Returning from the Oklahoma Sovereignty Symposium 5

I have been traveling allot the last few weeks.  One of the places that I have been, and which I am returning is the Oklahoma Sovereignty Symposium in Oklahoma City, OK.  This is my first year going and it was well worth the drive.  I was blown away by the Parade of Nations, in which the tribal nations of Oklahoma entered the arena.  I was captivated by the conversations and found myself wishing I had more to contribute.  But on a certain level that seems to be appropriate when we are talking about Native Americans and the law doesn’t it. Our narrative history (I am Choctaw) chants a song that is only heard by some, but when heard is a testament to our life, our struggles and our status as a people.

This years theme was “as long as the grass grows.”  How fitting a phrase for Indian law itself.  As long as the grass grows beneath our feet, Indian law will continue to whisper the remnants of our past.

While I was sitting in the panels and listening to the rich dialogues that of themselves gave birth to the peoples and their stories, I began to think about what types of texts might fit in a law and literature course.

Of course Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote about Indians: we have talked about Roger Malvin’s Burial and Lovewell’s fight in the French and Indian War here; however, Indians in Hawthorne’s tales are mostly in the background — setting for the action of the european settlers. This is in contrast to his contemporary James Fenimore Cooper who romanticized the American Indian (Last of the Mohicans remains a favorite (book and movie).

Another book that looks at the Indian as confronted with modernity, is Sundown, by John Joseph.

A modern piece of literature that struggles with identity, family, and modernity is The Bean Trees by Barbrara Kingsolver.   I keep meaning to read her follow up to that book Pigs in Heaven, though perhaps this summer. Animal Dreams is also a good read.

Perhaps though the best book is Robert William’s The American Indian in Western Legal Thought. William’s historical and cultural sensativity make this volume a must for anyone contemplating Indian Law.

What other works by or about Native Americans should be included in a Law and Literature Course?

Video and Song: Ghost Dance by Robbie Robertson


  1. Not dealing with law proper, but I think a must read is Jonathan Lear’s Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation (2006) (Charles Taylor reviewed it for NYRB). I’d also recommend Matthew L.M. Fletcher’s American Indian Education: Counternarratives in Racism, Struggle, and the Law (2008). (Fletcher’s blog, Turtle Talk, is indispensable for anyone with an interest in North American Indian affairs, legal and otherwise).

    And some readers might be interested in the bibliography for North American Indian Law that I put together a couple of years ago:

  2. In my Law & Literature class, one of the articles I include is N. Bruce Duthu’s “Incorporative Discourse in Federal Indian Law: Negotiating Tribal Sovereignty Through the Lens of Native American Literature” ((2000) 13 Harv. Hum. Rts. J. 141). To connect it to the Canadian context in which I’m teaching, alongside it I have the students read a Supreme Court of Canada case on interracial adoption & a story by Thomas King, “The Baby in the Airmail Box,” that satirizes the sort of thinking that the case represents. That combination of article, case, and story has generated some great discussions. But if I was teaching in the U.S., I think I’d pair the article with Sherman Alexie’s story “The Trial of Thomas Builds-the-Fire” which is discussed at some length within it.

  3. A few books come to mind:

    Playing Indian, by Philip Joseph Deloria (a short, sort of New Historicist tract)

    The Surrounded, by D’Arcy McNickle (a novel)

    Any book by Louise Erdrich

    Gardens in the Dunes, by Leslie Marmon Silko (a novel)

    The Nations Within: The Past and Future of American Indian Sovereignty, by Vine Deloria Jr. and Clifford M. Lytle (a book of scholarship)

    American Indian Nationalism, by Jace Weaver, Craig S. Womack, and Robert Warrier (a book criticizing the current state of literary theory about Native American literature and advocating a new approach)

    An Indigenous Manifesto, by Taiaiake Alfred

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s