February 24, 2023
In We Are the Stars, Colonizing and Decolonizing the Oceti Sakowin Literary Tradition, author Sarah Hernandez recovers the literary record of Oceti Sakowin (historically known to some as the Sioux Nation) women, who served as their tribes’ traditional culture keepers and culture bearers. In so doing, it furthers discussions about settler colonialism, literature, nationalism, and gender.
In this book, I contend that replacing Indigenous women with non-Indigenous teachers, preachers, and writers is a conscious and deliberate act of settler-colonial violence that strikes at the very heart of tribal nationhood: women and land. The silencing of Indigenous women and the loss of Indigenous land are inextricably linked. Native feminist scholars Maile Arvine, Eve Tuck, and Angie Morrill argue that “the management of Indigenous peoples’ gender roles and sexuality was [and still is] . . . key in remaking Indigenous peoples into settler state citizens.”
The United States is founded on the theory and practice of settler colonialism: a continuous and ongoing process of Indigenous erasure that seeks to eliminate tribal nationhood by destroying Indigenous lifeways and replacing them with Western beliefs and values (e.g., matriarchy → patriarchy). Settler colonialism is an invasive process that erases Indigenous people and communities at multiple levels: culturally, linguistically, socially, politically, and legally. Law professor Bethany Ruth Berger emphasizes that the United States not only disempowers Indigenous women culturally and socially, but also politically and legally as well. Over the past one-hundred-plus years, U.S. federal Indian law and policy has “directly diminish[ed] the power and autonomy of women in tribal communities” through a series of legal cases and precedents that replaced Indigenous women “as the head of the family and the cultivator of the land.” Perhaps the most obvious, but certainly not the only, example is the Dawes Allotment Act of 1887, which divided communal tribal lands into individual plots owned by the male heads of household and transferred land from women to men.