- Trans-Indigenous: Methodologies for Global Native Literary Studies by Chadwick Allen, and: The Transit of Empire: Indigenous Critiques of Colonialism by Jodi A. Byrd, and: A Separate Country: Postcoloniality and American Indian Nations by Elizabeth Cook-Lynn
These three books join a strong and promising trend in Native studies, challenging readers to develop greater awareness and precision regarding Indigenous nations and sovereignty, while also demonstrating how the resulting knowledge can be used to better understand literary, cultural, and historical events. Allen, Byrd, and Cook-Lynn combat the erasure of colonialism (a negation too often aided by postcolonial theory) and assert that US power and wealth depend upon exploitation, thievery, and genocide. They also offer constructive strategies for how scholars and teachers can strengthen and advance the state of American Indian studies while correcting the misinformation and distortions at the heart of US national identity. These new works should compel the continued rethinking of Indigeneity in the United States and around the globe, and they will undoubtedly appeal to different readers in their respective ways.
Chadwick Allen’s Trans-Indigenous: Methodologies for Global Native Literary Studies is a wonderfully lucid and exhaustively researched examination of Indigenous responses to colonialism in North America and around the world. More particularly, Allen compares Native American and Māori efforts to assert their political and cultural autonomy. Trans-Indigenous showcases his considerable talents as a cultural historian and literary scholar. He examines a variety of little-known texts—including scholarly special issues, [End Page 113] governmental reports, tribal newspapers, Internet cartoons, hip-hop videos, and so on—as well as novels and poems to contextualize the growth of Native studies over the past fifty years and to showcase a specifically trans-Indigenous critical methodology.
The book consists of an introduction and five lengthy chapters (divided into manageable sections) grouped under the headings “Recovery/Interpretation” and “Interpretation/Recovery.” The introduction lays out a strong case for understanding Indigenous activism and rights within a global context, even while Allen acknowledges the challenges of a comparative approach. After all, understanding one Indigenous tradition is difficult; gaining expertise in multiple cultural traditions is more so. In addition, linking distinct Indigenous cultures together by virtue of their relation to colonialism runs the risk of “recenter[ing] the (uninformed) dominant settler culture and produc[ing] hierarchies of Indigenous oppression,” thus further disempowering Native peoples (xiv). Allen provides a positive model of how to avoid these pitfalls. His analysis is meticulous, precise, and (occasionally) humorous. He even analyzes the Latin roots of the word compare, advocating for a study of Indigenous literatures as “together (yet) distinct” rather than “together equal” (xiii). And he suggests that scholars choose the prefix trans over post, a shift that, he suggests, “could launch a thousand symposia, essays, and books” (xv).
Trans-Indigenous is a self-aware follow-up to Linda Tuhiwai Smith’s Decolonizing Methodologies and Craig Womack’s Red on Red. Allen writes, “My goal in staging purposeful Indigenous juxtapositions is to develop a version of Indigenous literary studies that locates itself firmly in the specificity of the Indigenous local while remaining always cognizant of the complexity of the relevant Indigenous global” (xix). Allen’s vision is inclusive, in terms of both scholarly participation and authors and texts, and Trans-Indigenous goes well beyond the prescriptive, offering strong models of textual and cultural analysis. As Allen states, “[T]he chapters demonstrate concretely rather than describe abstractly what recovery and interpretation through Indigenous-focused methodologies might look like” (xvii).
To build a broad scholarly context, Allen revisits the fall 1965 publication of The Indian Today, a special issue of Midcontinent American [End Page 114] Studies Journal, and he uses the journal to showcase promising developments in the field as well as intractable problems. He starts with the title itself—The Indian Today—a (recurring...