Speaking for the People

Native Writing and the Question of Political Form

Speaking for the People

Book Pages: 320 Illustrations: Published: September 2021

Author: Mark Rifkin

American Studies, Literature and Literary Studies > Literary Criticism, Native and Indigenous Studies

In Speaking for the People Mark Rifkin examines nineteenth-century Native writings to reframe contemporary debates around Indigenous recognition, refusal, and resurgence. Rifkin shows how works by Native authors (William Apess, Elias Boudinot, Sarah Winnemucca, and Zitkala-Ša) illustrate the intellectual labor involved in representing modes of Indigenous political identity and placemaking. These writers highlight the complex processes involved in negotiating the character, contours, and scope of Indigenous sovereignties under ongoing colonial occupation. Rifkin argues that attending to these writers' engagements with non-native publics helps provide further analytical tools for addressing the complexities of Indigenous governance on the ground—both then and now. Thinking about Native peoplehood and politics as a matter of form opens possibilities for addressing the difficult work involved in navigating among varied possibilities for conceptualizing and enacting peoplehood in the context of continuing settler intervention. As Rifkin demonstrates, attending to writings by these Indigenous intellectuals provides ways of understanding Native governance as a matter of deliberation, discussion, and debate, emphasizing the open-ended unfinishedness of self-determination.


“Mark Rifkin examines important nineteenth-century Native literary figures' engagement with settler publics by laying out a nuanced introspection of their ‘portraits of peoplehood’ during tumultuous contexts and the costs of such representativity that foster tension in the present day. He resituates the discussion of recognition to this earlier period in order to detour from a settler stronghold on political definitions still used to impact the daily life of Indigenous peoples. Delving deep into the political spheres of violence and the nuanced political forms of Indigenous life that emerge, Rifkin gives us further grounds to explore the foundations and formations of slippery recognition politics.” — Mishuana Goeman, Professor of Gender Studies and American Indian Studies, University of California, Los Angeles


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Mark Rifkin is Professor of English and Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at UNC Greensboro. He is the author of several books, including Fictions of Land and Flesh: Blackness, Indigeneity, Speculation and Beyond Settler Time: Temporal Sovereignty and Indigenous Self-Determination, both also published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  vii
Introduction  1
1. What's in a Nation? Cherokee Vanguardism in Elias Boudinot's Letters  35
2. Experiments in Signifying Sovereignty: Exemplarity and the Politics of Southern New England in William Apess  77
3. Among Ghost Dances: Sarah Winnemucca and the Production of Paiute Identity  127
4. The Native Informant Speaks: The Politics of Ethnographic Subjectivity in Zitkala-Ša's Autobiographical Stories  176
Coda. On Refusing the Ethnographic Imaginary, or Reading for the Politics of Peoplehood  221
Notes  235
Bibliography  277
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-1-4780-1433-1 / Cloth ISBN: 978-1-4780-1341-9