Book chapter

The exceptional power of the dead in Heid E. Erdrich's "National monuments"

Published inEnduring critical poses : the legacy and life of Anishinaabe literature and letters, Editors Gordon Henry Jr., Margaret Noodin & David Stirrup, p. 149-175
PublisherAlbany, NY : State University of New York Press
  • SUNY series, native traces
Publication date2021

American exceptionalism, the idea that the US nation was created by God's will to be a model to the world, works in large part through the territorial narrative of “Manifest Destiny,” which claims a divine mission to occupy the entire American continent. Of course, this narrative must disavow the violence with which the settler nation occupies the land on which are constructed the social, political, and cultural institutions of the US. Whether the bloodshed of the War of Independence, the brutality of “King Philip's” (Metacomet's) War of the 1670s, the violence of the so-called “Indian Wars” that coincided with the relentless westward expansion of the US throughout the nineteenth century, or the ongoing conflict between Indigenous nations and the settler nation that is the US, this history of devastation is disavowed by the rhetoric of American exceptionalism. But beneath this narrativized history there lies a trail of dead human bodies, lifeless bones, that refuse the disavowal of their stories. The history of settler violence in the US is signified by the human remains – both Indigenous and settler – that are the primary product of this violent process of colonial “nation-building.” What sets apart the corpses of settlers and Natives who died in the same conflict? Most fundamentally, the answer to this question lies in the disposal of the corporeal remains that endure to tell the story of their deaths. While the heroic remains of US soldiers are feted and memorialized, the remains of Indigenous people are shipped to hospitals, museums, research collections – all institutions within the structure of the US federal government. Indigenous human remains become wards of the state, hostages to the claim of Manifest Destiny. The poems in Heid Erdrich's "National Monuments" challenge the exceptionalist history of America, relocating the US national narrative in the discursive environment of Anishinaabe storying.

  • Anishinaabe
  • Indigenous Studies
  • Native American Literature
  • American Exceptionalism
  • Heid Erdrich
  • Poetry
  • Repatriation
  • Human remains
  • Settler colonialism
Citation (ISO format)
MADSEN, Deborah Lea. The exceptional power of the dead in Heid E. Erdrich’s ‘National monuments’. In: Enduring critical poses : the legacy and life of Anishinaabe literature and letters. Albany, NY : State University of New York Press, 2021. p. 149–175. (SUNY series, native traces)
Main files (1)
Book chapter (Accepted version)
  • PID : unige:152054

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