Beyond Comparison: Reading Relations Between Indigenous Nations

Pauline Wakeham


While much has been said about the supposed tensions between literary nationalist and cosmopolitanist approaches to Indigenous literary scholarship, much less attention has been devoted to imagining how, in literary critical practice, scholars might formulate reading methods that mobilize the important insights of Native literary nationalism for the project of reading what Māori scholar Alice Te Punga Somerville calls “Indigenous-Indigenous encounter[s]” (Somerville “The Lingering” 23). The objective of this essay is to derive one possible methodological approach from Indigenous literature itself while engaging with Indigenous scholarship along the way.  By reading Indigenous literature for what it teaches about critical methods, I seek to translate Native literary nationalism’s call for prioritizing Indigenous knowledges and methods into a reading practice that attends carefully to how Indigenous literary texts articulate, on their own terms, interactions with other Indigenous communities. An attention to such interactions may, in turn, contribute to the most inclusive versions of Native literary nationalism, demonstrating how distinct, local forms of Indigenous nationhood may be strengthened and enriched, rather than diluted, through exchanges across diverse Indigenous cultures. Reading relations between Indigenous nations thus opens pathways to other worlds of belonging breathed to life in Indigenous stories.


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