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Volume 40, Number 2 (2015)

Returning to the Kaswéntah River: A Trans-Indigenous Reading of Land-Centred Citizenship in Thomas King’sTruth and Bright Water

May 11, 2016


Using a trans-Indigenous methodology to read Thomas King’s novel Truth and Bright Water through the frame of the Hodinohso:ni Aterihwahnira:tshera ne Kaswéntah (Two Row Wampum), this paper argues that difference and division – between peoples, races, and nations – can still support an inclusive citizenship based upon our shared interdependence with the Earth. Through the novel’s side-by-side positioning of Indigenous and Settler spaces, and characters’ struggles navigating across these spaces, I explore both the possibility of unification based upon shared ecology, and the current barriers to such a possibility wrought by colonialism’s disruption of Indigenous landed relationships. Juxtaposed next to the principles and protocols of the Two Row Wampum, the novel highlights colonialism’s disruption of Indigenous land-centrism as a consequence of Settler failure to follow the conduct of sharing and difference outlined by that agreement. As such, I look at the attempted annihilation of the buffalo, the enforcement of Christianity, the theft of Indigenous artifacts and remains, and profit motivated acts of ecocide as examples in the novel of Settler interference in landed citizenship. I then consider Monroe Swimmer as an Elder Brother figure who champions landed citizenship by engaging the people of Truth and Bright Water in land-centred ceremonies that combine both Indigenous and Settler cultures. Monroe demonstrates how knowing your relations and carrying the land in your centre enables movement back and forth across both material markers of difference, such as national and reservation borders, and cognitive ones, such as binaries of nativism or assimilation.