The Transit of Empire: Indigenous Critiques of Colonialism

U of Minnesota Press
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In 1761 and again in 1768, European scientists raced around the world to observe the transit of Venus, a rare astronomical event in which the planet Venus passes in front of the sun. In The Transit of Empire, Jodi A. Byrd explores how indigeneity functions as transit, a trajectory of movement that serves as precedent within U.S. imperial history. Byrd argues that contemporary U.S. empire expands itself through a transferable “Indianness” that facilitates acquisitions of lands, territories, and resources.

Examining an array of literary texts, historical moments, and pending legislations—from the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma’s vote in 2007 to expel Cherokee Freedmen to the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization bill—Byrd demonstrates that inclusion into the multicultural cosmopole does not end colonialism as it is purported to do. Rather, that inclusion is the very site of the colonization that feeds U.S. empire.

Byrd contends that the colonization of American Indian and indigenous nations is the necessary ground from which to reimagine a future where the losses of indigenous peoples are not only visible and, in turn, grieveable, but where indigenous peoples have agency to transform life on their own lands and on their own terms.

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About the author

Jodi A. Byrd is a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma and assistant professor of American Indian studies and English at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign.

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Additional Information

Publisher
U of Minnesota Press
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Published on
Dec 31, 2011
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Pages
294
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ISBN
9781452933177
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Language
English
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This content is DRM protected.
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WINNER OF:Frantz Fanon Outstanding Book from the Caribbean Philosophical AssociationCanadian Political Science Association’s C.B. MacPherson PrizeStudies in Political Economy Book Prize


Over the past forty years, recognition has become the dominant mode of negotiation and decolonization between the nation-state and Indigenous nations in North America. The term “recognition” shapes debates over Indigenous cultural distinctiveness, Indigenous rights to land and self-government, and Indigenous peoples’ right to benefit from the development of their lands and resources.

In a work of critically engaged political theory, Glen Sean Coulthard challenges recognition as a method of organizing difference and identity in liberal politics, questioning the assumption that contemporary difference and past histories of destructive colonialism between the state and Indigenous peoples can be reconciled through a process of acknowledgment. Beyond this, Coulthard examines an alternative politics—one that seeks to revalue, reconstruct, and redeploy Indigenous cultural practices based on self-recognition rather than on seeking appreciation from the very agents of colonialism.

Coulthard demonstrates how a “place-based” modification of Karl Marx’s theory of “primitive accumulation” throws light on Indigenous–state relations in settler-colonial contexts and how Frantz Fanon’s critique of colonial recognition shows that this relationship reproduces itself over time. This framework strengthens his exploration of the ways that the politics of recognition has come to serve the interests of settler-colonial power.

In addressing the core tenets of Indigenous resistance movements, like Red Power and Idle No More, Coulthard offers fresh insights into the politics of active decolonization.


Putting romance onstage, The Tempest gives us a magician, Prospero, a former duke of Milan who was displaced by his treacherous brother, Antonio. Prospero is exiled on an island, where his only companions are his daughter, Miranda, the spirit Ariel, and the monster Caliban. When his enemies are among those caught in a storm near the island, Prospero turns his power upon them through Ariel and other spirits.

The characters exceed the roles of villains and heroes. Prospero seems heroic, yet he enslaves Caliban and has an appetite for revenge. Caliban seems to be a monster for attacking Miranda, but appears heroic in resisting Prospero, evoking the period of colonialism during which the play was written. Miranda’s engagement to Ferdinand, the Prince of Naples and a member of the shipwrecked party, helps resolve the drama.

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