Academic journal article Extrapolation

Speculative States: Citizenship Criteria, Human Rights, and Decolonial Legal Norms in Gerald Vizenor's the Heirs of Columbus

Academic journal article Extrapolation

Speculative States: Citizenship Criteria, Human Rights, and Decolonial Legal Norms in Gerald Vizenor's the Heirs of Columbus

Article excerpt

This essay analyzes the legal arguments made by Gerald Vizenor in his 1991 speculative novel The Heirs of Columbus. I will contextualize this Indigenous speculative text in terms of the development of international human rights law at the end of the twentieth century. Specifically, I analyze The Heirs of Columbus in relationship to the Columbian quincentennial, paying close attention to how Vizenor critiques contemporaneous international legal norms in response to global celebrations of the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus' first voyage to the Americas. Throughout this essay, I identify passages from The Heirs of Columbus that demonstrate how Vizenor uses the speculative genre to encourage and demonstrate the reformation of international law and the construction of international political coalitions.1

My reading of The Heirs of Columbus is inspired by James Cox's literary analysis of it. In Muting White Noise (2006), Cox explores how Vizenor "revises Eurowestern storytelling traditions that are hostile to Native people" in Heirs of Columbus. In comparison to such Eurowestern literary texts, "Vizenor's sources of worldviews, identities, and representations are more nourishing and more specifically Native: oral traditions, individual and communal memories, dreams, and laser holograms projected into the sky" (102). Building from Cox's study, which unpacks "Vizenor's strategy of revising non-Native textual traditions," I focus my analysis on how Vizenor specifically revises Eurocentric legal norms (which simultaneously privilege and constitute non-native textual traditions). I am particularly interested in how Vizenor reconceptualizes citizenship criteria and human rights law from an Anishinaabe perspective. By narrating the creation of a new Indigenous state named Point Assinika-situated at the border between Canada and the US -Vizenor reforms tribal citizenship criteria as an act of external self-determination that privileges Indigenous forms of governance and law. And, in terms of human rights law, Vizenor centers the human right to health as a universal right held by each citizen in the new Indigenous state. Point Assinika's commitment to recognizing the right to health also exposes human rights abuses in neighboring settler- colonial states: in comparison to how Point Assinika safeguards the right to health, Canada and the US have failed to secure appropriate healthcare for their citizens.

Thus Point Assinika emerges as an Indigenous space that upholds human rights ideals. Rather than rely on the settler-colonial state to respect human rights law, Vizenor makes the argument that securing external self-determination for Indigenous peoples is the best way to protect the human rights of Indigenous peoples.2 Furthermore, Vizenor suggests that human rights ideals will be fully realized globally only when international legal norms reflect the values of Indigenous epistemologies and mandate the direct participation of Indigenous peoples. In other words, the future success of human rights law at large is contingent on the implementation of Indigenous traditions and knowledges to reshape international legal norms. By narrating the decolonization of legal norms, The Heirs of Columbus offers a powerful example of how Indigenous futurisms contend with various legal legacies of colonialism by privileging Indigenous legal traditions and reforming international law from Indigenous perspectives.

Indigenous speculative Fiction at the Columbian Quincentennial

In 1992, nation-states on both sides of the Atlantic marked the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus' first voyage to the Americas with elaborate and costly celebrations. The most expensive by far was the Universal Exposition in Seville.3 With a price tag of over 9.3 billion euros, the Expo drew over 42 million visitors. Lasting from April 20 to October 12, the Expo coincided with the Barcelona Summer Olympics and boasted the motto of "The Age of Discovery. …

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