Translating Images of Survivance: A Trans-Indigenous Corporeal Analysis of Spear and Maliglutit

  • Matt Kliewer University of Georgia


In Gerald Vizenor’s novel Heirs of Columbus, the primary protagonist of the novel, Stone Columbus, is described by the narrator as the “image of . . . survivance” (17).  While Vizenor does not return to Stone’s status as image after this description, merely seeming to infer that Stone is emblematic of Vizenerian theories of survivance in his embodiment of Christopher Columbus’s phenotypical features, this characterization leads to potentially invaluable theorizations of what effective Indigenous imagic resistance might look like. In Vizenor’s theorization, survivance narratives are “narrative[s] [of] resistance that creates a sense of presence over absence, nihility and victimry” (Vizenor American 1). The use of irony and the refocusing of the colonial gaze back on the colonizer stand as the primary indicators of survivance narratives.  In Heirs, this imagic status relies on Stone’s ability to simultaneously look like the colonizer while subverting colonial practices. It is an ironic mimicry which draws attention to colonial constructions of Indigeneity. Because these images rely on previous colonial practices and mimicry, in what ways can viewers then delineate specific sovereign characteristics of visual Indigeneity that separate colonial imagery from survivance images? In Michelle Raheja’s theorization of visual sovereignty, she claims that “[v]isual sovereignty is a practice that takes a holistic approach to the process of creating moving images and that locates Indigenous cinema in a particular historical and social context while privileging tribal specificity” (194). While the creation of tribally specific images of survivance represents a fundamental process in reinforcing visual sovereignty and enacting self-determination, the application of survivance characteristics across tribal boundaries represents a powerful inter-tribal, globally Indigenous challenge to the colonial gaze. In analyzing Indigenous images from vastly different geographical and colonial contexts, then, we find common colonial images that Indigenous image makers strategically deconstruct and remake in the image of survivance, revealing performative inter-tribal sovereignty.  The most foundational aspect of visual sovereignty according to Raheja is, “a revision of older films featuring Native American plots in order to reframe a narrative that privileges Indigenous participation and perhaps points to sites of Indigenous knowledge production in films otherwise understood as purely Western products” (196). To this end, Stephen Page’s Spear and Zacharias Kunuk’s Maliglutit are useful films to demonstrate how this inter-tribal aesthetic directly engages Western colonial film conventions and colonial imagery, reframing narratives where Indigenous bodies encounter and resist their historically limited positionality in filmic mediums.

Viewing both Maliglutit and Spear as indicative of Barclay’s Fourth Cinema, focusing particularly on the postindian subversions of genre and plot, the strategic juxtaposition of these two films display an inherent metaawareness of the filmic medium as one of the most politically viable methods of creating a global Indigenous media. Speaking to film’s efficacy in this endeavor, Shari Huhndorf in her examination of Kunuk’s The Fast Runner, points to film’s, “capacity to mediate across temporal and geographical distances . . . supports an imagined Inuit community with deep historical roots” (Huhndorf 76). Film, then, inherently contains not only the tools to contrapuntally form Indigenous coalitions around imagined and real Indigenous relations, but as we see in both Spear and Maliglutit, in a specifically Indigenous context it also maintains the power to write and gaze back against the colonial apparatuses of film itself through Indigenous bodies’ movement through temporalities and spaces.


Author Biography

Matt Kliewer, University of Georgia
Ph.D. Student
How to Cite
Kliewer, M. (2019). Translating Images of Survivance: A Trans-Indigenous Corporeal Analysis of Spear and Maliglutit. Transmotion, 5(2), 63-81. Retrieved from