"The question which has puzzled, and still puzzles": How American Indian Authors Challenged Dominant Discourse about Native American Origins in the Nineteenth Century


n this essay I argue that American Indian authors had a keen understanding of the political and racial implications the varied answers European Americans were offering about their origins held for their communities. By tackling dominant origin theories, they interrupted the white-supremacist discourse surrounding the topic. Their answers were crafted delicately so as to be salient to their predominantly white audiences and yet also actively promote indigenous sovereignty, a sovereignty inherent in peoplehood.3 This peoplehood was "inseparably linked to sacred traditions, traditional homelands, and a shared history as indigenous people."4 With the ongoing colonial project of the United States attempting to strip indigenous groups of key aspects of their peoplehood, including language, sacred history, religion, and land, through "the means of territorial dispossession, assimilation, religious conversion, or outright extermination," we can understand their answers, which sought to protect this peoplehood, as bold acts of resistance.5


Earth Systems Research Center, Anthropology

Publication Date


Journal Title

The American Indian Quarterly


University of Nebraska Press

Document Type