Mapping the textual terrain: Land, law and gender in American Indian women's writing

Stephanie Fitzgerald
Dept. of English, The Claremont Graduate University
July, 2005


In American Indian communities, land and people are inseparable; by the very nature of Indian history, land has become inseparable from law. 'Official' recorded history has documented the ways in which American Indian men have fought for Indian land. Glaringly absent from these same histories, however, are the daily battles fought by Indian women. This dissertation explores the ways in which American Indian women deployed rhetoric and narrative to contest and transform their relationships with the law. It examines the intertwined histories of American Indian women, land and law through an analysis of a variety of texts written by American Indian women: colonial era land deeds, oral history, memoir, and fiction. Native women writers such as Wunnatuckquanum, Sophia Alice Callahan, Delfina Cuero, Bonita Nunez, and Louise Erdrich use writing as a tool to redefine their relationships with law, both western and tribal, to work towards the creation of truly sovereign Indian nations. An examination of their writings reveals the ways in which Native women have been active in the struggle for Native sovereignty and land tenure since the colonial era.