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Imagining Sovereignty
Self-Determination in American Indian Law and Literature
$29.95 Paperback


“Sovereignty” is perhaps the most ubiquitous term in American Indian writing today—but its meaning and function are anything but universally understood. This is as it should be, David J. Carlson suggests, for a concept frequently at the center of various—and often competing—claims to authority. In Imagining Sovereignty, Carlson explores sovereignty as a discursive middle ground between tribal communities and the United States as a settler-colonial power. His work reveals the complementary ways in which legal and literary texts have generated politically significant representations of the world, which in turn have produced particular effects on readers and advanced the cause of tribal self-determination.

Drawing on western legal historical sources and American Indian texts, Carlson traces a dual genealogy of sovereignty. Imagining Sovereignty identifies the concept as a marker, one that allows both the colonizing power of the United States and the resisting powers of various American Indian nations to organize themselves and their various claims to authority. In the process, sovereignty also functions as a point of exchange where these claims compete with and complicate one another. To this end, Carlson analyzes how several contemporary American Indian writers and critics have sought to fuse literary practices and legal structures into fully formed discourses of self-determination. After charting the development of the concept of sovereignty in natural law and its permutations in federal Indian policy, Carlson maps out the nature and function of sovereignty discourses in the work of contemporary Native scholars such as Russel Barsh, Gerald Taiaiake Alfred, D’Arcy McNickle, and Vine Deloria, and in the work of more expressly literary American Indian writers such as Craig Womack, Elizabeth Cook-Lynn, Gerald Vizenor, and Francisco Patencio.

Often read in opposition, the writings of these indigenous authors emerge in Imagining Sovereignty as a coherent literary and political tradition—one whose varied discourse of sovereignty aptly reflects American Indian people’s diverse political contexts.

About The Author
David J. Carlson is Professor of English at California State University–San Bernardino and the author of Sovereign Selves: American Indian Autobiography and the Law.

Reviews & Praise
“Carlson’s Imagining Sovereignty is a taut and engaging account of that most revolutionary of concepts—Native sovereignty—as discerned through a close reading of works by leading political and literary writers, including Vine Deloria, Jr., Elizabeth Cook-Lynn, and Gerald Vizenor.”—David Wilkins, author of Uneven Ground: American Indian Sovereignty and Federal Law

“A force that propelled the rise of modern Native Nations, sovereignty is the glue that holds Indian tribes together. Imagining Sovereignty pulls together contemporary thinking about this threshold concept, its definition, nature, and usages. David J. Carlson explores how law and literature can strengthen the foundation for tribal existence. His book is a must-read for those concerned about indigenous survival and well-being in the United States.”—Walter Echo-Hawk, author of In The Light of Justice: The Rise of Human Rights in Native America and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

“Linking literature to life and texts to contexts, David J. Carlson makes a compelling contribution to conversations about 'sovereignty' at the center of Indigenous studies. Imagining Sovereignty is thus both pragmatic and idealistic, scholarly and accessible. It is essential reading in the field.”—David L. Moore, author of That Dream Shall Have a Name: Native Americans Rewriting America

Book Information
242 Pages
Paperback 978-0-8061-5197-7
Kindle 978-0-8061-5447-3
e-pub 978-0-8061-5448-0
Published March 2016
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