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  • Sovereign Stories and Blood Memories: Native American Women's Autobiography by Annette Angela Portillo
  • Alicia Cox
Annette Angela Portillo, Sovereign Stories and Blood Memories: Native American Women's Autobiography. Albuquerque: U of New Mexico P, 2017. 216 pp. Cloth, $65; e-book $65.

Sovereign Stories and Blood Memories refreshes decades-old scholarly debates about Native American autobiographical discourses. With a focus on Native American women's life stories, Portillo applies new theoretical approaches to canonical nineteenth-century autobiographies by Zitkala-Ša and Sarah Winnemucca Hopkins and pays due attention to underexamined contemporary life stories by Delfina Cuero and Leslie Marmon Silko. Portillo's most novel intervention, in her penultimate chapter, is her examination of Native women's use of social media and "communo-blographies" to internationalize Indigenous rights movements and social justice activism. This interdisciplinary study expands the canon of western literary and cultural production by including lesser-known works of Native women's autobiography and making a case for reading Indigenous women's cyberactivism as a digital-age extension of Native autobiographical traditions.

Portillo's introductory chapter reviews scholarly discussions about Native American autobiography and Indigenous sovereignty, her definition of "sovereignty," a contested term in Native American [End Page 443] studies, borrowing David Wilkens's concept of "inherent tribal sovereignty" that "comes from the creator" rather than human government (165, n.29). Portillo's term "sovereign stories" draws on Linda Tuhiwai Smith's argument in Decolonizing Methodologies (1999) that Indigenous epistemologies, including historical and environmental knowledge, have ensured their survival in distinct peoples whose identities and cultures are rooted in their relationships to their lands. Portillo proposes that Native women's life narratives perform "acts of survival" that "resist silence" and "recuperate indigenous-centered epistemologies" (2). Portillo defines "blood memory," a concept theorized by Nancy Marie Mithlo and Chadwick Allen, among others, as "memories … about ancestral identity … rooted within the landscape and geographies of the body as a place and space that is distinct from national topographical maps" (4). This concept resists the tired, racist use of "blood" as a signifier of or metonym for identity and instead posits that bodies are (hi)storied places per se; bodies may move about untethered, yet are rooted in the land through history, relationality, interdependence, and belonging. Therefore, Portillo cautions that we not confuse "the concept of 'blood memory'" with "government-imposed definitions of blood quantum" (13). Portillo often uses the term "shared knowledge" synonymously with "blood memories."

The chapter on Delfina Cuero's Autobiography, edited by Florence Connolly Shipek (1968), analyses Cuero's critical Indigenous perspective on settler colonialism and will particularly interest scholars of place studies and borderland studies. Portillo argues that Cuero remaps "her people's presence through storytelling and place naming" and thereby "disrupts the erasure and silence of the Kumeyaay," an Indigenous people whose ancestral homelands straddle the international border between California and Baja California (17). Her exploration makes a significant contribution to scholarship on an important though understudied text, suggesting that Cuero's autobiography's mediation by anthropologist Shipek has caused it to be marginalized in literature studies and recommends using Susan Berry Brill de Ramírez's interpretive method of "a convers[iv]ely informed listening-reading process" to read as-told-to autobiographies as literature (33). [End Page 444]

The chapter on Leslie Marmon Silko's Sacred Water (1993) and Turquoise Ledge (2010) will interest students of ecocriticism, ecomemoir, and animal and plant studies as it addresses Native perspectives on environmental justice and explores how Silko asserts "an indigenous-centered critique of land desecration, exploitation, and genocide" (18). The section on Sacred Water, an "experimental multi genre life story" that "incorporates pictures, glyphs, and written text," may also interest visual studies scholars (57). After reviewing the history of non-Native peoples' use of photography "as a tool of domination against Native American communities" (54) through appropriation, misrepresentation, and stereotyping, Portillo argues that "images of landscape, clouds, sky, and animals" (53) in Sacred Water continue Silko's family's traditions of looking at "photos … to complement the narratives and stories told by her relatives" (56). Portillo coins the terms "phototelling" or "photomemories" to name Silko's method of juxtaposing photography with written narrative...


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pp. 443-445
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