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Autobiographical Indiscipline: Queering American Indian Life Narratives


Reductionist discourses in various academic disciplines have tended to treat the Native authors of collaboratively written autobiographies as objects of Euro-American study rather than subjects of knowledge production. To develop a decolonial practice of reading as-told-to Indian autobiographies, this dissertation engages with scholarship in the fields of Native American Studies and Gender and Sexuality Studies to offer queer readings of the autobiographies of Helen Sekaquaptewa, Polingaysi Qoyawayma, and Don Talayesva, Hopi people who were born during the 1890s amid the federal Indian policy era of assimilation. This study focuses on the primary texts' narrations of discipline in Indian boarding schools and highlights Hopi perspectives on the role of gender and sexual normalization in the colonial assimilation project.

Chapter One, "`I am talking. She is writing.': Autobiographical Indiscipline in Me and Mine: The Life Story of Helen Sekaquaptewa," develops the term autobiographical indiscipline to name the mode of collaborative self-authorship that these Hopi authors employed to represent the continuation of their Hopi identities. Chapter two, "Remembering Polingaysi: A Queer Recovery of No Turning Back as a Decolonial Text," examines the gendered facets of the trope of living "between two worlds" and the imbrication of sexual, racial, and nationalist politics underlying Indian boarding schools' policing of students' genders. Chapter three, "Twins, Whips, Tricks, and Clowns: Sovereign Erotics in Sun Chief: The Autobiography of a Hopi Indian," explores the history of sexuality in America and its inherent ties to race making in the context of state-sponsored ethnologic projects. Chapter four, "Decolonizing Voth's Archive: Re-narrating Ethnographic Photographs in Hopi and Settler Colonial Contexts," re-narrates images from the archive of Mennonite missionary H. R. Voth through the voices of Hopi autobiographical subjects.

Despite its particular Hopi context, this dissertation belongs to a broader intellectual context regarding the delimitation of literary and national boundaries and the politics of canon formation, which forms the core of American Studies. My theory of autobiographical indiscipline has implications for a range of Indian autobiographies as well as other forms of literature that blur the definitions of the autobiographical genre, such as ex-slave narratives, autobiographical fiction, and fictional autobiography.

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