Theses Doctoral

Our War Paint is Writer's Ink: Ojibwe Literary Transnationalism

Spry, Adam Michael

Works of literature written by Native Americans have long been treated by readers and critics as expressions of cultural identity: transparent representations of communal world-views, traditional belief-systems, or sets of cultural practices. Often, such ethnographic readings come at the expense of understanding how these texts express the political concerns of their authors. My dissertation pushes back against such readings, showing how Ojibwe writers attempt to use literature as a means of shaping public opinion in the pursuit of pragmatic political goals. Reconsidering Ojibwe writing in this way, I examine how Ojibwe authors use their work to engage in dialog with non-Native readers and writers in the U.S.--an interaction they insist be understood as transnational. By comparing literary representations of the Ojibwe produced by both U.S. writers and the Ojibwe themselves, I show how poems, novels, and dramatic works have been the site at which the possibility of Ojibwe nationhood has been imagined and contested for nearly two centuries. In so doing, I suggest that Ojibwe literature is not a stable and homogenous category, but an expedient response to U.S. settler-colonialism defined by a shared set of political commitments. In so doing, I complicate prior theorizations of indigenous literary nationalism as a project primarily oriented toward cultural separatism, replacing them with a more nuanced model of continual, if agonistic, engagement on the imperfectly leveling field of literary representation.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
English and Comparative Literature
Thesis Advisors
Gamber, John
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 16, 2014