New Trends in Native American Studies: The Road Back to Sweetgrass and the Palimpsest Approach to Native Fiction


  • Silvia Martínez-Falquina



This article reflects on recent developments in the broad category of Native American Studies, as it offers a particular proposal of analysis for contemporary Native literature which is based on the palimpsest metaphor. The text first revises the dialogue of Native Studies with the Turn to Ethics, emphasizing the primary ceremonial—or transformative—motivation of Native writing, and with Trauma Studies, offering a re-mapping of the paradigm by theorizing Native American grief and its political implications when expressed in literature. It then covers several recently articulated developments of Native storytelling: the dialogues between storytelling and theories; the concept of tribalography; and the recent turn to theory in Native studies. Arguing that the future of Native American Studies will necessarily have to reach for some level of balance between difference and relation, it reflects on contemporary Native identity, best illustrated by Gerald Vizenor’s concepts of the postindian and transmotion. The author then connects all these developments to the palimpsest metaphor, arguing that its emphasis on difference and relation, which come from the simultaneous view of the palimpsestic and the palimpestuous ways of understanding the metaphor, offers a useful way to interpret contemporary Native American literatures and identity, for it conveniently addresses the double reference to survival and the threat of disintegration that Native writing is largely based on. The article then analyses Linda LeGarde Grover’s The Road Back to Sweetgrass (2014) from the palimpsestic/palimpestuous perspective, examining the textual efforts to rescue hidden or written-upon meanings, and asserting the way in which those recovered voices are brought to the surface and are simultaneously acknowledged as part of a larger whole, as engaging in dialogic relation to a series of other voices with which they coexist in tension and contradiction. The double motivation of this reading—that of recovering, digging, denouncing, and of vindicating belonging, equality, and our common humanity—is key to the understanding of Native literature as a form of activism.


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