Elemental kinship: water and stone
Indigenous fiction about land and environment dwells at the nexus of ecological and postcolonial concerns, and recent short fiction by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson and Louise Erdrich is no exception. But Simpson’s “Big Water” and Erdrich’s “The Stone” do something unusual. They represent elements as sentient and responsive, and depict them having vital and constituent roles within relationships—relationships which hold a full spectrum of emotions, from ease and joy to jealousy and anxiety. In short, water and stone are characters. In this paper, I develop a reading of human-element kinship, and argue that the remarkable bonds represented in these stories are central to thinking about land. The conceptual cornerstone of my paper is the work of Daniel Heath Justice and Lisa Brooks, who advocate Indigenous literary criticism that is grounded in relationality. For Justice, the claims of kinship stand in opposition to western individualization. As such, attending to kinship, which in its most capacious includes not only bonds and obligations to other humans but all creation, is a means to oppose fragmenting colonial priorities. Thinking about kinship—particularly the radical kindship of Erdrich’s and Simpson’s fiction—foregrounds responsibility, obligation, and care, the shifting networks between humans and the world that existed in the past, continue in the present, and will be there in the future. Recognizing expressions of kinship in Indigenous land-based writing matters precisely because it is those bonds that were targeted for erasure by colonization. Developing awareness of the links among literature, land, and decolonization is important to help to shift conceptions of the environment from objective to relational.
Kristin Lucas is an associate professor of English Studies at Nipissing University in North Bay, ON, Canada. She publishes on early modern and comparative drama, and contemporary short fiction. Her recent work includes “Narrative close reading and land education: Teaching ‘On The Wings of This Prayer’ and Medicine Walk” (written with Gyllian Phillips), a chapter in Approaches to Teaching Postcolonial Environmental Literature and Media, Ed. Catejan Iheka, forthcoming in 2021 (MLA).
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