In a world of painfully narrow academic monographs, rare is the work that teams with ideas, engagements, and interventions across a wide terrain of social life. In The Transit of Empire: Indigenous Critiques of Colonialism (University of Minnesota Press, 2011), Jodi Byrd has produced such a book.
Byrd, a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma and assistant professor of American Indian studies and English at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, follows the transit of paradigmatic “Indianness” through the pathways of colonialism, race, and empire. She engages not only the titans of critical theory but the substance of everyday politics, and finds an often disavowed indigeneity in places as disparate as Shakespeare’s The Tempest and the Jonestown Massacre, the development of astronomical sciences and the origins of blues music. Central to this wide-ranging project is a fundamental proposition that in this perhaps terminal phase of American empire, reckoning with – and redressing – the ongoing colonization of Native lands and Native people is more vital than ever.
“Bringing indigeneity and Indians front and center to discussions of U.S. empire as it has traversed across Atlantic and Pacific worlds is a necessary intervention at this historical moment,” Byrd writes, “precisely because it is through the elisions, erasures, enjambments, and repetitions of Indianness that one might see the stakes in decolonial, restorative justice tied to land, life, and grievability.”