Sonic Sovereignty in D'Arcy McNickle's The Surrounded

Speaker: Beth Piatote

Friday, November 11th


UEL Classroom, 135 Angell Street

In this paper, I consider a range of legal discourses operating in D’Arcy McNickle’s 1936 novel, The Surrounded. Set in the 1914 on the Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana, the novel portrays a reservation that is bounded by multiple cultural and legal discourses: the Salish inhabitants of the mission town of St. Xavier are economically destitute, and Indian agents, police, and game officials constantly patrol the boundaries of Indian social, cultural, and economic life. In the novel, the characters challenge U.S. jurisdictional claims upon their homelands and the criminalization of their economic activities, explicitly drawing upon the language of treaty rights to reclaim spaces of collective autonomy. This paper considers another register of legal discourse at work, what I term “sonic sovereignty,” or the employment of sound to express legal claims, at times to contest the criminalization of sound production (such as legal restrictions on dancing, drumming, and singing), to sonically reclaim lost territory, or to express the unspeakability of indigenous claims within the American justice system.