Chasms and Collisions: Native American Women's Decolonial Labor


  • Molly Suzanne McGlennen Vassar College



Native American


“[My basket narratives] weave old forms of articulation with new forms of iconography to create a collision, which echoes the cultural experience of my life.” --Sarah Sense

“I have always felt there is a significant chasm that divides Native people from non-Natives…that began at first contact and continues to this day.”   --Shan Goshorn

In this article, I argue Native American visual artists understand and characterize the fallout of the project of “cultural simulations” that preoccupy systems of continued colonial occupation in the Americas.  As suggested in the above quotes, Native aritsts are attentive to Indigenous visualities that trouble settler colonial designs of signifying the indian -- visualities that are hyper-aware of settler colonial methods of reading Native subjects by binding them to metrics of authenticity.  What’s more, their works record Indigenous subjects not as static representations but as dynamic, living peoples that have complicated relationships to the settler state; each of her “visual records” is not a document of closure but is a decolonizing blueprint fortified by the vitality of Indigenous lived experience.   The “chasm” of misunderstanding about which Eastern Band Cherokee artist Shan Goshorn argues and the “collision” of cultural expressions about which Choctaw/Chitimacha artist Sarah Sense describes provides a way of thinking about artistic renderings of lived experience for Native women -- decolonized expressions that critically and creatively reckon with both the chasm and collision of historical and contemporary genocidal terror.  The labor of reckoning which Sense and Goshorn take on in their works recognizes that the invention of cultural simulations is the specter of white desire – a necessary fiction which protects and projects white innocence from the on-going project of cultural genocide.   If the willful work of settler historical amnesia (erasure) must be coupled with inflexible symbolic violence (invention) for the project of colonialism to continue and thrive, then the tribally specific (from the ground up) labor of Native artists must also be commensurate with the hemispheric/global Indigenous connective tissue (lateral) of Native women’s work against all forms of violence and oppression.  It seems to me that dimension best addresses the oblate nature of discursive dominance, and it seems to me that Sense and Goshorn are entirely aware of just that

Author Biography

Molly Suzanne McGlennen, Vassar College

Associate Professor of English and Native American Studies




How to Cite

McGlennen, M. S. (2018). Chasms and Collisions: Native American Women’s Decolonial Labor. Transmotion, 4(2), 63–79.