- “Beyond All Age”Indigenous Water Rights in Linda Hogan’s Fiction
From the Mississippi Flood of 1927 to the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita of 2005 to the bp oil spill of 2010, from the Flint, Michigan, water crisis of 2016 to drought conditions that have persisted for the past several years, environmental events have revealed water to be both a threatening curse and a threatened commodity. Amid these threats—and institutional responses to them—human beings strive not only to survive but also to conquer, an impulse that has intertwined claims to waters with the conquest of Native America. Waterways are thus a central emphasis in Linda Hogan’s ecocritical works, which link water to tribes’ exercise of sovereignty. Though Hogan’s writings have been productively studied within the broader context of environmental literature, her renderings of Indigenous waters are also linked to the historical and legal challenges that her Chickasaw community has endured as it has sought to manage its waterways in Oklahoma. At present, the Chickasaws are embroiled in a high-stakes battle over access to water in Oklahoma, and the tribe’s differences from Indigenous nations in the West, which are typically based on reservations, lie at the heart of the disputes.
This article connects Hogan’s depiction of Indigenous relationships to water in her novels Mean Spirit (1990), Power (1998), Solar Storms (1995), and People of the Whale (2008) with Chickasaw histories of water and the tribe’s investment in resource management. This investment includes its involvement in two lawsuits, Tarrant Regional Water District v. Herrmann (2007) and Chickasaw and Choctaw Nations v. Governor Mary Fallin, owrb, and Oklahoma City (2011).1 These historical and legal contexts highlight anew Hogan’s occupation with water as united to her commitment to Indigenous sovereignty and her broader assertions of social justice and global environmental activism. Throughout [End Page 56] her works, set in locations both near to and far from Chickasaw country, which she calls “the place where I originate” (Harrison 162), Hogan creates images of water that capture her investment in Indigenous peoples’ relationships to the natural world, which express both political and spiritual sovereignty. Ultimately, this study of Hogan’s literature sheds new light on the political and cultural implications of her work, as well as on the critical role of water to Indigenous narratives.
Hogan’s career, spanning numerous plays, poetry collections, essays, and novels, defines her as one of the foremost Indigenous ecofeminist writers. Scholars such as Lee Schweninger have examined how Hogan’s writing diverges from stereotypical associations of Native peoples with elements of nature while at the same time firmly establishing an Indigenous land ethic. Others, including Lydia Cooper, have explored the sacred dimensions of Hogan’s commitment to sustainability. Greta Gaard and Sylvia Schultermandl have argued that Hogan’s environmental ethic is inclusive, incorporating those of many tribal and ethnic identities. Joni Adamson extends this inclusivity, pointing out alliances between humans and nonhuman species as evidence of cosmopolitanism in Hogan’s work. This inclusivity, however, has also led some to question the effectiveness of Hogan’s environmentalism. As Ernest Stromberg points out, Hogan’s rendering of tribal nations of which she is not a member has, for some, shadowed her attempts to affirm political Indigenous sovereignty. Our study of Hogan’s representations of water within the context of Chickasaw water rights affirms connections between literature and the concrete realities of law and land within a particular tribal jurisdiction, balancing typical pan-Indian assessments of her work.
Though she currently resides in Colorado, Linda Hogan keeps a home in Ada, Oklahoma, the capital of the Chickasaw Nation, where she combines her bond to this homeland with her writing and activism. Her sense of environmental responsibility is captured in words from her memoir, The Woman Who Watches Over the World (2002): “We are together in this, all of us, and it’s our job to love each other, human, animal, and land, the way ocean loves shores, and shore loves and needs the ocean, even if different elements” (29). Rooted in her Chickasaw identity, Hogan thus looks outward...