Writing a way home : Cherokee narratives of critical and ethical nationhood

Russell, Bryan Edward
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Writing a Way Home examines ways that Cherokees in the latter half of the 20th century who have been marginalized through the privileging of state narratives have deployed literature as a way to challenge narratives of state domination and to imagine and work toward more critical, ethical Cherokee nationhood. I examine the ways that Robert K. Thomas and Natachee Scott Momaday used literature during the federal Termination and Relocation programs to imagine functioning tribal nations against the United States' assimilation narrative of the time. I further delve into how the Cherokee Nation's state narrative of the Cherokee Freedmen has denationalized Freedmen descendants and how, by using the WPA narratives of former Cherokee slaves and Tom Holm and Thomas' Peoplehood Matrix, we can re-narrate the Freedmen descendants into a more ethical Cherokee Nation. Finally, I close the study with an examination of Daniel Heath Justice's Way of Thorn and Thunder trilogy that uses storytelling to re-imagine a place of reverence for gay and queer-identified Cherokees at a time when the Cherokee Nation passed a ban on same-sex marriage, claiming that such relationships defied what the Cherokee state narrates as tribal tradition. I aim to show in this study the danger of uncritically accepting the state model for tribal nations and the importance of periodically challenging tribal nations when leaders behave unethically. Likewise, this study demonstrates the power of story to not only check the excesses of state sovereignty that marginalize people based on their history, politics, race and sexuality, but also the power to re-imagine a nation -- a home -- that welcomes all its relations.