Reproducing the Indian

Mark Rifkin

in When Did Indians Become Straight?

Published in print January 2011 | ISBN: 9780199755455
Published online May 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199894888 | DOI:
Reproducing the Indian

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Chapter 1 explores how the racialization of native peoples as Indians through a heterosexualizing logic of racial “blood” depends on the erasure, or at least marginalization, of modes of kin-making. A Narrative of the Life of Mrs. Mary Jemison (1824), the story of a white woman kidnapped during the Seven Years’ War and made Seneca through adoption, highlights the disjunction and ongoing conflict between Euramerican understandings of native identity and Iroquoian ways of conceptualizing familial and political belonging. The chapter argues that the attribution of a primary whiteness to Jemison, and the treatment of her adoption as epiphenomenal with respect to her real identity (conceived in racial terms), indexes the creation of kinds of legal subjectivity that disavow Seneca processes of collective decision making and land tenure, a pattern observable in the “treaties” of 1826 and 1838. Reciprocally, James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans (1826) makes marital pairing a topos for the construction of an insulated white nationality. In the novel’s championing of an emergent vision of the conjugally centered household as the premier site of privatized intimacy, Indians are presented as having a racialized incapacity for sentimental affect that brands them as lacking any true sense of home, or boundaries broadly stated.

Keywords: race; James Fenimore Cooper; Mary Jemison; Senecas; blood; sentiment; reproduction; treaties

Chapter.  25750 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (19th Century)

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