Maritime Reservations: Harboring Indigenous America in Gerald Vizenor's The Heirs of Columbus


  • Stefano Bosco



The theme of the harbor would appear to be quite peripheral in Native American literature, given the predominance of other, more ‘continental’ places and landscapes in American Indian writing and the cultural significance of the harbor as a primary site of Euro-American immigration, with its flow of people and goods coming mainly from outside the US. However, one of the most provocative and inventive novels appearing in Native American literature over the last few decades, Gerald Vizenor’s The Heirs of Columbus (1991), extensively features such kind of space in its re-imagining of Christopher Columbus’s discovery of America: no longer an act of conquest initiating the genocide of indigenous people in the New World, Columbus’s achievement is first and foremost a return to the land of his imagined Mayan ancestors, spurred by the awakening of “stories carried in the blood”. The novel stands out not only as a postmodernist revision (in Vizenor’s playful and imaginative style) of the Columbian master narrative, but also as an affirmation of indigenous survival and resistance in the face of 500 years of violent Euro-American colonization. Concerned about the repatriation of Columbus’s as well as Pocahontas’s remains back to America, the ‘heirs’ of the title perform a series of actions, among which is the creation of a sovereign ‘maritime reservation’ made up of three floating structures anchored at Lake of the Woods (a casino, a restaurant, and a tax-free market), bearing the names of Columbus’s famous caravels. Thus, Vizenor imagines a bizarre and all-Indian version of the harbor that combines the movable space of Columbus’s enterprise (and, more broadly, of Euro-American colonization) with a Native American sense of territoriality sustaining the resilience and the sovereignty of tribal cultures.


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Articles (general section) - American language, literature, and culture