Native American Commons

Lisa Brooks, Amherst College
Mark Rifkin, University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Between the effort to establish a Native Commons in the Ohio Valley at the end of the eighteenth century and the founding of the Society of American Indians and their advocacy on behalf of their common “race” in the early twentieth, the American nineteenth century saw great changes as well as great diversity in the ways Native nations resisted, adapted to, and negotiated with the establishment of settler nation-states. Throughout the century, Native peoples’ ongoing presence on land claimed by/as the U.S. created an irresolvable legitimacy crisis for the nation; and, for scholars now, attending to Native geographies, diplomacies, sovereignties, histories, and modes of self-articulation has the potential to reorder understandings of nineteenth-century social, political, and cultural life in the U.S. We invite proposals from scholars who are interested in thinking with us through the concept of Native American Commons in the nineteenth century, addressing any aspect of indigeneity and settlement. We are interested in having a collaborative conversation with those who locate their work in Native, Indigenous, and/or settler colonial studies as well as those who locate their work elsewhere, in order to generate dialogue among a range of people pursuing varied intellectual trajectories.

Three rubrics that might guide our conversations are Native “communalism,”  the commonness of U.S. citizenship and national belonging, and the production of scholarship as a commons. Some questions based on these topics might include the following: How do we think about Native modes of sovereignty and self-determination (including holding land “in common”)? In what ways is the putative communalism of Native peoples taken up as a utopian counterexample or symbol for non-native praise, dismissal, or appropriation? How do various aspects of Indian policy in the period—including removal and allotment—draw on a juxtaposition of Native communalism with private property? How does Native authorship relate to collective forms of self-representation (including questions of literacy in English, access to publication and production, collective authorship of legal codes and constitutions, and as-told-to narratives)? How do we understand differences within and among Native nations (including those of gender, race, region and class)? How have non-natives cast Native peoples as (proper) subjects of the nation, including as potential citizens? How do authors in the period theorize dual citizenship (to both a Native nation and the U.S.)? How have “nature,” the “environment,” and “public lands” been understood as a common resource by non-natives, and what are the implications for Native peoples of doing so? What are the stakes of situating Native peoples within shared paradigms of racialization or marginalization with other “domestic” populations? In what ways does settler colonialism serve as an unacknowledged predicate for non-native ethics, ideologies, and movements (including those we might understand as radical or oppositional)? What are the points of consonance and dissonance between Native American and Indigenous Studies and nineteenth-century American Studies (with respect to critical terms, methodologies, intellectual framings)? How can Indigenous epistemologies be employed by Native and non-native scholars, and what are the possibilities and challenges of doing so? What role might/do non-academics and non-academic publics play in producing and disseminating knowledge about the nineteenth-century? How are issues of intellectual property and common knowledge complicated both by the historical relationship between scholarly research and colonial appropriation and by the sovereign status of Native nations?

Lisa Brooks is the author of The Common Pot: The Recovery of Native Space in the Northeast (University of Minnesota Press 2008), which reframes the historical and literary landscape of the American northeast. She served on the inaugural Council of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association and currently serves on the Editorial Board of Studies in American Indian Literatures. In addition to her scholarly work, Brooks serves on the Advisory Board of Gedakina, a non-profit organization focused on indigenous cultural revitalization, educational outreach, and community wellness in New England. She is currently working on a book project, “Turning the Looking Glass on Captivity and King Philip’s War,” which places early American texts, including Mary Rowlandson’s captivity narrative, within the historical and literary geography of Native space.

Mark Rifkin is the author of Manifesting America: The Imperial Construction of U.S. National Space, When Did Indians Become Straight?: Kinship, the History of Sexuality, and Native Sovereignty (winner of the American Studies Association’s 2012 John Hope Franklin prize), and The Erotics of Sovereignty: Queer Native Writing in the Era of Self-Determination. He is a co-editor of Sexuality, Nationality, Indigeneity (2010 winner of best special issue from the Council of Editors of Learned Journals).


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