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T r e a t ie s , H is t o r y , a n d t h e “F u l l - B l o o d ” in In d ia n T e r r it o r y N a t iv e W r it in g M a u r e e n K o n k l e Thanks in large part to the ongoing efforts of scholars such as A. LaVonne Brown Ruoff, Daniel F. Littlefield Jr., and James W. Parins, more and more Native writing from the long period before the “renais­ sance” that many critics mark as beginning with the publication of N. Scott Momaday’s House Made of Dawn in 1968 is being reprinted and made available for scholarly criticism and classroom use.1 Indian Terri­ tory figures in much of this early writing. One of the earliest collections is Theda Perdue’s edition of the writing of Elias Boudinot (1802-1839), Cherokee Editor (1983). Littlefield and Parins’s collection Native American Writing in the Southeast: An Anthology, 1875-1935 (1995) mainly includes Indian Territory writing, and Littlefield has written a biography of the Creek writer Alexander Posey (1873-1908), whose work I will discuss below. He also completed an edition of Posey’s Fus Fixico letters that was begun by the Osage (and Oklahoma) scholar Carol A. Petty Hunter.^ Kenneth Lincoln’s notion of a Native American “renaissance,” a concept that he introduced in a book of the same name in 1983, attributes the seeming proliferation of Native writing after 1968 to a generation that learned to “translate” Native culture (in the form of oral tradition) into “Western literary forms,” “culture” being figured as what can be traced back through anthropological discourse to the time Valjean McCarty Hessing. CHOCTAW REMOVAL. 1966. Watercolor on paper. 8 1/2" x 21 3/5". Museum purchase. The Philbrook Museum of Art, Tulsa, Oklahoma, 1967.24. 1 4 4 WAL 3 5 . 2 SUMMER 2 0 0 0 before Europeans (8). From a literary'historical standpoint, this is at the very least inaccurate: Native writers have been writing in English about the range of their experience since the mid-eighteenth century, and the culture-concept that seems to be the only category through which the academy can understand Native peoples is, as Gerald Vizenor reminds us, a European invention rather than a self-evident fact (161).3 Indian Territory writing of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in par­ ticular puts the lie to many of our preconceptions about Native writing and Native people, forcing us— if we pay attention— to think differently about both. Academic approaches to Native literature, which generally seek to define elements of Native culture in literary works or, related to that, to assess the state of a writers or characters psychological identity as an Indian, are particularly unable to account for early writing that is histor­ ical, polemical, often explicitly political, and that seems even to disavow what we have come to call culture in advocating Native “progress” under changed and changing social conditions. Recently, Native scholars such as Craig Womack, Robert Allen Warrior, and Jace Weaver have rejected those academic approaches to the literature and have argued that Native scholars themselves must develop tribally specific approaches that situate Native literature, oral and written, in the historical and ongoing political struggles of Indian nations for sovereignty.4 This argument has very much exercised certain academic critics, who seem to believe that if Native people criticize their conclusions about Native writing and writers, only Native people themselves can be wrong— an odd response for critics who pride themselves on their deep connection with and sympathy for Indians.5 But Native writers have always disputed what Europeans thought about them and have insisted that they know their own experi­ ences better than Europeans do, throughout the written record and before that, in the early records of Native speech. One of the most preva­ lent themes in Native writing, from those early records to contemporary criticism, is the necessity of telling the history of Indian nations, history that rejects how Europeans have defined Indians and that offers instead narratives of Indian...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 143-161
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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