Indigenous Wormholes: Reading Plural Sovereignties in Works by Thomas King



In this chapter, I analyze two of Thomas King’s novels, Medicine River and Truth & Bright Water as offering different—yet equally critical— responses to nationalist modes of representation. Effacing complex cultural geographies of indigenous life in the interests of assimilation, Anglo-European nationalism has required the attribution of a given literary “identity” to otherwise very diverse Native and tribal communities straddling a multiplicity of sovereignties, languages, and subjectivities. Both novels, alongside King’s Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Massey Lectures, The Truth about Stories, consistently reject these bounding discourses and offer the everyday reality of plural sovereignties as the cogent indigenous rebuttal to them.


Indigenous People Indigenous Community Colonial History Collateral Reading Creation Story 
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  1. 1.
    See Robin Ridington, “Happy Trails to You: Contexted Discourse and Indian Removals in Thomas King’s Truth & Bright Water,” Canadian Literature 167 (Winter 2000): 89–107.Google Scholar
  2. 5.
    See Patricia Linton, “‘And Here’s How It Happened’: Trickster Discourse in Thomas King’s Green Grass, Running Water,” Modern Fiction Studies 45.1 (1999): 212–34. See also Ridington (“Happy Trails to You,” 105).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 11.
    Thomas King, Medicine River (Toronto: Viking Penguin, 1989), 110–11. Subsequent references to this text will be made parenthetically by page number.Google Scholar
  4. 13.
    For scholarship investigating the relation between the agency of indigenous photographers and their “subject” see Lucy Lippard ed., Partial Recall: Photographs of Native North Americans (New York: The New Press, 1992) andGoogle Scholar
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  6. Christopher M. Lyman, The Vanishing Race and Other Illusions: Photographs of Indians by Edward S. Curtis (New York: Pantheon, 1982).Google Scholar
  7. 19.
    Bud Hirsch also notes the significance of the ampersand (&), suggesting that this sign denotes King’s “[in]tolerance for binaries.” See Bud Hirsch, “‘Stay Calm, Be Brave, Wait for the Signs’: Sign-Offs and Send-Ups in the Fiction of Thomas King,” Western American Literature 39.2 (2004): 153.Google Scholar
  8. 30.
    Alice Walker, “Everyday Use,” In Love and Trouble: Stories of Black Women (New York: Harvest/Harcourt, 1974).Google Scholar
  9. 31.
    John Keats, “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” in Norton Anthology of English Literature, ed. M. H. Abrams et al., 5th ed., vol. 2 (New York: W. W. Norton, 1986), 794.Google Scholar
  10. 33.
    Richmond Lattimore, The Iliad of Homer (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1961).Google Scholar
  11. 51.
    The term “strategic essentialism” is Gayatri Spivak’s and speaks to the concession identity politics allows to spaces beyond discourse, if such a thing is possible, to buy time to consolidate specific counter-hegemonic positions. For a fine overview and a fresh perspective of these debates, see Sheena Malhotra, “Belonging, Bridges, and Bodies,” National Women’s Studies Association Journal 17.2 (2005): 47–69.Google Scholar
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© Stuart Christie 2009

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