Decolonizing the American Empire: Native American literatures of resistance and presence

Carrie Louise Sheffield
Department of English, Purdue University
July, 2005
Full text (external site)


This dissertation reads Native American literatures as playing a vital role in the current movements towards decolonization. Recognizing that definitions of decolonization differ from person to person and nation to nation, this project examines critical issues such as sovereignty, memory, and language from differing perspectives in order to more fully investigate the implications of those issues and their import to decolonization. Native American literatures, by re- writing imperial America's narratives of death, work to assert their rights, and claim a presence that has been ignored by imperial America. They serve to bring the past into the present, and confront the reader with the fact that the gruesome past of theft, lies, and genocide is, in truth, the gruesome present. The overall goal of this project, therefore, is to analyze how contemporary Native American literatures combat the effects of an ongoing colonization and oppression by articulating the critical need for decolonization on multiple levels. In doing so, I apply critical readings of multiple texts to three key areas: sovereignty (Silko's Almanac of the Dead and Alexie's The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven), memory ( Winter in the Blood and Solar Storms), and language (Glancy's Pushing the Bear and Tapahonso' Sáanii Dahataał: The Women are Singing and Blue Horses Rush In). This differentiation in focus is crucial to the analysis of contemporary Native American literatures as literatures of decolonization. While concepts such as land, community, and identity are critical to Native American cultures, a singular focus on them risks reading them as cultural artifacts rather than as active forces in the struggle for decolonization. The texts under consideration in this project work to counteract the restrictive tropes such as the 'dying breed' or 'drunken Indian' constructed by white America by claiming sovereignty, prioritizing Native modes of memory, and privileging to Native languages.