- Asegi Stories: Cherokee Queer and Two-Spirit Memory by Qwo-Li Driskill
In this stunning book, author Qwo-Li Driskill produces a tour-de-force with each page where readers engage with Cherokee-specific gender traditions that question the Western, settler colonial narratives that assume a binary, Christian gender configuration that limits Indigenous and Cherokee beliefs about "difference" in terms of body, performance, and life roles. Asegi Stories is the first tribally specific account of Two-Spirit identity, memory, and decolonization. Driskill's work is an intervention into both Native studies and queer studies. Using the metaphor of a double-wall basket, readers are exposed to the many different "splints" or pieces that must be re-woven together from multiple identities to form one complete community. In the introduction, Driskill draws from Maori scholar Linda Tuhiwai Smith's theorization of dissent lines to argue that Native studies, women's studies, queer and trans studies, and decolonial projects have a shared responsibility to create social movements that will lead to decolonization. "I conceive these dissent lines as splints of cane that are doublewoven with my personal reflections and relationship with these materials in order to create a basket that looks like a book to carry these stories" (4). Unlike other contemporary scholarly works in queer Indigenous studies, Asegi Stories is grounded as a tribally specific, multi-identity, interdisciplinary crossing intervention into colonial memories that constrain Cherokee people known as asgayusd' udant[i/a] (s/he feels/thinks like a man), ageyusd udant[i/a] (s/he feels/thinks like a woman), or Two-Spirit. Divided into six "splints," the introduction argues that storytelling (splint three) within queer and Two-Spirit spaces can use the basket (splint one) as a path (splint two) to return to a tradition of doubleweaving (splint four) by examining Cherokee Two-Spirit and gender nonconforming archives (splint five) that document historic and contemporary resistance among Cherokee women and Two-Spirit individuals who disrupt heteropatriarchy. Driskill asserts in the concluding paragraph of the introduction that "[b]y doubleweaving and paying attention to Two-Spirit critiques, our scholarship can aid in the resistance and struggles of Native communities and help create theories and movements that are inclusive of and responsive to Indigenous Two-Spirit People" (38).
In chapter 2, "The Lady of Cofitachequi and Other Asegi Routes," settler colonial accounts of displacement, colonization, and repression of Indigenous [End Page 215] genders and sexualities are explored among the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creeks, and Seminoles. Through these accounts, Driskill is able to offer a Two-Spirit critique of colonial violence that has led to the "queering" of Cherokee bodies as deviant and uncivilized. Citing the work of Seneca scholar Mishuana Goeman, Driskill argues that rereading accounts of the De Soto expedition along with other narratives of colonization and heteropatriarchy provides both an opportunity to understand the term "asegi spaces" as well as the manner in which colonial structures continue to enact gendered violence against Native peoples. As Driskill argues, "[T]hese routes are not just literal—the chronicles of De Soto's expedition also mapped gendered colonial violence onto our lands and bodies, told stories about who Indigenous people were in the Southeast that created a paradigm precedent for colonists that were to follow" (43).
The importance of this book for understanding both anti-Indian as well as anti-Black sentiments and structural practices within the United States is highlighted in chapter 3, "Unweaving the Basket: Missionaries, Slavery, and the Regulation of Gender and Sexuality," where Driskill describes Cherokee internalization of colonial concepts surrounding gender, sexuality, and race. Cherokee gender and sexuality are examined in this chapter within the context of removal, Cherokee enslavement of Africans (a process Driskill describes as unweaving), and missionary conquest. The unweaving (violent repression) of these various splints (Cherokee women, Two-Spirits, enslaved Africans, and freedmen within the Cherokee Nation) led to an erosion of customary Cherokee law according to Driskill. Through an asegi reading of these laws, the author argues that the Cherokee Nation began...