Sordid Pasts, Indigenous Futures: Necropolitics and Survivance in Louis Owens' Bone Game

  • Francisco Delgado Borough of Manhattan Community College, CUNY


This article develops from current examinations of the link between racial subjectivity and death that increased in prominence after the publication of Achille Mbembe’s 2003 article “Necropolitics.” In a context specific to Native American/Indigenous Studies, Jodi Byrd (Chickasaw) points out how designating an individual or group “Indian” allows for their genocide. Elaborating on Mbembe’s and Byrd’s respective frameworks, my article provides a necropolitical reading of Louis Owens’ 1994 novel Bone Game, arguing that the book prompts readers to discuss and reconcile the historical relationships between death and subjectivity and, more importantly, explore the possibilities of Indigenous futures and sovereignty.

This article draws on Indigenous scholarship like Leanne Betasamosake Simpson’s concept of ‘Indigenous freedom,’ Vine Deloria Jr.’s critique of Anthropological study, and Vizenor’s notion of ‘survivance,’ in its analysis of the struggles and survivance strategies of Owens’ characters, all of whom emphasize Native agency and sovereignty over the predominant, mainstream narrative of Native tragedy. The injustices and tragedies are part of the California landscape, written into the state and national histories, what Owens once described in an interview as “dark” but what this article characterizes as dystopic based on the novel’s “defamiliarization” of a well-known setting for political purposes (Booker) and based on how it “depends on and denies history” (Baccolini). While illustrating the link between history and the present day of the book, up to and including how we can construct the future, my reading posits that the actions of Cole and his family help readers imagine possibilities for Indigenous futures.

The first part of my article’s title draws on one of Cole’s quips about the history of California. Cole’s reference to the state’s “sordid past” critiques the common conception of California as a terra nullius paradise. California long exists in the public imagination as a source of hope (for gold, for a new beginning); it is thus appropriate that Owens sets his novel here to explore his own sense of hope for an Indigenous future, one that accounts for settler colonialism while also beginning to move past it, one that does not skirt the hard work of reconciliation and sovereignty.

Author Biography

Francisco Delgado, Borough of Manhattan Community College, CUNY

Francisco Delgado is a writer and teacher based out of Queens. His research focuses on Native American/Indigenous literatures and can be found in Memory Studies, The CEA Critic, Transmotion, and Teaching American Literature: Theory and Practice. He is a proud Chamorro and, through his maternal grandmother, a member of the Tonawanda Band of Seneca. His chapbook of flash fiction, Adolescence, Secondhand was published by Honeysuckle Press in 2018.

How to Cite
DelgadoF. (2020). Sordid Pasts, Indigenous Futures: Necropolitics and Survivance in Louis Owens’ Bone Game. Transmotion, 6(2), 43-64.