Suddenly Everyone Has a Cherokee Great-Grandmother: Teaching Native Literatures (NeMLA, April 7-10, 2011; New Brunswick, NJ)

full name / name of organization: 
Justine Dymond/ Northeast Modern Language Association 42nd Annual Convention
contact email: 

Native American Literature courses often attract self-selected students for the wrong reasons. Recently, when I surveyed my students as to why they were taking a course on Native literature, students replied that they enjoyed "folktales" or that they think they have distant relatives who were Cherokee. Students of diverse backgrounds, and particularly Euro-American students, when first exposed to the contexts and histories of American Indian literatures often feel disillusioned by this new knowledge, especially as that knowledge counters stereotypical and often romanticized associations of American Indian cultures.

This roundtable session aims to join a larger conversation about classroom teaching strategies in Native American literature courses. Often designed to fulfill "multicultural" general education requirements, these particular classes nonetheless demand from students and practitioners a complicated understanding of the history of land usurpation, forced assimilation, and resistance to colonization, among other things. Such learning is made even more problematic in the current college classroom in which diversity is privileged in spaces that are marked by a homogeneous student population.

This roundtable aims to address a few central questions about teaching Native literatures: How do we challenge stereotypical representations, attending to the differences across American Indian identifications, in courses that take a "survey" approach? How does one teach Native literary texts to a population of students who do not necessarily reflect those experiences? How does the instructor's own subject position impact pedagogical strategies and the classroom experience for students and teacher? How do we address the representations of American Indians in multi-ethnic or racially homogenous classrooms? How do we contextualize Native literature‚ÄĒhistorically and theoretically? This list of questions is not exhaustive, but merely suggestive of some of the challenges and questions this roundtable will raise about teaching Native literatures.

E-mail 500-word proposals by September 30, 2010 to