A guide to the colonization and projected decolonization of Native America
In The Colonial Construction of Indian Country, Eric Cheyfitz mounts a pointed historical critique of colonialism through careful analysis of the dialogue between Native American literatures and federal Indian law. Illuminating how these literatures indict colonial practices, he argues that if the decolonization of Indian country is to be achieved, then federal Indian law must be erased and replaced with independent Native nation sovereignty—because subordinate sovereignty, the historical regime, is not sovereignty at all.
At the same time, Cheyfitz argues that Native American literatures, specifically U.S. American Indian literatures, cannot be fully understood without a knowledge of U.S. federal Indian law: the matrix of colonialism in Indian country. Providing intersectional readings of a range of literary and legal texts, he discusses such authors as Louise Erdrich, Frances Washburn, James Welch, Gerald Vizenor, Simon Ortiz, Leslie Marmon Silko, and others. Cheyfitz examines how American Indian writers and critics have responded to the impact of law on Native life, revealing recent trends in Native writing that build upon traditional modes of storytelling and governance.
With a focus on resistance to the colonial regime of federal Indian law, The Colonial Construction of Indian Country not only elucidates how Native American literatures and federal Indian law are each crucial to any reading of the other, it also guides readers to better understand the genocidal assault on Indigenous peoples by Western structures of literacy, politics, and law.
Eric Cheyfitz is Ernest I. White Professor of American Studies and Humane Letters in the American Indian and Indigenous Studies Program at Cornell University. He is author of The Disinformation Age: The Collapse of Liberal Democracy in the United States.
"Through masterful readings, Eric Cheyfitz convincingly argues for federal Indian law as a necessary framework for understanding the political force of Native American literatures and their engagement with urgent issues such as land rights, sovereignty, and identity. A deeply informed and illuminating study, The Colonial Construction of Indian Country is essential reading for anyone interested in the connection between literature and society and the nature of Native resistance to ongoing settler colonialism."—Shari Huhndorf, University of California, Berkeley
"Eric Cheyfitz masterfully exposes the imbrication of Native American literatures and federal Indian law. In the process, he reveals not only the jurispathic nature of federal law in the lives of Native peoples but also the truth in the jurisgenerative power of storytelling. In the words of the Acoma Pueblo poet, Simon J. Ortiz, ‘because of the insistence to keep telling and creating stories, Indian life continues, and it is this resistance against loss that has made life possible.’"—N. Bruce Duthu, author of Shadow Nations: Tribal Sovereignty and the Limits of Legal Pluralism