Settler rhetorics: Dionne T. Jake, The Synecdochal Bison: Rhetorical Colonialism in an Age of Territorial Dispossession, PhD Dissertation, University of Colorado, 2020

09Oct20

Abstract: From the fifteenth century to the nineteenth century, European colonizers worked to eliminate bison and Indigenous peoples in the territory known today as “North America.” In this dissertation, I argue that today’s American settler institutions, or facilities established on
dispossessed lands, continue to invoke the symbol of the bison in their efforts to maintain their control of said lands. As I explain, the US federal government, media, and scholars have problematized how nineteenth century settler institutions exterminated bison to starve select
Indigenous peoples into submission, thus clearing a path to settle the American West. Notably, the logic behind this act of white settler supremacy was synecdochal in that American settlers communicated about the bison’s health, taken as an integral part of Native America, as indicative
of the health of Native America writ large. Yet, scholars have not questioned whether settler institutions have engaged in comparable patterns of communication after this tragedy. Accordingly, I employ mixed methods, including participant-observation and textual analysis of social, print, and digital media, to outline how today’s settler institutions more recently have
invoked the symbol of the bison as a figure of rhetorical colonialism when forming community, selling products, and building the nation’s symbolic profile. Ultimately, I will show how even though today’s invocations of the synecdochal bison may look harmless, the symbol of the bison has never ceased to function as the rhetorical means for settler institutions to facilitate and justify their control of dispossessed lands, including the Indigenous peoples and bison who reside on it.



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