- Mark My Words: Native Women Mapping Our Nations by Mishuana Goeman
Early in Mark My Words: Native Women Mapping Our Nations, Mishuana Goeman notes, “Unlike the maps that designate Indian land as existing only in certain places, wherever we went there were Natives and Native spaces, and if there weren’t, we carved them out” (5). Goeman sets out to explore these Native spaces and the legal, historical, and social factors that contributed to their formation. Goeman’s academic project emerges directly from her personal experiences as a Seneca woman; she begins her inquiry with an exploration of Twelve Corners, her grandfather’s land in Maine, and notes that her own practice of navigating multiple communities led her to rethink the nature and function of maps, especially within the context of North American settler colonization.
Mark My Words: Native Women Mapping Our Nations offers a critical reading of the relationship between mapping and power. The focus on women’s writing and the role Native women play in imagining current and future realities demonstrate this project’s feminist contexts. Goeman identifies three significant reasons for focusing specifically on women’s writing: these texts enable a critical exploration of constructions of race and gender, disrupt foundational heteropatriarchal aspects of colonial thought, and provide counternarratives to one-dimensional mappings of the Americas (14-15). Given the masculinist slant of colonial policies, such as the Enfranchisement Act of 1869 in Canada and the Dawes Act of 1887 in the US, Native women have been especially targeted for legislative erasure. Goeman focuses her inquiry on mapping as a strategy through which Native women writers contribute to reimagining the multifarious layers of power still in place today.
Goeman identifies maps as powerful objects that, through their concrete and visual nature, have the ability to turn imagination into reality. While the idea of turning thoughts into realities may sound innocuous on one level, Goeman points out that colonizing enterprises used “mapping as a means of discourse that mapped an imperial imaginary” (20). Throughout the history of colonization in North America, maps have been used to manipulate and normalize spaces [End Page 215] by imposing a colonial imaginary and “hegemonic conceptions of race, gender, and nation … onto Native people both ideologically and physically” (23), which has functioned to the detriment of Native lands and rights. Thus, Goeman’s project of tracing the use and representation of mapping in Native women’s writing highlights the ways these authors’ spatial reimaginings constitute a powerful act of survivance. More specifically, she argues that such imaginings in literature can disrupt “taxonomic and contained racial and geopolitical categories that retain nineteenth-century racial logic” and lead to deeper “understanding [of] the effects of late twentieth-century relationships among Indigenous people and current immigrants” (121).
The central theoretical construct out of which Goeman’s inquiry comes is what she calls “(re)mapping.” Goeman acknowledges the contributions of previous scholars who have “examined literary mapmaking and its importance in supporting nationalism at home and empire abroad” (23), but she identifies an absence of scholarship concerned with non-canonical (that is, non-white) literature. To that end, she defines (re)mapping as “the labor Native authors and the communities they write within and about undertake, in the simultaneously metaphoric and material capacities of map making, to generate new possibilities” (3). She adds that (re)mapping “is about acknowledging the power of Native epistemologies in defining our moves toward spatial decolonization” (4). Goeman is not interested in recovering some mythical “pure” moment in history but is invested in understanding the histories and institutions of power that have contributed to contemporary spatial epistemologies. In her exploration of these spatialities, she deftly brings together scholarship from a wide variety of fields, including, but not limited to, indigenous studies, human geography, border studies, literary criticism, gender theory, and history. Mark My Words: Native Women Mapping Our Nations presents a complex and thoroughly researched perspective on the role literature plays in helping us understand cultural and political dynamics as they relate to issues...