We were able to have this conversation when we attended the annual Falkner and Yoknapatawpha conference in Oxford, Mississippi this summer. This year’s topic was on Faulkner and the Native South. We were delighted to get the chance to sit down and discuss their work and what is meant by something now called the “Native South.”
Howe describes the importance of story to both her creative and critical projects. Guided by the story, she then begins to research for her critical work, and that research is then woven into the creative work as well. Squint describes how works such as LeAnne’s Shell Shaker open the door for students in her literature courses at North Carolina’s High Point University to begin thinking about tribal histories. Howe adds that she envisions Native American literature as a vehicle for change. Important to both Howe's critical and creative work is the idea of tribalography, which is a term she uses to describe the method by which Native stories work to encompass new people, traditions, lifeways, circumstances, challenges, and innovations.
Squint describes how the story of colonialism always asks how Europeans influenced the indigenous people, but Howe’s work prompted her to think about the Indigenous aspects of southern culture instead. For instance, Howe describes how Choctaw people offered refuge and food to Europeans. Now, she says, when she looks around the South, she sees a reflection of Chickasaw, Choctaw, and other southeastern tribes in the “southern lifeway” of hospitality.
Despite the influence of Indigenous cultures on the modern-day South, the term “Native South” is a complex term, encompassing many different ideas, cultures, people, and connections. Squint describes how, even though the term is widely used, the “South” usually refers to the Confederacy, which is a colonial construct and, therefore, might not be the best term to use when thinking about the region's Native histories and literatures. Squint also describes how those Choctaws who carried handfuls of Mississippi dirt with them during their Removal to Indian Territory further challenge our conceptions of regional identity. Howe notes that: “The land still causes us to return.” For instance, she describes how the Chickasaw Nation is buying back its homelands one acre at a time.
Our conversation then turns to the importance of tribal citizenship. Squint explains how Kentucky, where she grew up, has no federally recognized tribes, even though the state has a rich Native history. However, despite a lack of tribal affiliation, many people claim a Cherokee relative, which, as Gina explains, can be both offensive and harmful. These false claims to Native ancestry can have material implications when people apply for scholarships or jobs and self-identify as Indigenous without needing to prove their tribal citizenship.
Before closing, Howe and Squint describe what they would like to see in the future of Native American & Southern Studies. Squint says she would like to see Native literature in more southern literature classrooms and, more broadly, more Native literature taught in the South. Howe concludes by describing how contemporary debates about immigration demonstrate a way in which Native literatures, Native stories, and Native histories help all Americans be better prepared in the twenty-first century.
We would like to thank our special guests this week, LeAnne Howe and Kirstin Squint. LeAnne Howe is a Choctaw author and Eidson Distinguished Professor at the University of Georgia. She has won numerous awards including the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Native Writers’ Circle of the Americas and the 2014 Modern Language Association inaugural prize for studies in Native American Literatures, Cultures, and Languages for her book Choctalking on Other Realities (2013). Kirstin Squint is an Associate Professor of English at High Point University. She is the leading scholar on LeAnne Howe’s work, and currently she is completing a book on this topic.
You can purchase LeAnne Howe's work here: