Biopolitics and Native American Life Writing

DFG Funded Research Project “€œBiopolitics and Native American Life Writing: From Samson Occom to Anita Endrezze.”
(DI 1881/2; Funding 10/2013-11/2016)

Principal Investigator: Dr. René Dietrich

The research project seeks to explore how acts of life writing by North American Indigenous authors bring to the fore the biopolitical logic of racialization, subjugation, and regularization integral to settler colonialism and constitutive to the U.S. as a settler nation-state from its foundation to the present. The texts of life writing by Indigenous authors from William Apess to Deborah Miranda render transparent the settler colonial biopolitical logic of the U.S, and show how it constructs Indigenous bodies and lives as objects to be variously removed, discarded, contained, infantilized, fetishized, or pathologized. In their acts of life writing these Indigenous intellectuals offer a powerful means of intervention into the biopolitical logic of settler colonialism, as they expose the foundational element of elimination and disavowal in settler colonial biopolitics, refuse to be contained within the depoliticized category of “Indianness,” and attain a position of agency from which to not only offer a severe critique of the politics of the settler state, but also to denaturalize settler colonial rule. Their writing amounts to an exhibition of a lived sovereignty that defies the limitations of the settler state, its biopolitical order, and its lived colonial logics. The project thus wants to probe how North American Indigenous life writing contains a crucial activist impulse in the movement toward a politics of decolonizing life and life writing.


Project Publications

The project will result in a monograph.

“Embodied Memories: Settler Colonial Biopolitics and Multiple Genealogies in Deborah Miranda’s Bad Indians. A Tribal Memoir.” Biopolitics and Memory in Postcolonial Literature and Culture, ed. Michael R. Griffiths. Farnham: Ashgate. 2016. [Forthcoming]

“Biopolitics and Indigenous Literary Studies: Settler Colonial Hierarchies, Relational Lives, and the Political Potential of Native Writing in N. Scott Momaday’s The Way to Rainy Mountain.” Comparative Native and Indigenous Studies, ed. Mita Banerjee. Heidelberg: Winter Verlag. 2015. [Forthcoming]

“Native American Poetry in the Age of U.S. Expansion: Jane Johnston Schoolcraft and John Rollin Ridge/Yellow Bird.’” A History of American Poetry: Contexts-Developments-Readings. Eds. Oliver Scheiding, René Dietrich. Clemens Spahr. Trier: WVT, 2015. 139-156.

“The Inclusive Exclusion of Native Americans: Indigenous Life Writing and the Threat to US-Nationhood in Leslie Marmon Silko’s Storyteller.” Transnational American Studies. Ed. Udo Hebel. Heidelberg: Winter, 2012. 305-22.



International symposium. “Biopolitics-Geopolitics-Sovereignty-Life: Settler Colonialisms and Indigenous Presences in North America.” JGU Mainz. Co-organized with Kerstin Knopf. Funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) and the Institute for Transnational American Studies.

Panel (organized and chaired). “Settler Colonial Biopolitics and Indigenous Lifeways,” Annual Meeting of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association (NAISA), Washington, DC.

Guest lecture. “A Special Session with Deborah A. Miranda, author of Bad Indians. A Tribal Memoir,” part of the seminar “Settler Colonialism,” Mainz University.

Reading. “Deborah A. Miranda: Raised by Humans and Bad Indians. A Tribal Memoir.” Co-organized with Johannes Gutenberg-Bookstore, Mainz.

Guest lecture. Prof. Katja Sarkowsky (Münster): “Crazy Brave: Intersections of Poetry and Life Writing in Joy Harjo’s Work.” Mainz University.

Reading and lecture. “Way of the Blackbirds and Dakota Way of Life.” Dr. Gwen Westerman (Minnesota State) and Glen Wasicuna (Dakota Wicohan). Mainz University.

Guest lecture. Dr. Michael Griffiths (Columbia). “Artifacts of Unsettlement: (Post)Colonial Liberalism, Biopolitics, and the Settler Imaginary in Australia.” Mainz University.


Artwork in header excerpted from: “Patriotism Percentages,” part of “Four Things You Can Do with Your Chart for Calculating Quantum of Indian Blood” by Deborah A. Miranda, reprinted with permission of artist.