Sovereign Selves: American Indian Autobiography and the Law

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University of Illinois Press, 2006 - History - 217 pages
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The surprising engagements of American Indian autobiographers with colonial discourses

This book is an exploration of how American Indian autobiographers' approaches to writing about their own lives have been impacted by American legal systems from the Revolutionary War until the 1920s. Historically, Native American autobiographers have written in the shadow of "Indian law," a nuanced form of natural law discourse with its own set of related institutions and forms (the reservation, the treaty, etc.). In Sovereign Selves, David J. Carlson develops a rigorously historicized argument about the relationship between the specific colonial model of "Indian" identity that was developed and disseminated through U.S. legal institutions, and the acts of autobiographical self-definition by the "colonized" Indians expected to fit that model.

Carlson argues that by drawing on the conventions of early colonial treaty-making, nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Indian autobiographers sought to adapt and redefine the terms of Indian law as a way to assert specific property-based and civil rights. Focusing primarily on the autobiographical careers of two major writers (William Apess and Charles Eastman), Sovereign Selves traces the way that their sustained engagement with colonial legal institutions gradually enabled them to produce a new rhetoric of "Indianness."

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The Discourse of Indian Law
Seneca Politics and the Rhetoric of Engagement
William Apess and the Constraints of Conversion
William Apess and Indian Liberalism
Charles Eastman and the Discourse of Allotment
Charles Eastman and the Rights of Character

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About the author (2006)

David Carlson is an assistant professor of English at California State University, San Bernardino.

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