Do Native American studies fit in with post-colonial studies? If so, where do they fit in?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Whether or not Native American literature can be seen as an aspect of post-colonial studies is a widely debated topic. Post-colonial studies looks at literature produced by colonial powers and those who were colonized to see the attitudes between the colonial power and the colonized; post-colonial literature usually portrays the death and destruction caused by colonization. In his book The Turn to the Native: Studies in Criticism and Culture, author Arnold Krupat clearly articulates the problem posed by considering Native American literature post-colonial literature. Krupat points out that, though Native American literature captures the same struggles, death, and destruction found in other post-colonial literature, it would be a mistake to call contemporary Native American literature post-colonial because "there is not yet a 'post-' to the colonial status of the Native Americans" (Ch. 2). Instead, many Native Americans, who still live on reservations, are still under a state of what he calls either "domestic imperialism" or "internal colonialism" (Ch. 2).

Post-colonial scholars at Emory University make a similar observation. There are some nations that do not fit the post-colonial definition because they are either, presently, too much in a position of power or still too closely tied to their mother country. For example, though America was colonized by the British, American literature does not fit under post-colonial studies because the people of America have risen to a position of global power and are not suffering from having been colonized. Similarly, its difficult to call Canada and Australia postcolonial countries because their struggles for independence were very short and the countries are still very loyal to their mother country Great Britain.

However, some scholars disagree, and the idea of applying post-colonial criticism to Native American studies was first shaped by authors Amy Kaplan and Donald E. Pease in the anthology The Cultures of United States Imperialism, published in 1993, in which the authors saught to look at America as an empire that has crushed differing ethnic groups due to the country's ethnocentrism. Many scholars, like those in Deborah L. Madsen's anthology Beyond the Boarders: American Literature and Post-Colonial Theory, published in 2003, see the importance of viewing Native American literature from the post-colonial themes of "displacement or diaspora, exile, migration, nationhood, and hybridity" (p. 1). In particular, Chadwick Allen authors an essay in the anthology, titled "Indigenous Literatures and Postcolonial Theories: Reading from Comparative Frames," in which he argues it is important to analyze Native American literature through post-colonial theories in order to see how America is still a "site of ongoing colonialism vis-à-vis American Indian peoples" (p. 2).