Writing, mediating, resisting: Authorized Agents: The Projects of Native American Writing in the Era of Removal, PhD Dissertation, University of Michgan, 2015


Abstract: This dissertation examines how Native American writing and performance mediated between tribal nations and colonial institutions during the period of Indian removal. It analyzes collaborative publications by writers, orators, and tribal leaders from four different Indian nations between 1820 and 1860: Sharitarish and Petalesharo (Pawnee); Black Hawk, Keokuk, and Hardfish (Sauk); Peter Pitchlynn (Choctaw); and Jane Johnston Schoolcraft, Peter Jones, and George Copway (Ojibwe). I argue that these authors generated what I call “publication projects”: collaborative forms of writing and speaking that imagined institutional and discursive change through navigating colonial institutional networks. Embracing oral performance, manuscript writing, and print publishing, Native writers asserted themselves within the overlapping networks of colonial and tribal governments and civil society, such as the Office of Indian Affairs, missionary organizations, and educational institutions. As publication in the nineteenth century was not principally the work of addressing disembodied or cross-regional audiences, these Native American publication projects sought to inflect associational networks wherein Indian policy was made and knowledge created, and in which Indian removal was both promoted and debated. Removal-era Native writings and performances therefore register attempts to assert control over publication technologies in order to alternately critique or modify such networks, or to mobilize them to contribute to the work of Indian nation-building. Through collaborative and highly mediated publications, Native writers, speakers, and tribal leaders asserted themselves as “authorized agents,” performing a public and politicized Native presence to claim a place for tribal nations in North America. As situational acts of writing and performance, these projects negotiated and contested the local and regional pressures through which North American settler colonialism manifested.

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