Redefining Sovereignty

The Erotics of Sovereignty by Mark Rifkin interprets native american writers by illustrating the clear impacts of heteronormative white society on indigenous ways of life. The constraints of white society are best shown through the interpersonal lives of native americans. By closely working with excerpts of writings by: Qwo-Li Driskill, Deborah Miranda, Greg Sarris and Chrystos — Mark Rifkin reveals the extent of native america suppression and explains one form of liberation from conservatism through homosexual erotica. Mark Rifkin explores the intersection of sexuality and controlling power.  

The Erotics of Sovereignty illuminates how white patriarchal society has systematically denigrated and infiltrated indigenous society. This monograph particularly focuses on erotica and intimacy as a lens that reveals the extent of suppression within native tribes. The Erotics of Sovereignty expresses empowerment, specifically of queer native american women, through pushing away  homophobic western society. The physicality of this monograph is all about taking back the sovereignty over one’s own body.  Mark Rifkin deconstructs the writings of Qwo-Li Driskill, Deborah Miranda, Greg Sarris and Chrystos to articulate different specific ways white society has infiltrated native society and identity. In the first chapter “the Somatics of Haunting: Embodied Peoplehood in Qwo-Li Driskill’s Walking with Ghosts” Mark Rifkin addresses how the Cherokee have dispelled non heterosexual couples and African Americans, who were former slaves, within their communities. These exclusionary actions were pressured by the American government, they were pressured to keep a pure blood line for continued government recognition. Governmental pressure to prove native heritage is an overarching theme that ties into Native American self identity. Within the last chapter Chrystos writes about trying to maintain her identity even in an urban white society. She shows some of the real social damages American society and government have caused. Also revealing some of this suppression is Deborah Miranda who focuses on the displacement in place because even though her people are still on their land, emotionally they have become disconnected with each other and the earth. Mark Rifkin explores Deborah Miranda’s expelling of white normative constructs in his second chapter  “Landscapes of Desire: Melancholy, Memory, and Fantasy in Deborah Miranda’s The Zen of La Llorona,”.  Mark Rifkin interprets her words about nature and homoerotic sexs as her way to combat the heteronormative society constructed during colonialism. In Mark Rifkin’s chapter “Genealogies of Indianness: The Errancies of Peoplehood in Greg Sarris’s Watermelon Night” he investigates how white governmental suppression has shaped modern native society, particularly the Pomos. Focusing on the constraints and violence that were brought by white American pressures. Mark Rikin’s view of those encapsulates how the laws and formation of society have effected there tribals people’s identities, mental states, protection for those who are vulnerable and their tribes connection with the earth. However, he also shows that by breaking the societal sexual boundary some native americans are able to feel empowered.

Mark Rifkin has a PHD from the university of Pennsylvania and is a professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at University of Greensboro. He is well known for his books Manifesting America: The Imperial Construction of U.S. National Space, When Did Indians Become Straight?: Kinship, the History of Sexuality, and Native Sovereignty, The Erotics of Sovereignty: Queer Native Writing in the Era of Self-Determination and other essays in the area of Native american suppression. Through Mark Rifkin’s extensive work in the intersective fields of gender and sexuality and native american culture, he has established the background to delve into complicated issues of identity and sexuality in The Erotics of Sovereignty.

Mark  Rifkin’s uses the words of Qwo-Li Driskill, Deborah Miranda, Greg Sarris and Chrystos in their personal accounts to support his concept of native american suppression. Excerpts from Walking with Ghosts, The Zen of La Llorona, Watermelon Nights, and Chrystos’s Poetry provide a structure for Mark Rifkin to drape his arguments upon. Also pulling from legal and state documents he is able to provide historical background in an introduction that grounded the true atrocities committed against native people.

One Clear strength of Mark Rifkin’s work is how he found different elements of native society to consider the extent of native suppression. Through the text of four native american writers his is able to add additional dimension to each of their writing styles and perspectives. Through deconstructing small portions of text at a time he is able to articulate and bring finesse to each of his arguments with grace. Even the organizational method of his monograph is well founded. By giving historical background and a thorough introduction Mark Rifkin’s is able to present his argument well, before even diving into the details of his analysis. Even stronger still is his premise for the book that holds the intersection between the interpersonal realm of sexuality and the external power realm of society. By framing personal with societal Mark Rikins is able to imbue The Erotics of Sovereignty with just how deeply white heterosexuality society has been ingrained in current native american lives, all the way down to the erotic itself. By intertwining the two he is able to show how native american women reclaiming their sexuality is a form in which they reclaim their power.

The only weakness that Mark Rifkin’s work holds is that some pieces of his argument are speculative. The inclusion of speculation in The Erotics of Sovereignty is because this monograph is at the forefront of exploring native american society through the lens of Gender and Sexuality Studies. Mark Rifkin has framed this exploration by looking into queer writers personal experiences of suppression. Though immaculately framed and structured there is a strong basis in metaphor and interpretation that goes along with the inclusion of the interpersonal.

Mark Rifkin brings to light the true severity of american laws and societal pressures. By working with the text of four queer native american writers, he is able to examine independence of native culture and sexuality. One element addressed in the introduction is the loss of land and continual violation of promises by the government around rights, even just reconnection, if these indigenous people. Because native americans have such strong ties to the earth it would be interesting to examining how conservative western society effects health and healing practices, especially in relation to women’s health. Honing in on native americans disconnect from the earth, I would be fascinated to understand other ways, beyond sexuality, that native americans have been able to reconnect with the earth and find interpersonal empowerment. Nature is more than aesthetic value, it is what sustains, heals and provides context for an indigenous way of life.

Work Cited

Rifkin, Mark. The Erotics of Sovereignty: Queer Native Writing in the Era of Self-determination. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota, 2012. Print.