Dissertation Project

My dissertation focuses on four contemporary novels which depict violence against Indigenous women and girls: Louise Erdrich’s (Ojibwe) The Round House (2012), Frances Washburn’s (Anishinaabe, Lakota) Elsie’s Business (2006), Eden Robinson’s (Haisla and Heiltsuk) Monkey Beach (2000) and Katherena Vermette’s (Métis) The Break (2016). I study how these authors represent and resist violence against Indigenous women. More specifically, violence against Indigenous women undermines two core values of Indigenous existence, which also inspire my dissertation structure: sovereignty (including Indigenous legal epistemologies and the ways they are circulated through stories) and kinship (including Indigenous gender and sexual identities and the ways of relating with each other and other-than-humans). I examine how these authors resist the assault on each of these principles by examining, firstly, the comparison of Anishinaabe legal epistemologies to Western ones in Erdrich; secondly, the feminist politics of storytelling in Washburn; thirdly, the performance of land-based knowledge in Robinson; and, finally, the relation between gender identity and Indigenous kinship principles in Vermette.

What distinguishes this study from previous studies on literary representations of violence against Indigenous women is its focus on literature, the literary, and storytelling rather than on activism (Hargreaves), spatial practices (Goeman), or legal texts (Cheyfitz and Huhndorf; Suzack). I hope to contribute to the discussion of violence against Indigenous women and girls in literature by showing how literature is instrumental in understanding and building resistance to this violence thanks to its capacity to perform Indigenous ways of knowing. In other words, I hope to show that it is because of the demonstration and application of Indigenous epistemologies that these texts are successfully deconstructing the violence they depict. To offer a literary analysis on this topic is crucial since literature has always been an important site for depicting and naming this violence through the Indigenous epistemologies and values circulating in the stories.

Through my work, I hope to contribute to the decolonization and Indigenization of Turtle Island. I pay close attention to notions such as law, belonging, violence, property, and power by examining feminist and racial relations in these novels to fight contemporary realities of settler colonialism including systemic, racist, and inter-generational violence against and among Indigenous peoples, continuing land dispossession and pollution by multinationals and/or governments, and the general privileging of settler ways of being and knowing.