Presenter: Cameron Paul

Cameron Paul is a second-year MA candidate studying English Literature at The University of British Columbia. His diverse research interests lie at the intersection between ecocriticism, mobility studies, indigenous literatures, and transnational petro-politics. His current work explores the ecological and affective afterlives of automobile scrap in both environment and literature, particularly addressing how the diffused politics of transportation geographies and transnational petro-politics within North America’s settler-colonial context are critically addressed through such imagery.

‘I’m going to call this like it is. Murder, for justice maybe. Murder just the same’: Storytelling and Tribal Sovereignty in Louise Erdrich’s The Round House

Although Louise Erdrich describes her novel The Round House as simultaneously “a book of memory” (“Burden”) and “a character-driven suspense narrative” (“Burden”), mainstream reviews have insistently recast its narrative tone and structure within the recognizable conventions of litigiously-minded crime fiction. With adolescent protagonist Joe Coutt’s guiding narrative understood by such critics to be both “lawerly” (Russo) and “a work of confessional summation, a looking-back over years, not unlike a legal brief” (Oates), The Round House has thus been popularly depicted as, or one might say limited to, having “the momentum and tight focus of a crime novel, which, in a sense, it is” (Russo). This paper, however, poses a different question: even if we tentatively consider The Round House to indeed offer the narrative tropes of “a legal brief” (Oates), how might Erdrich’s inclusion of traditional indigenous storytelling nevertheless enact a narrative process of intervention – using that form to simultaneously invoke and undermine the formal authority of settler-colonial legal discourse? Protagonist Joe’s legally-informed narrative retrospection, Erdrich’s own legally-minded Afterword to The Round House, and her public discussion of the Violence Against Women Act (Erdrich, “Rape”) collectively foreground Erdrich’s stake in interrogating what it means to both articulate tribal sovereignty and curb sexual assaults against Native American women. Informed by the works of indigenous feminist scholars, such as Sarah Deer, Leanne Simpson, Lee Maracle, and Andre Smith, this paper suggests Erdrich’s inclusion of traditional indigenous storytelling alongside legally-informed critiques enacts an important process of subversive appropriation: simultaneously invoking, subverting, and rearticulating the problematic shortcomings of a settler-colonial legal discourse she elsewhere describes as sustaining “the dead-end maze Native American women walk when confronting sexual violence” (Erdrich, “Rape”). We, like protagonist Joe, are thus ultimately left to reconsider “Mooshum’s sleeptalking as a reading of traditional case law” (Erdrich, “Round” 307).

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