Historical Trauma and Native American Literatures

Many Native American novels and poetry trace the linkages between past and present, exploring how experiences of colonialism, removal, dispossession, and extermination are not safely in the past but alive and influencing the present. Indeed, research has shown linkages between contemporary rates of illness and suicide among Native American communities and previous traumatic experiences, while the field of epigenetics has lent scientific authority to representations of historical traumas as having physical effects. This seminar will examine excerpts from contemporary Native American novels by Leslie Marmon Silko, Louise Erdrich, and Toni Jensen and poetry by Simon Ortiz and Layli Long Soldier in order to ask how these established and emerging writers imagine the effect of history on Native presents and futures. Moreover, we will investigate how these writers articulate possibilities for healing and the role that art might play in responding to historical traumas. We will explore strategies for teaching these texts in the context of Native American history, by discussing specific events such as Cherokee Removal, the Sand Creek Massacre, and enforced education at boarding schools and by focusing on the specific literary strategies the authors employ.