- Beyond Settler Time: Temporal Sovereignty and Indigenous Self-Determination by Mark Rifkin
In Beyond Settler Time: Temporal Sovereignty and Indigenous Self-Determination, Mark Rifkin offers the compelling argument that challenging normative settler time engenders new possibilities for Native articulations of futurity. Rifkin, citing the commonly made argument that Native peoples are modern, asserts that this claim is predicated on a normalization of settler perceptions of what constitutes the present (xiii). Rather than arguing for inclusion in settler time, which takes dispossession as a given, Rifkin posits the importance of attention to temporal sovereignty, which is "[t]he need to address the role of time (as narrative, as experience, as immanent materiality of continuity and change) in struggles over Indigenous landedness, governance, and everyday socialities" (x). Rifkin successfully accomplishes an intervention in normative settler time by providing an in-depth theoretical and methodological framework in chapter 1, a close reading of the silent presence of Ely S. Parker in the film Lincoln in chapter 2, an analysis of Osage duration in the face of allotment in John Joseph Mathews's novel Sundown in chapter 3, and a demonstration of the importance of prophetic time through the Ghost Dance in Sherman Alexie's novel Indian Killer and Leslie Marmon Silko's novel Gardens in the Dunes in chapter 4. Rifkin concludes his book with a coda, in which he considers how temporal sovereignty could be expressed when modes of Native governance are already recognized and regulated by the settler state, ultimately concluding that "deferring juridical time enables the exploration of temporal sovereignty as a set of possibilities that exist alongside but are not subordinate to the politics of recognition—possibilities that [End Page 118] come into view when one ceases to take settler frames of reference as the necessary background" (192).
Rifkin begins his book by situating Beyond Settler Time in a larger theoretical discussion of temporality. In the first chapter he defines essential terms such as orientation, background, frame of reference, momentum, perception, and trajectory, which he uses throughout the text. One of the main goals of Rifkin's first chapter is to dispute the notion of universal time, which is dictated by settler expectations of the future, and instead emphasize Indigenous temporal heterogeneity (16). Rifkin argues that there are a multiplicity of temporalities that coexist and that allowing for this multiplicity makes expressions of temporal sovereignty possible (30). The importance of storying to Indigenous temporal orientations is emphasized in Rifkin's analysis, and he argues that they "could be characterized as a mode of temporal sovereignty" (36). What is most important about Rifkin's attention to Indigenous storying is how he uses it as a framework to disrupt the modern/traditional binary and heteronuclear inheritance, as well as to emphasize Native peoplehood and relationships to land (44–45). The political stakes of Native storying are high, since he articulates it as a form of world making (46).
In the second chapter Rifkin provides an analysis of the 2012 film Lincoln and the silent presence of the Tonawanda Seneca chief Ely S. Parker. His discussion in this chapter focuses on the US national narrative, which marks the Civil War as a major epochal shift in the national trajectory while simultaneously displacing Native relationships with the United States during this time. Rifkin argues that by focusing on the Civil War and the narrative of freedom and equality that accompanies emancipation, US history is oriented toward democratic progress and away from Native dispossession (52). The goal of this chapter is to illustrate the ways in which Indigenous temporalities and orientations in time are effaced by a naturalized settler narrative of history (53). The erasure of Native dispossession enables the settler state to privilege the view that the United States is extending democracy rather than practicing imperialism (59). Rifkin also frames the mass hanging of thirty-eight Dakota men at Mankato in 1863 within temporal erasure and convincingly argues that the Dakota War is depicted as a "rupture in time owing largely to the participants' Indianness...