Remapping Sovereignty: Decolonization and Self-Determination in North American Indigenous Political Thought

Review

Noah Zachary
by
published on 21 February 2024
Remapping Sovereignty: Decolonization and Self-Determination in North American Indigenous Political Thought
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Title: Remapping Sovereignty: Decolonization and Self-Determination in North American Indigenous Political Thought
Author: David Myer Temin
Audience: Professional
Difficulty: Hard
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Published: 2023
Pages: 270

An expansive intellectual history, David Temin's "Remapping Sovereignty" explores a Native American tradition that questions some of the Western world's most basic assumptions about power, authority, and the state. As a deep analysis of this tradition, it makes a valuable contribution to the expert conversation about decolonial movements and explores alternatives to power as the dominant form of political organization.

In Remapping Sovereignty, David Temin discusses how Native American writers, thinkers, and activists have posited alternatives to sovereignty as the primary form of modern political organization. Arguing that sovereignty conceals destructive assumptions about power, violence, and subjugation of the other, Temin instead shows how the "earthmaking" practices of Indigenous communities imagine a world rooted in kinship. This book is a scholarly monograph, mainly of interest to specialists in Indigenous studies. It would also be a good candidate for a graduate seminar or similarly advanced class.

It critiques some of our society's most basic assumptions about power and authority.

"Tribal sovereignty" is often taken for granted as a good thing. Under the Wilsonian nation-state model, sovereignty is the ultimate mechanism of a people's self-determination, giving an ethnic group the right to protect its interests, culture, and living space. However, some Indigenous thinkers have questioned whether there might be a subtle poison embedded in sovereignty: a set of assumptions about the world that require the existence of an "unlimited, undivided, and unaccountable power" that "assert[s] itself as the ultimate arbiter" of everything that happens within every square inch of its territory. Temin argues that sovereignty is a kind of monster that demands a "disavowal of relationships and accountability," denying the very ecological and interpersonal relationships that weave it into being. Thus, Temin sets out to cast light on until-now neglected strains of Native American thought that have critiqued, revisioned, and remade the notion of sovereignty. Taking as his starting point the Indigenous resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline, Temin explores how Indigenous thinkers have posited an alternative model of society, which he calls earthmarking: "political projects that seek to structurally transform domestic and international institutions to create nonexploitative and reciprocity-oriented relationships between humans and the earth, on terms that sustain and rebuild Indigenous self-determination."

Temin, a professor at the University of Michigan, has already written extensively about this. While this is his first book, he has published several papers discussing the dilemmas of sovereignty for the would-be decolonizer. His paper "Remapping the World: Vine Deloria, Jr. and the Ends of Settler Sovereignty" presaged this remarkable book in many ways. Temin's main methodology for this project is a hybrid of intellectual and political history, exploring how different strains of decolonial thought have developed "institutional and imaginative architectures for survivable and emancipatory futures beyond colonialism." In this respect, it is a book overwhelmingly concerned with writing and ideas: the vast majority of its sources come from the work of activists and intellectuals. It is completely free of illustrations, graphs, and similar figures, focusing almost exclusively on ideas. One of his most striking examples focuses on deep readings of Indigenous Marxisms, showing how Howard Adams and Lee Maracle both exposed the underlying nationalist biases of many White leftists but went beyond it to develop international Indigenous movements (transnational internationalism, in Temin's parlance) and posit new futures inclusive of Indigenous perspectives.

It must be acknowledged that this book is a scholarly monograph aimed at experts, and it will be very difficult for most general readers. The reader must be prepared to grapple with phrases like "Wilsonian counterrevolution against more structurally transformative mobilizations." It is not that this book is poorly written, only perhaps that sometimes it uses more technical language than is necessary. Consider this sentence: "All this is to say that, when indigenous struggles cite 'sovereignty' they claim a flexible idiom distinct from Western political epistemologies." This is by no means impossible to understand for an expert, but consider this alternative: "When indigenous thinkers say sovereignty, they mean something different from the usual Western understanding of the term." Jargon is sometimes necessary for the scholar, but this book uses it more than it must.

That said, this book is undeniably a valuable contribution to its field, even if it ultimately has a narrow audience. At its heart, it critiques some of our society's most basic assumptions about power and authority and centers an all-too-often ignored intellectual tradition that dares to imagine a fairer world. That is valuable work, and Temin has done much to bring it to the fore.

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About the Reviewer

Noah Zachary
Noah Zachary is a graduate of California State University East Bay. His research focuses on the environmental history of North America, with a focus on water use and agriculture.

Cite This Work

APA Style

Zachary, N. (2024, February 21). Remapping Sovereignty: Decolonization and Self-Determination in North American Indigenous Political Thought. World History Encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://www.worldhistory.org/review/395/remapping-sovereignty-decolonization-and-self-dete/

Chicago Style

Zachary, Noah. "Remapping Sovereignty: Decolonization and Self-Determination in North American Indigenous Political Thought." World History Encyclopedia. Last modified February 21, 2024. https://www.worldhistory.org/review/395/remapping-sovereignty-decolonization-and-self-dete/.

MLA Style

Zachary, Noah. "Remapping Sovereignty: Decolonization and Self-Determination in North American Indigenous Political Thought." World History Encyclopedia. World History Encyclopedia, 21 Feb 2024. Web. 25 Apr 2024.

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