Where Our Dead Lie Buried: Articulating American Indian Sovereignty

Open Access
Rudewalker, Mathew Craig
Graduate Program:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
July 22, 2013
Committee Members:
  • Carla Mulford Conklin, Dissertation Advisor
  • Keith Gilyard, Committee Member
  • Toni Jensen, Committee Member
  • Stephen Howard Browne, Special Member
  • Sovereignty
  • American Indian
  • Native American
  • rhetoric
  • politics
  • literature
Where Our Dead Lie Buried argues that American Indian writer-activists of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries adapted English literacy and a variety of literary genres to their needs in order to strengthen and defend their peoples’ sovereignty. Some prominent critics have recently argued that sovereignty was a concept entirely foreign to Native peoples before the European invasion of the Americas. This project challenges such assertions by articulating a uniquely Native definition of sovereignty that helps uncover the ways in which early American Indian activists spoke about and argued for sovereignty without actually using that term. The writers included in this study, like many other Native speechmakers and political actors of the time, focused on the relationships among peoples, cultures, and the land. In so doing, they established a communal, relationship-oriented notion of sovereignty that interacted with and often opposed Euro-Americans’ more hierarchical approach to sovereignty. Relationships formed the core of eighteenth and nineteenth century Native political arguments and remain at the core of contemporary arguments. Recognizing the importance of land, culture, and people to Native sovereignty helps provide a groundwork from which scholars can reinterpret past political writing and establish new arguments and new forms of activism.