- Mark My Words: Native Women Mapping Our Nations by Mishuana Goeman
by Mishuana Goeman
University of Minnesota Press, 2013
Land is inextricably linked with Native nations, and scholars have approached the ways Native people make places and imbue them with meaning in several ways: ethnographic, legal, spiritual, and environmental. While largely recognizing that a sense of place is created through social relationships, scholars have been less likely to explicitly examine how power intrudes across these contexts. Mishuana Goeman’s Mark My Words: Native Women Mapping Our Nations rectifies this omission by providing a pathbreaking intersectional analysis of space and place, linking representations of territory and identity to spatial justice for Native communities. Closely reading Native women writers E. Pauline Johnson (Mohawk), Esther Belin (Diné), Joy Harjo (Muscogee Creek), and Leslie Marmon Silko (Laguna Pueblo), Goeman explores how these authors are keenly aware of the ways social relations are ordered by power. Using narrative to explicitly name and contest these relationships, these authors draw on understandings of space that have existed in their communities for generations, as well as contemporary ideas to envision alternatives, creating new worlds through their writing in what Goeman calls “(re)mapping” (213). The strongest contribution of Mark My Words is the emphasis on the process by which places are made and constructed, rather than on the materiality of the land on which people act. This allows Goeman to identify the ways decolonized spatial knowledges are created. She ably grounds the process of making place to Native communities, which are “always in the process of creation” (102). In so doing, Goeman insightfully demonstrates that decolonization is a multifaceted process, as opposed to a single discrete moment or strategy.
The transformative and creative processes of space and belonging are the focus of this exemplary work. Building on rich sources (e.g., feminist, political, and humanist geographers Doreen Massey, Edward Soja, and Yi-Fu Tuan), Goeman theorizes Native spatial relationships [End Page 105] and explicitly implicates them in Native community-building and de-colonization practices. To move toward decolonization is to resist colonial categories of territory that circumscribe Native people within limited landscapes. Similarly, to look critically at spatial relationships is to recognize the ways that boundaries are normalized as permanent and inflexible, and thus work to justify settler claims to the land and exclude Native people from most spaces. Goeman identifies tools of dispossession and exclusion: maps function as an essential tool of colonial dominance by making unequal power structures normal and unquestioned while simultaneously erasing Native ties to the land, and long-standing Native histories in certain locales are elided by dominant stories (myths) of settler authority. Contributing to an intellectual tradition centuries old, Native writers do not merely speak back to the colonial narrative, or invert unequal maps and spatial relationships, but use the power of words to create new worlds. Goeman is adamant that words do not merely reflect reality, arguing that by using narrative “in (re)mapping, we as Native people have the power to rethink the way we engage with territory, with our relationships to one another, and with other Native nations and settler nations” (38–39).
What follows is a thoughtful analysis and charting of these alternative worlds within which Native women writers seek to rethink and heal Native communities. Goeman goes beyond finding agency in Native communities to highlight the ways Native writers interrogate the past to situate themselves to the present and future. There are many thoughtful and intriguing examples of imaginative geography in the literature Goeman selects, and her discussion of each is enlightening. She examines the ways that Johnson and Belin contest federal laws such as Canada’s Indian Act and U.S. policies of termination and relocation, undercutting the means by which colonial authorities sought to erase Native people. In the early twentieth century, at a time of heightened assimilation policies, Johnson provocatively destabilized the boundary of Native/non-Native space (as well as the binary of home/away) by explicitly valuing Native knowledge systems and linking gendered relationships to spatiality, effectively writing the settler into Native conceptions of space and nationhood in her...