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Reviewed by:
  • Sovereign Acts: Contesting Colonialism across Indigenous Nations and Latinx America ed. by Frances Negron-Muntaner
  • Melanie Vasselin (bio)
Sovereign Acts: Contesting Colonialism across Indigenous Nations and Latinx America edited by Frances Negron-Muntaner University of Arizona Press, 2017

SOVEREIGN ACTS: Contesting Colonialism across Indigenous Nations and Latinx America offers a refreshingly interdisciplinary critical exploration of the concept of sovereignty. This book brings together in twelve chapters the viewpoints of a variety of authors writing on diverse subjects and places that are united by the common theme of sovereignty. While at first glance the link of sovereignty may appear tenuous between such distinct topics as the sartorial aesthetics of a Puerto Rican political activist group, explored in Frances Negron-Muntaner's piece, and the tensions in the Native Hawaiian struggles for sovereignty amid US racial politics, explored in Davianna Pomaika'i McGregor's chapter, there is an abundance of common threads running throughout the book.

These unifying features take the form of authors and key themes primarily related to decolonization and sovereignty. Glen Coulthard's chapter on Indigenous peoples and the politics of recognition provides an in-depth exploration of Frantz Fanon's writings on the psychological effects of colonization and is a key text in the field, influencing many of the other pieces, such as Pomaika'i McGregor's on Hawaii. Coulthard's chapter also links to others that refer directly to Fanon in their pieces, such as Michael Lujan

Bevacqua's chapter on decolonization processes in Guam and Negron-Muntaner and Yasmin Ramirez's chapter on the artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. Along with the cross-fertilization of ideas between the chapters' authors, Sovereign Acts is also tied together by the various explorations in different chapters of key thinkers on recurring themes such as the political theory of sovereignty with Wendy Brown and Giorgio Agamben and decolonization and Indigenous sovereignty with Taiaiake Alfred. Mark Rifkin's chapter, "Indigenizing Agamben," offers a rich exploration of Agamben's state of exception from an Indigenous perspective, with Rifkin convincingly arguing that Agamben crucially omitted geopolitical considerations from his biopolitics theory.

The diversity of areas explored in this book and the necessity of providing a historical backdrop and context to each chapter do not result in a superficial analysis. The authors provide context through their examples, with their engaging arguments accompanied by enough context for a reader unfamiliar with the particular case study or region to learn of both [End Page 192] the context and the content of the argument. While the national context is largely restricted to the United States and the various Indigenous, sovereign, or semisovereign entities within its jurisdiction (with the exception of Coulthard's chapter, written in a Canadian context), the diversity of these entities, from Hawaii to Puerto Rico, Guam to American Samoa, along with several Native American communities, offers the reader a culturally, politically, and geographically diverse exploration of this theme. The restriction to a mostly American context highlights the abundance of different semisovereign arrangements existing within that single nation-state and the distinct ways in which communities navigate and contest their relationship to the US government, as well as offering diverse perspectives on the possibilities for the future—and their limitations.

The authors in this book do not shy away from challenging politically and ethically contentious topics. Jennifer Nez Denetdale's chapter offers a nuanced critique of gender politics within the Navajo Nation, neither dismissing cultural practices nor hesitating to highlight the strategic use of "tradition" in some instances to uphold patriarchal structures. Stephanie Nohelani Teves also explores gender and Native politics through her analysis of Hawaiian hip hop rapper Krystilez's melding of Indigenous Hawaiian musical performance tradition and hip hop culture with its attendant misogyny. Jessica A. F. Harkins similarly explores the contested use of tradition on both sides of the debate over same-sex marriage in the Cherokee Nation, emphasizing the instrumentalization of culture in these instances and the dangers of defining such debates in terms of mainstream liberalism.

In addition to exploring the politics of gender and sexuality in Native American communities, Brian Klopotek's chapter offers a nuanced, forthright investigation of antiblack racism among Native communities in the American South...


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pp. 192-193
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