Date of Completion


Embargo Period



Native American Literature, American Indian Literature, Canadian Aboriginal Literature, Indigenous Studies, Children's Literature, Young Adult Literature, Sovereignty

Major Advisor

Robert Tilton

Associate Advisor

Katherine Capshaw Smith

Associate Advisor

Cathy Schlund Vials

Associate Advisor

Theodore Van Alst

Field of Study


Open Access

Campus Access


This dissertation theorizes the concept collaborative sovereignty, a term coined by the author, as a unique approach to Indigenous self-determination represented across a body of contemporary young adult fiction by American Indian and Canadian Aboriginal writers. These texts, published between 1985 and 2007, include Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Jeannette Armstrong’s Slash, Joseph Bruchac’s The Heart of a Chief, Susan Power’s “Drum Kiss” and “Reunion,” Cynthia Leitich Smith’s Rain is Not My Indian Name and “A Real-Live Blond Cherokee and His Equally Annoyed Soul Mate,” Drew Hayden Taylor’s The Night Wanderer: A Native Gothic Novel, and Melissa Tantaquidgeon Zobel’s Oracles.

Collaborative sovereignty encompasses a commitment to a set of primary and secondary tenets. The primary tenets are: 1) Indigenous self-determination (including over governance, education, culture, and representation) and resistance to colonialist threats to self-determination; 2) the internal strengthening of Indigenous communities through their investment in specific tribal/intertribal cultural practices, relationships, and responsibilities; and 3) the mutual empowerment of Indigenous individuals and their communities. The secondary tenets include: 1) dialogue with multiple diverse voices; 2) dynamic development; 3) self-reflection/self-critique; and 4) alliances across tribal, national, and racial lines. While other scholars in Native Studies have discussed these tenets, the texts examined here distinctively bring these ideas together and provocatively develop them, in part through their adaptation of the conventions and adolescent spaces of young adult literature.

This project offers an intervention in several areas. It advances conversations in Native Literary Studies about the meaning of Indigenous sovereignty as well as related issues concerning decolonization, cultural continuance, and alliances. It also opens new approaches to questions about identity, authenticity, and appropriation. For Young Adult Literary Studies, the project broadly expands understandings of power dynamics in the genre while also complicating approaches to the YA subgenres of school stories, romance narratives, and speculative fiction. Finally, through its consideration of the challenges that collaborative sovereignty poses for the discourses of adolescence, multiculturalism, colonialist heteropatriarchy, and hybridity, the project offers multiple and significant interventions to a range of fields under the wide umbrella of Literary and Cultural Studies.