Settlers indigenising through information: Lizzy Nichols, ‘Becoming Indigenous Again: The Native Informant and Settler Logic in Richard Powers’s Overstory’, Environmental Humanities, Environmental Humanities, 14, 2, 2022, pp. 303-320


Abstract: The figure of the “native informant,” as outlined by Spivak, confers a legitimacy of “inside” information for the colonial subject that, ultimately, is generalized to the point of confirming the colonist’s view of the world, challenging nothing and, instead, providing authenticity to existing beliefs. Since Indigenous groups are often associated with primordial nature in the hemispherically American context, there is a long tradition of settler colonial societies appropriating the figure of the Native to claim authentic land rights or establish an identity distinct from Europe. This article argues that, in its modern iteration, appropriation of the native informant within the natural context serves anxieties concerning potentially illegitimate land stewardship for settler colonial societies. Focusing on the native informant figure in Richard Powers’s Pulitzer Prize–winning novel The Overstory, the article explicates how, in the age of climate change, patterns around settler land theft are repeated and repurposed for the settler episteme in which, instead of reconsidering who has the rights to land stewardship, the settler seeks to transfer Indigenous knowledge to themselves, authenticating the settler society’s continued right to the colonized land. While Powers makes significant contributions to reconsidering the European model of an anthropocentric relation to nature, the article argues that The Overstory does this through repeating such settler colonial traditions as associating Indigenous peoples solely with the past and depicting the American landscape in a way that relies on the legal mythology of terra nullius.

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