Beth Piatote will be giving a Brown Bag Lunch presentation on Tuesday, September 27 at 12 pm. Her talk is entitled “Legal Landscapes and Contracting Worlds in James Welch’s Fools Crow.”


Beth H. Piatote is Associate Professor of Native American Studies and affiliated faculty in the Department of Linguistics and the American Studies program at the University of California, Berkeley. Her research interests include Native American/Aboriginal literature and federal Indian law in the United States and Canada, American literature, and Nez Perce language and literature. Her first book, Domestic Subjects: Gender, Citizenship, and Law in Native American Literature (Yale UP, 2013) received an MLA book prize, and her scholarly essays and short fiction have appeared in journals such as American Quarterly, American Literary History, Kenyon Review, and SAIL: Studies in American Indian Literatures, as well as various anthologies. She is co-editor, with Chadwick Allen, of The Society of American Indians and Its Legacies, a joint special issue of American Indian Quarterly and SAIL (summer 2013). Piatote received her PhD in Modern Thought and Literature from Stanford University. Currently, she is completing a volume of short fiction, Beading Lesson and Other Stories, and is at work on a second scholarly monograph, A Sense of Autonomy: Native American Literature and the Legal Imaginary, which is the focus of her work as a Visiting Fellow at Bard Graduate Center. She is also working with the Department of Linguistics at UC Berkeley to create an on-line dictionary and text corpus in Nez Perce, and is committed to indigenous language continuity and revitalization efforts.

Published in 1986, Welch’s historical novel is set in Montana in the late nineteenth century, and deals significantly with US military and settler encroachment on Pikuni (Blackfeet) lands and communities. In this talk, Piatote will explore representations of visual practices, particularly dreaming, in opening up alternative spaces where Pikuni individuals can traverse and negotiate various contractual agreements with spiritual and/or non-human powers. These contracts impact the physical world by binding the parties to each carry out acts in the material world. When the novel opens, these two worlds are fluid and co-extensive. As the plot moves forward, however, the Pikuni are increasingly devastated by disease brought through settlers, warfare with the US military, and internal dissention over which course of action to pursue. A new contract, the treaty, begins to shape and constrict Pikuni autonomy. Visions become murky, and the Pikuni access to non-human contractual worlds diminishes. In a massacre scene, the treaty fails to protect a Pikuni band from slaughter. Even as material and non-material worlds contract, it is through visions (including the animation of a pictographic winter count, refigured here to depict the future rather than the past) that Pikuni survivors find a way forward.