Canada’s Indian Act in the work of E. Pauline Johnson (1861–1913). Provisions in the 1876 Indian Act have had (and continue to have) a great impact in cases of interracial marriage or couplings, with a disproportionate effect upon Native women who married white men. These women became “non-status” and thus were, in effect, alienated from their people and, as a result, from their land and the sustaining places of their heritage. Residential schools are also mentioned here as part of a process of “symbolic stripping of . . . identity” in relation to a Cree character named Esther.
To explain the plight of this girl, consigned to assimilation, partly through an enforced dress code, in a residential school, Goeman takes the map metaphor to an extreme:
She maintains the mental maps that are more than coverings; one day when she is “grown” she will do as her “mother did,” regardless of what she is learning to become at school. She uses the corporeal map, the gendered colonial map, to survive in the particular space of the nation, but in her narrative she pushes forth a mapping that produces a different alternative than absorption into white norms and gendered subservience.(p. 64)